‘Officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘according to an official’

Below is an exchange with a senior journalist from the Irish Times, who takes issue with our latest MediaShot ‘The false reality of news journalism’ – Reporting Palestine and the Mavi Marmara.

David:

I did not manage to get beyond the second paragraph of this because of your self-serving selective quote from the report to which you refer. You say below: “An Israeli naval patrol killed at least four Palestinians…on their way to carry out a terror attack.”

But the Reuter report, as published on our breaking news service, said: “An Israeli naval patrol spotted a boat with four men in diving suits on their way to carry out a terror attack and fired at them,” an Israeli army spokesman said, adding that the patrol had confirmed hitting its targets (emphasis added).

We therefore anchored the claim of motivation firmly where it belongs – with an Israeli army spokesman. It is the duty of the media to report assertions of both sides, as we did in this case.

If you are going to throw stones, you’d need to do rather better than this.

[Name withheld]

I responded:

[Name withheld],

That’s exactly the point made in the piece. As Fisk says further on in the piece: ‘officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘according to an official’.

With regards the opening reference, clearly we’re reading different reports. The report leads with a two paragraph justification from the Israeli military. It is followed by a statement from Hamas officials confirming the deaths. The report then mentions the flotilla attack, before adding a short tit for tat and then concluding with the journalists own commentary, corroborating the Israeli official’s ‘claim of motivation’: “Palestinian militants in Gaza frequently try to attack Israeli border patrols and sporadically fire rockets and mortar bombs at Israel. In February, Palestinian militant groups in Gaza sent explosive devices, thought to be primitive sea mines, out to sea intending to hit naval vessels. At least three devices washed up on Israeli beaches and were detonated by sappers.”

I can’t imagine a situation where if Hamas’ military wing conducted assaults in Israeli territory killing a number of Israelis (military or otherwise) the Irish Times would publish reports leading with ‘claims of motivation’ from Hamas officials, followed by a short sentence from Israel confirming the deaths, followed again by a couple of paragraphs about, for instance, the number of attacks launched by Israel over the last couple of years or maybe reference to the number of Palestinians killed during ‘Operation Cast Lead’.

In the same way I couldn’t imagine a situation where if the Turkish military killed 9 Israelis the Irish Times would publish an opinion article by the Turkish ambassador 7 days before they published one from the Israeli ambassador.

Here’s another few examples. I’ve just plugged the words ‘palestinian’ ‘attack’ ‘israel’ into the Irish Times archive.

5 Palestinian “militants” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought.

5 Palestinian “militants” killed by Israeli troops. Confirmation of the deaths by both Israeli and Hamas officials. Context for the killing provided by Israeli official only: “Before the Israeli air strike took place, militants fired two rockets from coastal Gaza, both striking near the city of Ashkelon and causing no casualties, a military spokesman said.”

1 Palestinian “gunman” killed by Israeli troops. Israeli statement sought only. Context provided as follows: “Hamas has been urging smaller militant groups to refrain from launching attacks against Israel, which carried out a devastating military offensive in the Gaza Strip 17 months ago with the aim of halting cross-border rocket fire. Israeli air strikes targeted tunnels in the northern and southern Gaza Strip this morning after Palestinian militants fired two rockets that landed in fields inside Israel. The Israeli army says that some 350 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip since Israel ended its military offensive there in January 2009. More than 3,000 rockets and mortar rounds were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip in 2008.”

1 Palestinian “militant” killed by Israeli troops. Israeli officials dominate report. Palestinian officials relegated to closing lines.

1 Palestinian “militant” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought. Palestinian statement used to confirm deaths only.

1 Palestinian “militant” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought. Palestinian statement used to confirm deaths only.

1 Palestinian “militant” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought. Palestinian statement used to confirm deaths only.

2 Palestinian “militants” killed by Israeli troops. Only Israeli viewpoint sought. Palestinian statement used to confirm deaths only.

3 Palestinians killed by Israeli military. Israeli statement comes first, followed by Palestinian statement. The Palestinian statement is broken by commentary: “Palestinian medical workers said three workers in the tunnel, part of a system used mostly to smuggle goods and weapons into the Gaza Strip, were killed and six wounded when the tunnel collapsed in the attack.”

No one is throwing stones. The Times’ record speaks for itself.

Best wishes,

David

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5 thoughts on “‘Officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘officials say’, ‘according to an official’

  1. Unless journalists make a concious critique of their sources, they will inevitably end up uncritically repeating the propaganda of the dominant class.

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