BOSTON : Terming CNN "recklessly biased and inaccurate" in its coverage of Israel, the media-watch group CAMERA today denounced what it called a "virtual anti-Israel crusade" by the global television network. In the wake of a February 9 broadcast accusing Israel of using the Iraq crisis as cover to confiscate Palestinian land, CAMERA deplored a "pattern of reporting that flouts the basics of decent journalism."
Executive Director Andrea Levin charged that CNN regularly levels allegations against Israel without regard for their accuracy. "It's a serious matter to say Israel is confiscating land and not compensating owners. Both charges are false. Israel does not 'confiscate' property and does compensate landowners, Arabs and Jews alike, when the state takes land by eminent domain. The question is why does CNN accept as credible any accusation uttered by the Palestinians, while impugning Israel out of hand, however specious the charge?" Levin asked.
Calling for "a house-cleaning at CNN's Jerusalem Bureau and a revamping of the network's reporting practices," CAMERA cited a long record of error-ridden and partisan coverage by the Atlanta network. The organization had also lodged protests with network officials as recently as January over statements by Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers. Reporting on a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Washington's National Press Club, the CNN correspondent said the leader's remarks were "a very slick effort by the arch practitioner of propaganda to reingratiate himself with the American public."
Rodgers appeared incensed at Netanyahu's recounting of Palestinian violations of the Oslo peace agreements. CAMERA noted that a search of CNN transcripts revealed no instance in which Rodgers used similarly derogatory language about other heads of state. On the contrary, noted Levin, the Middle East's most unsavory dictatorships are described respectfully.
"Yasir Arafat recently delivered a speech in Iran filled with venomous and false charges against Israel. He attacked Israel for plotting to replace the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem with a Jewish Temple, an incendiary libel designed to inflame the Arab and Islamic world against Israel. But CNN didn't call Arafat a propagandist," said Levin. "Arafat regularly delivers diatribes in Arabic calling for holy war against Israel and extolling suicide bombers, then talks peace when speaking English to Western audiences — but CNN doesn't call this slick propaganda."
Levin added that in the same January broadcast Rodgers read a Palestinian document containing what he called 'serious' charges alleging Israeli violations of Oslo. Again, the CNN reporter repeated Arab assertions as fact, making no attempt to corroborate them. He charged, for instance, that Netanyahu had "turned at least half a dozen Jews out of jail ... people who were guilty of killing Palestinians." The claim is inaccurate. Israel's President, Ezer Weizman, not Netanyahu, pardoned two Israelis who were juveniles when they committed their crimes and who had served four years of a ten-year term. Four other prisoners had their sentences reduced but had many years yet to serve. "This kind of derelict reporting is pervasive," said Levin.
In contrast to CNN's continual echoing of Palestinian accusations against Israel, Rodgers ignores entirely or dismisses out of hand Israel's enumeration of Palestinian breaches of Oslo. Thus when Israel recently restated its insistence that the PA comply with its obligation to rescind the PLO charter calling for Israel's destruction, Rodgers' reports disparaged the Israeli government's contention and insisted the charter had been satisfactorily revised.
CAMERA said CNN distortions crop up on virtually a daily basis and have been a longstanding problem. Levin cited a report from June 1997 that alleged Israeli policies in Jerusalem have caused a "dwindling" of the Arab population in the city. The facts are precisely the opposite — the city's Arab population has burgeoned, growing at a faster rate than the Jewish population. Indeed, Palestinian officials themselves cite numbers higher than Israeli figures. Nevertheless, despite their having broadcast the bogus charge maligning Israel, network officials have refused to issue a correction.
"We've concluded the network doesn't much care whether they get their facts right," said Levin. "They've got an agenda and they don't let the truth get in their way. You have to assume, too, that a network this irresponsible on the subject of Israel is doing the same thing in covering other stories."