Taking The Fight To The Associated Press
Yesterday, after a long absence, I posted at The Times of Israel. What I had to say was important for that site because it concerns how an otherwise honourable endeavour to report fairly on Israel, is corrupted by taking a news feed from The Associated Press (AP).
Remember the old adage: “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”? That’s what it’s like in a news room choosing to use Associated Press (AP) news wire stories. It’s assumed to be safe: AP has checked their facts and their sources, they’ve balanced it correctly: it might not be exciting but it won’t get an editor fired if he runs it.
There’s something distinctly rotten with the media today. And it doesn’t matter which main stream media outlet you look to, the problem is deeper, structural and serious. This affects almost every sphere of journalism.
A couple of weeks ago Matti Friedman started to blow the lid on how the Associated Press operates in Israel. It’s not that what he wrote came as a surprise to some of us, it’s that a former, long time insider is cataloging exactly how that organisation works. I wrote about it as “A Media Earthquake Started” and it wasn’t long before the shaking woke Former AP Bureau Chief Steven Gutkin. He gave a rambling riposte which boiled down to the defence “as long as we angered each side equally, we surmised we were doing something right.” This has also been the BBC’s favourite “dog ate my homework” defence for many years too. And it’s nonsense.
It’s important to understand how your news is baked and the piece goes on to explain the relationship between a news wire such as AP and a news outlet like The Times of Israel.
It’s worth actually understanding where the AP came from:
The Associated Press (AP) is a not-for-profit news gathering and dissemination service based in the US. Formed in 1848, the AP grew up from an agreement between the six major New York newspapers of the day. They wanted to defray the large telegraph costs that they were all independently incurring for sending the same news coast to coast. Despite being highly competitive, they formed the Associated Press as a collection agency and agreed to share the material. Today, that six-newspaper cooperative is an organization serving more than 1,500 newspapers and 5,000 broadcast outlets in the United States. Abroad, AP services are printed and broadcast in 112 countries.
Also, almost coincidental with my piece, Matti Friedman published in Tablet his own answer to some of the commentary that followed his wildly successful first exposé of AP in Israel. He nails very simply:
Failing to report bad things that Hamas does, and good things that Israel does, which is what these examples show, creates the villainous “Israel” of the international press. That these failures mislead news consumers is clear.
That’s the problem: even if a particular AP piece is almost OK, unless a particular news outlet is able to source and run the positive news that AP buries independently of the news wire, they’ll never provide a proper context for their consumers.
I mention three examples of tendentious AP reporting that found their way, almost unedited, onto the web pages of The Times of Israel. All of which I covered here at Israellycool, the executioner in the video of Sotloff was referred to as a “militant”. Human Rights Watch (HRW) produced a press release slamming Israel for its treatment of migrants and the most serious one was the recent, sudden acknowledgement by the AP that Hamas were firing rockets from civilian areas. This was taken apart by Dave in this post: AP-ing The Hamas Narrative.
Israellycool, among many, covered all the material in the article and a whole lot more at the time of the war in Gaza: we didn’t wait for evidence to grow, it was there all along. All this growing evidence was known by the editors at The Times of Israel: they had covered much of the detail (such as foreign reporters filming Hamas launching near them) in their live-blogging of the war. Despite this, and because of the global emphasis AP had given the piece, it was run in full by The Times of Israel under the specific bylines of the two AP authors. A search of Google for the first 32 words of the article gives almost 4000 hits: this piece had enormous global impact.
Examples of the disproportionate impact AP’s biases have are legion. Reuters, AFP and the others, fed by negative agenda sources, all concentrated around the same bars and coffee houses in Jerusalem are often similar.
This is the polluted pool which bears the rotten fruit we see on our breakfast tables and computer screens. Until fair minded outlets realise the safe news wire choice is no longer safe and start sourcing their own news, the malicious presentation of Israel will continue.
The aim of this piece is to continue pointing out the problems with using AP news wire pieces. To induce a state of nervousness within news rooms where currently none exists. This isn’t going to happen at the New York Times or the Guardian or the BBC: they’d take AP stories and make them worse.
There are some good journalists and news rooms out there who need to wake up and realise how bad the AP brand is for Israel news and how much it taints their otherwise good work.
Bonus pop quiz if you’re reading to the end and paying attention: can you find the hidden split infinitive in the Times of Israel piece.