More than a few headlines: Guardian reply to Israel coverage criticism misses the mark

The Guardian’s readers’ editor Chris Elliott published an op-ed today responding to criticism of the paper’s coverage of Israel during the latest round of Palestinian violence (Accusations of bias in coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Feb. 22).

Elliott focused on one particular complaint that we posted about:  a Guardian headline accompanying an Associated Press (AP) article, about four terror attacks on Israelis in one day, that focused on the deaths of the Palestinian attackers.  

Elliott rejected the complaint because, he claimed, “the headline is not inaccurate, nor…does it suggest that the three Palestinians were innocent victims”. He did acknowledge, however, that the strap line – suggesting that the Israeli version of events was in doubt – was “problematic”.

Though we’ve posted frequently on UK media headlines about the current terror wave, the problem of media bias against is far greater than ‘a few’ misleading headlines alone.

Indeed, Elliott contextualizes his op-ed by noting the broader pushback against what’s perceived as biased reporting, by the Israeli government and watchdog groups, and cites the recent Knesset sub-committee session on foreign media coverage.  Elliott wrote that “The Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem [headed by Reuters Jerusalem Bureau Chief Luke Baker] rejected allegations of bias” at the Knesset session.  He then quoted Baker’s “robust” defense.

Our colleague Tamar Sternthal testified at the same special Knesset session, and made some extremely important points about both Baker’s statement and the broader problem of anti-Israel bias in the media.  Sternthal noted that Baker failed to provide a substantive response to CAMERA’s critique of the FPA statement or coverage by Reuters and other international news outlets”, but instead “clumsily attempted to steer the subject away from their coverage with several inappropriate tweets.”

Sternthal added the following in the penultimate paragraph of her op-ed: 

Other journalists, apparently more devoted to their colleagues than to the actual principles of journalism, have closed ranks, retweeting Mr. Baker’s avoidance tweet and chiming in with their own ad hominem diversionary attacks. Anshel Pfeffer, for instance, who writes for both Haaretz and The Economistattacked CAMERA as no less than an “enemy of freedom of the press and democracy in Israel.”

Indeed, Pfeffer continued with the same line of attack earlier today against this writer.

Sternthal concluded her op-ed thusly:

Apparently, Pfeffer, Baker and some of their colleagues fail to understand that critics of journalists are every bit as vital to democracy as journalists. The alternative is the media policing itself. And that’s something that Baker has proven that he can’t —  or won’t —  do.

Herein lies the most important point: the knee-jerk dismissive reaction by many journalists when challenged by watchdog groups and others, and their related failure to recognize that such ‘checks and balances’ on media power are in fact vital for the health of any democracy. 

Our orientation is of course pro-Israel. We make no effort to hide that fact.

However, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day what we’re doing when challenging a misleading headline or inaccurate claim is holding media outlets accountable to their own professional code of ethics and – in the case of the UK – the accuracy clause of the Editors’ Code.

Former long-time Guardian editor and owner CP Scott wrote the following back in 1921:

A newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred.

The substance of our tweets, blog posts and complaints to editors are dedicated to this simple proposition. 

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