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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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