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February 19, 2016 5:39 am

Reuters’ Jerusalem Bureau Chief Displays Anti-Israel Bias

avatar by Tamar Sternthal

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CCTV footage in Jerusalem shows stabbing attack, police subduing teenage assailants. Photo: Screenshot

CCTV footage in Jerusalem shows stabbing attack, police subduing teenage assailants. Photo: Screenshot

Journalists are tasked with sorting through competing claims, bringing facts to light, and carefully examining uncomfortable or controversial subjects. When it comes to questions about their own professionalism, however, some journalists energetically avoid the facts by changing the subject or lashing out against their critics.

The recent Twitter behavior of Luke Baker, who serves as the Jerusalem bureau chief for Reuters and the head of the Foreign Press Association in Israel (which represents more than 480 journalists reporting in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza), is a case in point.

First, let’s review the facts that Baker would rather we forget.

Last week, Baker and I both testified at the same special Knesset session examining international media coverage of Palestinian terror attacks. I provided examples of biased coverage that downplayed Palestinian violence, and reported unfounded Palestinian charges against Israel as if they were facts. Baker, for his part, defended the media’s work over the last five months, insisting that the problem was limited to a handful of misleading headlines, which were all immediately corrected.

He cited the record of his own media outlet, claiming that out of 700 headlines dealing with Israel and the Palestinians in the last several months, only one was problematic — and it was immediately corrected.

But, as documented in CAMERA’s detailed analysis addressing both Baker’s comments as well as the FPA letter slamming the Knesset session in advance of the meeting, Reuters published several headlines that falsely depicted Palestinian attackers as victims.

In addition to the uncorrected headlines (“Israeli forces shoot dead five Palestinians as violence rages on,” “Israeli soldiers kill 3 Palestinians in West Bank,” and “Israeli troops kill three Palestinians in West Bank, Gaza”), Reuters used this comically vague heading for a video about a Palestinian would-be stabber: “Israelis Kill Jerusalem Knife Man.”

Reuters’ distorted headlines only tell half the story, though. Reuters captionsgraphics, and news coverage also minimized Palestinian violence.

CAMERA’s Gilead Ini also responded to misrepresentations in the FPA letter. For instance, the FPA alleged that its members’ balanced coverage accurately portrays world leaders’ criticism of “Israel’s use of force to quell Palestinian attacks, with all of them urging proportionality and restraint . . . The media is the messenger.”

Is it true that media outlets have done no wrong, faithfully reporting world leaders’ statements about events in the region, as the FPA wrote? Hardly.

As Ini demonstrated, leading media outlets routinely downplay world leaders’ criticism of the Palestinians, while prominently covering criticism of Israel. Thus, The New York Times excised statements by US Secretary of State John Kerry harshly condemning Palestinian violence. And when UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon released a statement condemning what he described as Palestinian terrorism and disproportionate Israeli force, Reuters, the Associated Press, National Public RadioThe Washington PostLos Angeles Times, and PBS quoted only his criticism of Israel.

When asked to address the substance of these and other CAMERA concerns, Baker tweeted that “it’s wrong to say I called [the Knesset session] a witch hunt before it had even begun.”

But it’s Baker who is wrong. He did call the polite Knesset meeting a witch hunt before it even started. As reported by Haaretz: “In a conversation with Haaretz in advance of the session, Baker, Reuters’ bureau chief, said: ‘We agreed to come and hear what they had to say, although on the face of it, this looks like an attempt at a witch hunt.’”

When asked specifically about the three uncorrected Reuters headlines depicting Palestinian attackers as victims (Baker had told the Knesset members there was just one, and it was corrected), the journalist went silent.

Baker has not provided any further response to the substance of CAMERA’s critique of the FPA statement or coverage by Reuters and other international news outlets. Instead, the bureau chief, who is responsible for 60 journalists covering Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, has unprofessionally and clumsily attempted to steer the subject away from unprofessional coverage by tweeting the salary of a senior executive at CAMERA.

(As MK Michael Oren pointed out during the Knesset meeting, the inflated number of Reuters journalists covering Israel and the Palestinians versus the relatively meager number of Reuters journalists covering war-torn Syria — 12 — is itself illuminating.)

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.”

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.

Update: CAMERA researchers have discovered that, although the English version of the Haaretz article cited above quotes Baker referring to a witch hunt before the meeting, the Hebrew version claims he made the comment after the meeting. (Baker shared the English version on Twitter, and did not challenge its accuracy.) Regardless, the point raised above remains: Baker likened the subcommittee meeting to a “witch hunt” before the meeting and before any evidence could be heard. He did this if not to a Haaretz reporter, then certainly on Twitter.

Tamar Sternthal is director of the Israel office of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). 

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  • Hamanslayer

    As a former journalist and member of the IPA (with The Jerusalem Post in the 1970’s), I can tell you that this problem is nothing new. In the early 70’s we were still using the telex for wire news, and while Reuters was considered relatively reliable (at least with news not concerned with Israel), UPI was far more trustworthy. But we always had to compare and sift, to try to eliminate reporters’ and editors’ bias, slanting, and falsification or inaccuracies.

    However, as CAMERA can probably tell you, there is not too much you can do about it. I believe AFP is far worse, as has been The New York Times! One of the reasons is that Israel, as a democracy, has plenty of its own left-wing biased, slanted and often lying journalists, not Just in Ha’aretz. It reminds me of a colleague who was orthodox — kippah wearing — who was just about as far left as can be, which was quite acceptable to the left-leaning Post at the time. His reporting, though generally accurate, had so much bias and slant as to raise the hackles of most of the editorial staff, which were themselves left-leaning…
    The only possible answer, I think, is for Israel’s IPA and officials too ignore good Ole Luke and his Colleagues, not grant them interviews and not answer their questions. Turning a cold shoulder to them will sooner, rather than later, force them to reach a modus vivendi which will be based on total fairness, accuracy and impartiality.

  • The vast majority of “news media”, around the world, are simply propaganda arms of the left. Including Haaretz. They scream, they’re simply “unbiased observers”, reporting the facts,but, any one with an IQ of 30, or higher, if they’re honest, can read or hear for themselves. I am convinced, and this is my opinion, it isn’t Yisrael, they hate, per se, but the God of Avraham. The very existence of the children of Yaacov, proves HaShem exists!!! They hate His definitions of “right or wrong”, good and evil, etc.

  • Alex S

    The fact that Reuters is anti-Israel is no surprise. What we all should surprised about is that Israel still hasn’t revoked Baker’s visa rights and booted him out of the country.

  • Ray Hampton

    Mr Luke Baker,

    There are two things I believe about ‘New Papers’
    (1) The date (2) The Tile – The rest is pure conjecture

    You tell us that you have been a professional journalist for twenty years now, and, like you, many of the journalists sent here are highly experienced.

    Your emphasis: ‘The Israelis believe that it doesn’t reflect their stance, but that isn’t what the journalists are here for. I don’t see lack of balance in the foreign press.

    (1) The Israelis believe that it doesn’t reflect their stance
    …….(1a) You say that your reporting doesn’t reflect the stance of Israel!
    (2) That isn’t what the journalists are here for.
    …….(2a) That this is not what journalists are for!
    (3) I don’t see lack of balance in the foreign press.
    ……(3a) Surely a balanced press reviews both sides ??

    Mr Baker,
    “You sir, are an intellectual prostitutes”.
    Quote: 1880, John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff at the New York Times,

    A note from a very infamous writer – Asked to give a toast before the prestigious New York Press Club in 1880, John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff at the New York Times, made the above confession. Swinton was called ‘The dean of his profession’ by other newsmen, who greatly admired him.
    “There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job.”

    “If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell the country for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.

    1880, John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff at the New York Times

    … Ray ..

  • ZG

    At least some organization holds these jackals accountable.

  • Sarah

    Excellent article–sharing!

  • Wm. J. Levy

    Reuters being anti-Jew doesn’t surprise me.

    How many Jews know the story of Reuters which was founded by the 3rd son of the Rabbi from Cassel, Germany who immigrated to England, converted to Presbyterianism and founded Reuters?

    These converted Jews might have left Judaism but they were still Jews in everyone’s eyes but them.

    To hell with this Reuter’s Jerusalem head. Throw him out of the country.

  • Sadly, this misrepresentation has even colored the opinions of American Jews, who should know better. We seem to have gone from “Next year in Jerusalem” to “Next Year in Miami.”

  • Frank Adam

    Nice point that journalists are not exempt from criticism and mud pies.

  • stevenl

    Expel Reuters journalists until they behave!

  • Ephraim

    If you want to see journalistic ethics, go to a museum. This article is the tip of the iceberg to the virulently antisemitic press’s war on Israel. To them, facts are inconvenient, and truth is anathema. If they had to live up to ethical reporting, they would all shut down.

  • Benjamin Godder

    why You dont just kick his butt off and throw him out from Israel.

  • carol greenwald

    As always, CAMERA is there to keep the record straight and the reporters honest. Kol hakavod, Tamar.