As Aussie Dave wrote on Wednesday, conflicting accounts arose in the initial aftermath of the death of Ziad Abu Ein, the man who was once sentenced to life in prison for his role in two murders, but who eventually attained a high position in the Palestinian Authority government. The various accounts, from Palestinian sources, stated either that he was hit by an IDF soldier, or that he inhaled tear gas, or he was hit with a tear gas canister, or he was hit with a rifle. Ma’an news went with reports that
“an Israeli soldier beat him on the chest with his helmet . . . . Abu Ein also suffered severe tear gas inhalation as Israeli soldiers fired canisters in the area. . . . [and] Israeli forces beat Abu Ein with the butts of their rifles and their helmets during a protest march.”
No surprise there. One problem with the story, however: an Israeli journalist, Roy Sharon, who was at the scene claimed that Abu Ein was not hit. Notably, while there were at least two video cameras rolling, there is no video showing him being hit with a rifle or hit with a helmet or hit at all (only grabbed after he pushed an IDF officer).
So why did the JTA repeat Ma’an’s report, without noting the contradictory evidence?
JTA wrote on Wednesday that “Israeli soldiers beat Abu Ein and he suffered severe tear gas inhalation, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported,” without mentioning Roy Sharon’s conflicting account. To be fair, JTA did mention Sharon in an earlier report, and in a later article, linked to video that shows Abu Ein pushing the IDF soldier and then the soldier pushing him back. But news is consumed in large part as stand alone articles, with people emailing, facebooking, and tweeting single articles. JTA obviously knew about Sharon’s account and, for unknown reasons, failed to include it in the second article. Washington Post, Ynet news, and even Haaretz all noted Sharon’s account, but not JTA.
To be clear, I am not saying that JTA should have omitted the Ma’an version. Only that it also necessarily should have included a reliable account that contradicted what Ma’an said. This seems like a pretty basic principal of fair journalism, and JTA certainly ought to be fulfilling its obligation for fair reporting. Even beyond the standards of fair journalism, JTA has an obligation, as one of the main outlets of Jewish news, to be fair to the Jewish state. In an era when Israel is basically under attack by the mainstream media, JTA has to get it right in every article, not just some articles.
Since, as JTA reported, the PA is using this incident as an excuse to suspend security cooperation, this case was particularly important. Granted, this does not rise to the level of some of the other distortions that we’ve seen from CNN, AP, and the New York Times. But if we can’t count on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency to present both sides of the story, then how can we possibly expect mainstream media to treat Israel fairly?