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Monday, December 19, 2011

NYT publishes "facts" too good to check (CAMERA)

Here's CAMERA showing yet again how lazy and credulous New York Times reporters are:
Leave it to the New York Times to simply take the word of any Palestinian who tells a tale of woe that puts Israel in a bad light; apparently such stories are simply too good to check. This time the occasion was the release of 550 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, the second group of prisoners released as part of the deal freeing the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Ethan Bronner’s report, Israel Frees Palestinians in 2nd Stage of Exchange, named only one of the Palestinian prisoners being released, Izzedine Abu Sneineh, who, readers are told, was arrested three years ago at the age of 15 for “throwing stones and hanging Palestinian flags from telephone poles.” Here is the full passage about the young miscreant:
Sarah Abu Sneineh came with her family to greet her grandson Izzedine Abu Sneineh, who was arrested three years ago at age 15 for throwing stones and hanging Palestinian flags from telephone poles.
“He was just a schoolkid when he was arrested,” she said as she waited for him outside the tomb of Yasir Arafat. “We want him to go back to school. Only education is the way forward.”
Now, as should be obvious to Bronner and his editors, if Israel really imprisoned Palestinian children merely for putting up flags or throwing stones, there would be tens of thousands of Palestinian children in Israeli jails, instead of less than two hundred. Whatever young Abu Sneineh did, it had to involve something much more serious than what Bronner reported.

In fact, it is not hard to find out what he did – the Israeli Prison Service on Dec. 14 published a full list of all the prisoners about to be released. The english press release on the IPS website states that:
The Ministry of Justice will operate an information center as of today and until the date of execution of the agreement, where information regarding prisoners on the list can be obtained ...
and also has a link to the prisoner list in English. Helpfully, the press release also includes the telephone numbers of the information center: 02-6466801/3/4. So all an enterprising reporter had to do was call one of those numbers to discover what the Palestinian teenager had been convicted of.

Now, the list in English includes the name, dates of birth and arrest, the length of the sentence and prisoner ID, but not the crime; the list in Hebrew is more complete and includes the crime also. (IMRA has all these links.)

So what do we learn from these lists? Az al-Din Shhada Akram Abu Snina, prisoner ID 855043360, was convicted and sentenced for “Weapons training; attempted murder” and possession of “weapons / ammo / explosives.”

So not throwing stones and hanging flags – attempted murder and possession of weapons, including ammunition and explosives.

Why did Bronner apparently just accept what he was told by Abu Sneineh’s grandmother? Why did he not bother to look up the lists on the IPS website, or to just make a phone call to find out exactly what Abu Sneineh’s crimes really were?

And why did the ludicrous claim that Israel imprisons children for years just for throwing stones and hanging flags ring true to Bronner? (Of course, throwing stones is one thing, seriously wounding someone by throwing stones is another matter entirely, and could well lead to a prison term.)

Whatever the answer to these questions, one thing is certain – the New York Times owes its readers a forthright correction that sets the record straight regarding the real nature of what Abu Sneineh did to earn himself a prison sentence.

And as bad as Bronner is here, rest assured that wire service reporters are even worse.

Even the BBC - regarded by the world as the gold standard in accurate reporting - did exactly the same thing during the last prisoner release.

They have a meme that has gotten stuck in their collective heads by years of Palestinian Arab lies. In this case, the meme is of a corrupt Jewish state wantonly arresting and imprisoning minors for years minor offenses.

Since that is what they truly believe, they do not bother to be skeptical when they are told this is what happened by people who are known to lie - like relatives of the prisoners.

Good reporters are trained to be skeptical. But when they have a re-existing bias, they will not show skepticism towards "facts" that fit that bias.

You can also be sure that the bias extends up the editorial food chain. Obviously no editor asked Bronner to do what any journalist out of school is trained to do - to verify the facts with the other side.

UPDATE: The NYT quietly changed the story. The paragraph now says
Sarah Abu Sneineh came with her family to greet her grandson Izzedine Abu Sneineh, who was arrested three years ago at age 15 for weapons training, attempted murder and possession of explosives.
Since it is not a "correction" that they had to make public, it seems unlikely that anything will change next time.
(h/t T34)

UPDATE 2: It now has a correction on the bottom. (h/t Alex)