No Media Hook Too Crooked for B’tselem

This is a cross-post from Backspin

A cheesy B’tselem PR stunt proves that no media hook is too crooked for the MSM.

The Israeli human rights organization prepared a new report on settlement activity, then issued a press release obtained by HonestReporting timed to upstage tomorrow’s Netanyahu-Obama meeting at the White House.

Press release – Not for publication until 6:00 A.M. on 6 July 2010

Army and Civil Administration data:One-fifth of settlements’ built-up area is private Palestinian land

Settlements control 42 percent of West Bank land area

Today (6 July 2010), B’Tselem is publishing By Hook and by Crook:
Israel’s Settlement Policy in the West Bank. The report, which analyzes the mechanisms used to gain Israeli control of land in the West Bank for building the settlements . . .

Pre-dated press releases are common in the public relations industry — they’re sometimes referred to as embargoed press releases because there’s an understanding between the publicist and the journalist that the info will not be made public until a specific time.

Responsible journalists question the timing of embargoed press releases. In B’tselem’s case, editors cannot fail to notice that the release happens to coincide with the White House summit.

But editors are also taken by the “halo effect” of non-governmental organizations, publishing and citing their reports without question or verification, which

violates both journalistic ethics, which require skepticism and independent verification, and the norm when reporting from other sources, including government officials. But when a “highly respected human rights watchdog” such as Amnesty International or HRW makes a statement, journalists tend to ignore the bias and repeat this as fact. A recent Harvard study of reporting on the 2006 Lebanon War shows that most of the media around the world continued to cite HRW’s claims on the Qana incident, even after HRW was forced to admit their errors. And there are many other examples, not only with respect to Israel, but in Colombia, Iraq, and wherever NGOs rely on “eyewitnesses” and lack independent capabilities.

Publicists fantasize about grabbing the media spotlight, but B’tselem’s plan to upstage tomorrow’s summit is too blatantly pre-meditated.

How do they expect to get away with this?

Maybe it’s because this is the kind of spin that fits nicely into Big Media’s view of the Mideast conflict, makes for sensationalized headlines, and creates a wedge between Israel and the US.

B’tselem has revealed an agenda that goes beyond questions of human rights as it bids to embarrass PM Netanyahu on his US trip. And the mainstream media will be only too happy to play along.

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