Saturday, July 2, 2011

Is that a hammer or a power wrench?

As an application of truth in labeling, news organizations that publish opinion pieces by their staff writers invariably identify those pieces as op-eds.  Not Reuters.  The largest news agency in the world, one that promotes itself as committed to the highest standards of truth and accuracy, refuses to provide the simple disclaimer that writer opinion pieces are just that -- opinions.  Instead, we get the oblique "Analysis" discreetly attached to the story on Reuters' website.  This, in a deliberate effort to magically transform the material from personal conjecture to scientific study and enable syndication of an opinion piece that would otherwise be rejected by most news outlets.

In one of those "Analysis" pieces on U.N. indictments associated with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Reuters correspondent Mariam Karouny demonstrates why Reuters' refusal to identify an op-ed as such only invites public scrutiny of the company and allows watchdog groups like yours truly to expose the gap between Reuters proclaimed ethical standards and actual practice.

Karouny's basic premise is that:
Indictments by a U.N.-backed court seeking the killers of statesman Rafik al-Hariri, which Lebanese officials say accuse Hezbollah members, will widen the country's political rift and increase sectarian tension.
Only a few months ago, Karouny was parroting the absurd notion that Hezbollah, a Shiite terrorist group which has fought Sunnis and is committed to genocide of the Jews, might not be considered sectarian.  Acknowledging that the Hezbollah indictments will increase sectarian tension in Lebanon is a step in the right direction for the Reuters correspondent.

Unfortunately, Karouny is still a prisoner to her own prejudices and prominently displays these when she sanitizes Syrian oppression of Lebanon:
Tiny Lebanon, with around four million people, has always been a battleground for bigger regional powers. Syria, which had a military presence for 29 years until 2005, remains the most influential external player in Lebanon's sectarian politics.
As we've previously noted, Syria did not simply have a "presence" in Lebanon for nearly three decades; the Assad family controlled all aspects of political decision-making and sovereignty in Lebanon via a brutal military occupation responsible for the killing of approximately 100,000 Lebanese and the flight of about a half a million people (mainly Christians) from the country.  Hezbollah's grip on Lebanese politics today guarantees a continuation of that Syrian domination.  Karouny skates by these facts.

At the same time, Karouny conveys, uncritically, Hezbollah's view of Israel's role in the U.N. investigation:
But officials allied to Hezbollah, which say the tribunal is an Israeli tool, said they were alarmed by the timing of the indictments which were handed over as Mikati's cabinet, which was formed just two weeks ago after months of wrangling, met to agree its policy statement.
Is that a hammer or a power wrench?  Karouny is clearly betraying her own bias here (and violating the Reuters Handbook) by parroting, sans quotation marks, Hezbollah's flippant assertion.

Because Reuters refuses to identify pieces like Karouny's as an op-ed, the agency can be held fully responsible for her failure to uphold the Trust Principles.

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