Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Calling for some healthy skepticism by journalists worldwide

Bret Stephens makes a good point that journalists, particularly international writers, have displayed a tendency to believe the doubtful tales of Israeli or American atrocities. These tales, often either exaggerated or just plain staged and made up then become magnified around the Arab world and the basis for attacks on people totally unrelated to the original story.

The best example is the Newsweek story of the Qu'ran being flushed down the toilet at Gitmo. The result was the bloody riots that led to the deaths of 15 people. The French media is still fighting the whole staged story of the killing of the youth, Mohammed al-Durrah, whom French reporter Charles Enderlin and his station, France 2 claimed was killed by Israeli gunfire despite all sorts of evidence proving that was untrue. The story became the rallying cry for the intifada in which thousands of lives were lost.
Maybe Durrah was somewhere in the minds of the Mumbai killers. If not, there was no shortage of other Israeli "atrocities" for them to choose from, mostly fictitious or trumped up and all endlessly cited in Western media reports: the "siege" of Gaza; the 2002 Jenin "massacre"; the 1982 massacres (by Lebanese Phalangists) in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut; the execution of Egyptian POWs in 1967.

All these fables have real-world consequences, and not only for Israelis. In July 2006, an American named Naveed Afzal Haq ambled into the offices of the Seattle Jewish Federation and shot six people, killing one. One of the survivors testified that Mr. Haq "stated that he was a Muslim, [and] this was his personal statement against Jews and the Bush administration for giving money to Jews, and for us Jews for giving money to Israel, about Hezbollah, the war in Iraq." Wherever did he get those ideas?
And we can remember all the pictures and stories from the Israeli-Lebanon war a few years ago that were demonstrated, mostly by bloggers, to have been staged. But the media seems to lack the healthy skepticism to such stories that they bring to other stories.
Of course, it's always possible to fall for a well-told lie. But it's worth wondering why a media that treats nearly every word uttered by the U.S., British or Israeli governments as inherently suspect has proved so consistently credulous when it comes to every dubious or defamatory claim made against those governments. Or, for that matter, why the media has been so intent on magnifying genuine scandals (like Abu Ghraib) to the point that they become the moral equivalent of 9/11. Some caution is in order: Terrorists, of all people, might actually believe what they read in the papers.
And Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman write in the New York Post note how several media outlets have been downplaying the attack on Jews in the Chabad House in Mumbai to minimize the fact that these terrorists specifically targeted that small group of Jews for torture and death.
The New York Times theorized that Chabad House may have been an "accidental hostage scene." The BBC initially chose to hide the Jewish character of the target by describing it as just "an office building." Al Jazeera refused to show Chabad House as the site of the carnage. Some Western media outlets unsympathetically labeled victims there as "ultra-Orthodox" or "missionaries."
We expect nothing better from Al Jazeera, but why would writers from the NYT and the BBC seek to downplay the murder of Jews in India? We can't begin to fight back in this terror war if we refuse to acknowledge the motives of our enemies.