Uncovering Lies – with Actual Links

My Life as an AP Bureau Chief in Israel – Part Two

by Steven Gutkin

Hamas militant carrying a child 

Uncovering Lies – with Actual Links

 

Note: Goa Streets’ Steven Gutkin has been at the centre of a media storm in recent weeks, after a former employee claimed that he and other senior editors at the world’s largest news agency buried stories that made Israel look good – an assertion that has now been seen by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe. Below, Steven offers a detailed rebuttal to these preposterous claims – and provides the actual web links that reveal these lies.

For anyone out there just tuning into this mini-saga between me and one of my former employees at the Associated Press in Jerusalem, here’s the recap sequence: the employee, Matti Friedman wrote a tell-all piece in the Jewish publication Tablet that went viral, accusing me and other AP leaders at the time of unconscionable journalistic breaches. I responded with an assessment of my time as AP’s bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories between 2004 and 2010, and the challenges we faced in fighting bias. Now Matti has written a response to my response. He’s taken his original accusation – that an anti-Israel bias fuelled by old-school anti-Semitism plagues the mainstream international media – a step further, stating that the editorial decisions we made have contributed to growing violence against Jews around the world.

While I did respond to Matti’s main accusations in my Sept. 17 piece, I decided not to write a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal because of the ludicrous nature of his assertions and because I didn’t want to subject my readers to yet another boring debate on Mideast politics. Instead, I attempted something different – a personalized account of what those years were like for me, as a Jew, a journalist and a person committed to fighting bias. I had never written anything like that before, as I never would have been allowed to while still an employee of the AP (I resigned three years ago to start the publication you’re reading now).

But a large number of readers responded by asking for that detailed rebuttal, so I will offer a brief one here. (I know this is a rebuttal to a rebuttal’s rebuttal, but I will try my best NOT to be boring).

Matti’s original story did not mention me by name, but two of his principal accusations did refer to the period I served as bureau chief – what he said was a decision to suppress a story explaining a peace offer by then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and a decision to “erase” the detail that Hamas fighters blended in among civilians.

Let me state this unequivocally. At no point did the bureau suppress any story about an Olmert peace offer. We in fact reported this offer many times in various forms. Here is just one of those stories, as it appeared in the Jakarta Post, the newspaper of the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

We had no “confirmation” of a major scoop from Israeli and Palestinian sources, as Matti claimed, and there was certainly no decision to reject any worthwhile story. As I stated in my last piece, one of our reporters was shown a map that did not refer to the specifics of any peace offer. Instead, it referred to a longstanding Palestinian proposal for a land swap that had appeared earlier in the Geneva Initiative, and was therefore old news.

To claim that we sat on news of Olmert’s offer because it made Israel look good is preposterous. That’s not what journalists do. That’s not what we did. Making this claim betrays a basic misunderstanding so profound that it verges on the comical.

As for the second claim, I wrote on Sept. 17 that there was an incident in which we decided not to report a specific piece of information about Hamas blending in with civilians because of a threat to one of our reporters, whose life was in fact in danger. Matti states that this amounts to Hamas dictating our coverage. Again, that perhaps would have been true had we not reported this information in other ways (something Matti incorrectly said we failed to do). AP archives from Gaza and the West Bank contain numerous references to Hamas firing from civilian areas, and blending in with civilian populations.  Here is one example, and one more. And the bureau’s commitment to covering this topic, contrary to Matti’s assertion, continues to this day, as evidenced by this recent piece.

In his latest piece, Matti stated that my article conceded his central thesis – that the media are obsessed with the Jews. In fact this is not a point I concede. Of course Israel gets a lot of coverage, but whether it’s too much is a matter of debate. In my last article, I explained in some detail what I believe is one of the key factors behind this phenomenon – the ongoing saga of the people of the Bible. But there are many other reasons as well. Military occupations around the world are, in fact, rare. Israel is a Jewish-majority country in a Muslim-dominated region. Israel’s contributions to science, technology and other pursuits are disproportionate to its small population. The list goes on.

Does Israel receive the exact amount of coverage it deserves? I don’t know. But I do know that the crucial error in Matti’s analysis is that he assumes the media houses have dictated this reality rather than reacting to the desires of readers around the world.

 In his latest piece, Matti took issue with my observation that his 4,000-word story contained no meaningful mention of the Israeli occupation (sorry, the cursory allusion to the “occupied West Bank” in the context of pointing out an Israeli transportation service there does not constitute such a mention). Matti explained this omission by stating that his essay was about “the media, not the occupation.” Fair enough. But if you’re writing about media coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories, and you cannot find it within your soul to mention the occupation, then the truth is your essay “about the media” is just not a very good one.

Both of Matti’s articles are brimming with errors. He states, for instance, that the Hamas charter calling for the destruction of Israel “was never mentioned in print when I was at the AP.” That, again, is untrue. In fact, the charter was mentioned repeatedly during Matti’s tenure at the bureau, including here.

Matti states in his latest piece that he wrote “the only serious settlement-related investigation” during the period I was bureau chief. His argument, therefore, was that there was no serious coverage of the Palestinians “as agents of their own fate” AND no serious coverage of the Israelis, either. I appreciate his happiness at basking in the glow of Rick Santorum’s praise, but Matti’s sentiment is not shared by the Associated Press Managing Editors or the Pulitzer Prize committee, both of whom bestowed major awards on the bureau’s coverage during those years.

And now Matti has taken his accusations to new heights, stating that editorial decisions like the ones I made helped cause mob attacks in Paris against Jews and a rise in anti-Jewish incidents in Britain.

Matti is preaching to the choir. The deluge of supportive commentary following his essays doesn’t necessarily mean his fans are more numerous, just more vocal. And yet it must be said that the opinions of the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd, those who are incapable of seeing any Israeli culpability, do matter. These are people with the power to make and break politicians, and alter the foreign policy of the United States.

Yes I, like everyone else on the planet, do have a political stance. As a former, not current, AP journalist, I am now free to reveal it. That does not mean I let my personal opinions affect our coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The truth is the real danger does not come from the media reporting the news. But there does seem to be something dangerous about a persuasive writer feeding a beast that keeps Israel on a disaster course. By pandering to the worst fears of those who feel the world is out to get the Jews, Matti and the recent slew of other journalists who’ve written similar pieces help stoke the fires that prevent a two-state peace, doing little to further the Zionist goal of a Jewish and democratic Israel.

Steven Gutkin reported from more than two dozen countries around the world before setting up Goa Streets with his wife, Marisha Dutt

 

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