Former AP Bureau Chief Steven Gutkin’s response to Matti Friedman’s Tablet expose on bias at the Associated Press reads like one long self-serving rationalization, and does nothing to rebut Friedman’s argument.
Although Gutkin tries to portray himself as, like Friedman, a former AP employee and therefore free to say what he wants, it is Gutkin’s own credibility that is on the line. His piece, therefore, is his own self-defense, and not, as he tries to claim, free of ulterior motive. In contrast, Friedman surely burned many bridges with his piece, most likely including those with Gutkin, and there was no self-interest in his disclosures.
One of Friedman’s more explosive revelations was that AP was aware of, and consciously chose not to print, evidence of the peace offer made by Ehud Olmert to Abbas in 2008. Gutkin does not deny that that this is true, he only offers an explanation of this fact that simply does not ring true. Gutkin writes:
Matti stated that a female reporter in our bureau had access to maps showing the contours of a generous Israeli offer of a Palestinian state, but that the bureau’s leadership refused to run the story. The map he’s talking about was indeed shown by a Palestinian official to one of our reporters. It affirmed a longstanding Palestinian proposal for a land swap that had been part of the Geneva Initiative, and was old news.
But Friedman’s contention was that AP knew that this was the offer presented by the Israeli Prime Minister, and rejected by the Palestinian side — not a “Palestinian proposal.” The fact that this offer came from the Israeli side is what made it newsworthy. That Gutkin still today does not see the newsworthiness of such an event is only further evidence in support of Friedman’s thesis that there is a “severe malfunction” in the way that Israel is being covered by the media.
The root of the problem, however, is to be found right in Gutkin’s first paragraph. “As long as we angered each side equally,” he writes, “we surmised we were doing something right.”
But, as Ryan has written previously, the truth is not always to be found by averaging the two extreme positions. Hamas suppresses all dissent, executes protesters, threatens journalists, and holds power through violence and intimidation, while the “moderate” Palestinian Authority has suspended elections for six years, shamelessly pocketed 2 billion Euro in aid money from the EU, and arrests journalists routinely. Israel, meanwhile, allows journalists to flourish even when they write things so baseless and slanderous they are close to treason, holds elections every four years, if not more often, and has members of the Knesset from every conceivable political viewpoint.
In such a situation, equally angering all sides is simply not a measure of accuracy in reporting. The assumption that it is, the false equivalence, is one of the biggest obstacles to fairness in journalism today.