Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reuters said he said she said

As Reuters journalists, we never identify with any side in an issue, a conflict or a dispute. Our text and visual stories need to reflect all sides, not just one.
That from the Reuters Handbook of Journalism.  Now, consider Reuters' correspondent Douglas Hamilton's presentation of two public statements, one drawn from a press conference given by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the other, a response to Netanyahu's remarks by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.  Hamilton first provides (out of sequence) the Erakat response:
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Wednesday "imposed further conditions on negotiations and announced Israel's intention to continue its occupation" of the West Bank whatever happens.  "Benjamin Netanyahu has said 'No' to a settlement freeze, 'No' to sharing Jerusalem, 'No' to the 1967 borders, 'No' to the rights of Palestinian refugees. Now he wants to retain the Jordan Valley," Erekat said in a statement. He was referring to a comment by Netanyahu that Israel would retain military control around any future Palestinian state that included the West Bank.  "We had hoped to hear a clear commitment to negotiations without preconditions. What we got instead was Mr. Netanyahu again trying to dictate their terms and preempt their outcome," Erakat said.
A thoroughly detailed quote with elucidation by Hamilton which most of us would agree cogently argues the Palestinian position.  Now compare with the excerpt Hamilton cherry-picked from Netanyahu's press conference:
Addressing the foreign press late on Wednesday, Netanyahu attacked the Palestinian leadership for rejecting U.S. calls to relaunch negotiations suspended for over a year. "The Palestinians have climbed up a tree," he said. "And they like it up there. People bring ladders to them. We bring ladders to them. The higher the ladder, the higher they climb."
Was Netanyahu as curt and acerbic at the press conference as the cherry-picked excerpt suggests?  Comparable in length and detail to that of Hamilton's presentation of Erakat's response, here's a slice of Netanyahu's comments in context:
What we’ve done in the nine months that we’ve been in office was one: to call immediately for peace talks, second: to remove hundreds of roadblocks, checkpoints… as a result the Palestinian economy has soared to about 8% growth. Third: I gave a speech at Bar-Ilan that formed a national consensus about the idea of peace, of a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state and fourth: we took an unprecedented step in the Cabinet to restrain the construction in the settlements for a ten month period.  During that time, what we’ve seen the Palestinian do is one: raise preconditions that didn’t exist for the sixteen years from the onset of the Oslo process. Two: incite their public and their people in their national media and by their official leadership in ways that are fully contrary to peace. Third: to promote the Goldstone agenda and these are all contrary to peace.
What a difference a bit of journalistic integrity makes, eh?


  1. On the other hand, Reuters could have commented (but didn't) on Netanyahu's inaccurate characterization of a settlement freeze as "preconditions that didn’t exist for the sixteen years from the onset of the Oslo process." A complete settlement freeze is, in fact, an obligation under Phase 1 of the Roadmap (2003),

  2. Anon, Reuters could have also noted that Erakat’s statement mischaracterizes Netanyahu’s comments. The point of our post is Reuters’ selective and asymmetrical use of quotes to fully and accurately convey the Palestinian position while truncating and disfiguring the Israeli position.