July/August 2000

EYE ON THE MEDIA: CNN's weather vane

By Andrea Levin

(August 31) CNN got clobbered recently by a deluge of angry e-mail about its detaching Jerusalem from Israel in a weather page on the heavily trafficked CNN.com website. All other capital cities were listed with their respective countries, but CNN separated Jerusalem from Israel in March after criticism by Arab American activist Ali Abunimah and reattached them in August in the wake of an escalating outcry from defenders of Israel.

Jerusalem was restored, however, with an asterisk whose footnote states: "The status of Jerusalem, the seat of Israeli government, is the most contentious issue in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Palestinian and Arab leaders consider part of Jerusalem the capital of a prospective Palestinian state."

In no other cases where a city's sovereignty is contested - such as Lhasa, Taipei, or Jammu - does CNN qualify the national affiliation with a political notation. (Their respective listings are Lhasa, China; Taipei, Taiwan; and Jammu, India.)

A similar sequence of events had occurred earlier when the group American Moslems for Jerusalem denounced CNN for referring to Jerusalem as Israel1s capital on another web page. An October 19, 1999 e-mail to AMJ adherents urged them to write to CNN demanding the removal of "any reference to Jerusalem as Israel1s capital from their website."

The very same day AMJ executive director Khalid Turaani boasted in a follow-up e-mail about CNN's "quick response to the community" when network officials capitulated, striking out reference to Jerusalem as Israel's capital on a millennium-related web page.

AMJ exulted that their campaign had "lasted just three hours." It took a month to restore the reference to Jerusalem on that page and, once again, the correction came with a qualifier: The CNN web page stated that Jerusalem is "the seat of Israel's government and its self-declared capital, although its status is in dispute."

These incidents are instructive.

The swift, almost automatic accommodation of Turaani and Abunimah is consistent with other network responses on Arab-Israeli issues, including responses related to CNN's television news.

For instance, when CNN aired a particularly blatant error, claiming harsh Israeli policies have led to a "dwindling" of the Arab population of Jerusalem, the network stonewalled for a year before issuing a retraction. Volumes of data and evidence provided to CNN demonstrating the dramatic growth of that population availed nothing.

Only under the duress of extended public pressure, including ads in newspapers such as the New York Times exposing the absurdity of the statement did the network broadcast a correction and an accurate report.

The same CNN penchant for espousing Arab views can be seen even now on the network's website. A feature entitled "The Struggle For Middle East Peace" includes a timeline filled with biased, if frequently moronic, statements about the history of the region.

The overarching distortion is the deletion of Arab aggression against the Jews. Events in 1929, for example, when anti-Jewish rioting was fomented by Arab leaders and led to the murder of scores of Jews throughout Palestine, especially in Hebron, are glossed by CNN as entailing "a dispute at the Wailing Wall" which "ignited an Arab riot and call for Islamic Jihad. Consequently, Jews began arming themselves and both sides waged terrorist attacks."

Likewise, the sole reference to the bloody record of PLO terrorism in the 1970s is a line about the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Unmentioned is the PLO-sponsored murder three months earlier of 27 civilians at Israel's Lod airport. The heinous Palestinian terrorist attack in 1974 on an Israeli elementary school and the slaughter of 22 children is similarly omitted, as is the 1978 PLO hijacking of a bus on the Tel Aviv- Haifa Road. That killing spree took 34 lives.

Amazingly, even the unprecedented series of bus bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the 1990s is also censored out.

Yet CNN gives separate mention (with a photograph) to victims of Baruch Goldstein's killing of Moslem worshipers in Hebron in 1994.

Thus is the record blurred to obscure the fearsome campaigns of terror by Palestinians against Jews, while singling out the lone act on a similar scale of Jewish violence against innocent Arabs.

The same deferential distortions are accorded Yasser Arafat in a biographical article in the "Struggle for Peace" section.

As though echoing the career of Dr. Martin Luther King, CNN describes Arafat repeatedly as pursuing the "dream" of a Palestinian state. "That dream," writes CNN, "sustained him during his years as a guerrilla fighter with a pistol on his hip, and it has guided him through his leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization."

Here too, only sanitized mention is made of Arafat's bloodstained past - his organization, Al Fatah, is said to have launched "guerrilla raids and terrorist attacks into Israel."

CNN labors especially hard to find oblique phrasing for Arafat's role in the 1972 Munich massacre, writing that Arafat "came to be regarded as a villain for his suspected involvement in the murder of Israeli athletes by the Black September Arab terrorists..."

No doubt if CNN.com carried an honest and accurate biography of Arafat and a truthful timeline chronicling the record of Arab aggression and violence, there would be a new deluge of Arab complaint.

One can suspect that CNN reporters fear being denied access to Palestinian officials, and that perhaps the network seeks to open new bureaus in the Arab world, and so prefers to avoid offending future customers.

Whatever the cause, the propensity at CNN for advocating Arab views over journalistic objectivity and factual accuracy, and only reluctantly and belatedly making adjustments when challenged on the facts, is professionally derelict - and disgraceful.

The writer is Executive Director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

© Jerusalem Post 2000

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