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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Today's staged photo and bias by AP

Here is a classic case of AP not only staging a photo, but of implying that it shows something that it does not, and as a bonus throwing in some very skewed facts as background:


A Palestinian child walks near rubble in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, Monday, June 21, 2010. Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat, pressed ahead Monday with a contentious plan to raze 22 Palestinian homes, that were illegally built, to make room for a tourist center that Palestinians fear would tighten Israel's grip on the city's contested eastern sector. The contested site, called al-Bustan, is a section of the larger neighborhood of Silwan, which is home to some 50,000 Palestinians and 70 Jewish families.

First of all, the photo itself. Did the photographer just happen to find a Palestinian child playing in some rubble in Jerusalem, or did she direct him to go there? Hard to say, but of course many photographs from wire services involve the photographer telling the subjects where to stand or where to look.

Secondly, is this rubble of a Palestinian Arab home demolished by Israel? If it is, was the home built legally? Maybe it was a garage built illegally next to a home that is still there? Or maybe it has nothing to do with any demolition altogether? AP needed a photo to illustrate a story about Israel's plans to demolish illegally built homes - where the Jerusalem municipality cooperated with the residents in those plans:
Back in March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pressured Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to hold up the plan so authorities could consult with Palestinians who would lose their homes — a delay that appeared to be aimed at fending off criticism from the U.S.

"Now, after fine-tuning the plan and seeking more cooperation with the residents as far as their needs and improving the quality of their lives, the municipality is ready to submit the plans for the first stage of approval," said Barkat's spokesman, Stephan Miller, before the city's planning commission agreed to the plan.
So the picture does not illustrate anything at all to do with the story, but its very existence is meant to give the reader a visceral disgust at Israeli actions.

Thirdly, the background, where it mentions that Arab residents outnumber Jewish residents of Silwan by such a large number. Assuming the facts are true, notice the attempt to make the numbers even more lopsided: 50,000 people to 70 families: each Jewish family in Silwan could easily have, conservatively, six members (probably more), but AP doesn't want to say "50,000 to 450" because that extra order of magnitude makes it look that much worse, and it makes the idea of evicting Jews out of their legal homes much more palatable since there appear to be so few of them.

Fourthly, the choice of background facts that AP used. It could have mentioned that Jerusalem also approved the building of hundreds of Arab homes in Silwan; or that the word "Silwan" comes from the Greek "Siloam" which comes from the Hebrew Shiloah,  or that Yemeni Jews had built many stone homes there in the 19th century and were chased out by the 1936-9 Arab riots - and their homes taken over by Arabs.

Any of those facts would also have been accurate background information, but they would not have fit the narrative that AP wants its readers to accept.

These are just examples of bias in the photo caption. The accompanying article has much worse distortions and omissions, such as the fact that the Jerusalem municipality is at the same time legalizing some 723 Arab homes!

(By the way, the photographer herself, Tara Todras-Whitehill, does not seem to be guilty of bias - she has some very nice and sympathetic photos of Jews in Israel in her portfolio.)

h/t Callie