Sunday, May 16, 2021

The hypocrisy of journalists' anger at the IDF deception

As has been widely reported, the IDF apparently engaged in misleading journalists into thinking that IDF troops had entered Gaza last Thursday night.

Here was the IDF tweet:

Given that IDF ground troops were firing artillery into Gaza at the time, it appears that this was constructed to be purposefully ambiguous. Most media ran with this story, although the New York Times says that it confirmed with the IDF spokesperson that this meant IDF troops were on the ground inside Gaza. 

Now journalists are upset because this breaks the sacrosanct rules of telling the truth to journalists.

Except that spokespeople lie to journalists all the time, and when it isn't from Israel, the journalists shrug it off.

During Operation Desert Storm, General Norman Schwartzkopf showed the media dramatic video of what he said was the US destroying mobile Scud missile launchers. It was a lie - they were tanker trucks, and the US was ineffective at neutralizing the Scud threat. Reporters were in the dark for months, and there was very little outcry when the truth was discovered.

And that is the US military. Statements by Palestinian officials are often out and out lies, like just this past week with the revelation still unreported by nearly all that many of the children killed on the first day of the war were killed by errant Hamas rockets - yet journalists are reporting Gaza Health Ministry information as fact, without question.

The New York Times coverage of the IDF deception shows how little journalists themselves care about supposedly sacred journalistic ethics. It describes a raucous, off the record media event:

But the possibility that the military had used the international news media to rack up a bigger body count in Gaza generated sharp questions for Colonel Conricus in the conference call. Israeli officials insisted that the call be held off the record, but a Times reporter who did not join the call obtained a recording of it from another news organization.
If something is clearly stated to be off the record, journalistic ethics insist that reporters cannot even admit that the conversation happened, let alone the contents. The NYT here created a loophole that never existed before: if a journalist unethically recorded the off-the-record meeting and then gave that recording to a colleague from another media outlet, somehow it becomes on the record. 

It is so obvious that this fake loophole can be abused that it is ridiculous to even think that this is OK. It would be like saying that journalists could install a secret microphone in the room, or even listen with an ear to the door, and not be bound by the "off the record" restriction. 

If journalists are upset that they cannot trust anything IDF spokespeople say - which is a valid concern - now every single newsmaker must believe that "off the record" really means that journalists can reveal the entire conversation using a flimsy subterfuge.

The New York Times just proved that journalists cannot be trusted when they say that a conversation will not leave the room. 

Ethics are for other guys.