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November 18, 2016 5:40 am

Wire Services Play Major Role in Anti-Israel Coverage

avatar by Simon Plosker

Email a copy of "Wire Services Play Major Role in Anti-Israel Coverage" to a friend
Thomson Reuters building. Photo: Wikipedia.

Thomson Reuters building. Photo: Wikipedia.

As the media landscape adjusts to financial realities and more news outlets make cuts, the role of wire services has increased.

While the New York Times, Washington Post and other big media beasts can maintain bureaus in Jerusalem, others take copy straight from Associated Press, Reuters and other wire services.

But when a wire service gets it wrong, how much responsibility rests on media outlets that republish a story without any due diligence?

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At the beginning of November, HonestReporting critiqued a story on the Reuters site looking at Palestinian water issues in the West Bank. The story also appeared on the Haaretz website, where it was attributed to Reuters, as well as a number of English-language Arab media outlets.

The story alleged that Palestinians were going thirsty due to Israeli intransigence, buttressed by Palestinian claims and politicized reports from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). There were, however, huge holes in the story. The journalist had evidently not done her homework. There was no background on the various Oslo-era agreements that still govern Palestinian water issues, no commentary from Israeli sources such as the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which plays a direct role in working with Palestinians to ensure that water is properly managed, etc.

HonestReporting contacted Reuters, explaining that, contrary to the published claim, Mekorot (Israel’s national water company) is not solely responsible for supplying Palestinians with water (the Palestinians are also responsible). We supplied a  COGAT statement explaining that, due to Palestinian rejectionism, the Joint Water Committee had not convened for the past few years, thereby putting hundreds of Israeli water efforts to benefit Palestinians on the back burner.

The original story was exposed as both factually inaccurate and hopelessly one-sided. Reuters, however, informed us that the story had, in fact, been written by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), a “completely separate” entity from Reuters.

Got that?

Once contacted, TRF acknowledged that its story was seriously compromised and took action to correct errors and include statements from both COGAT and Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Reuters followed suit.

But, while Reuters may not have been responsible for writing the story, it made the deliberate decision to republish an anti-Israel story and to offer it for distribution to other media outlets such as Haaretz.

Reuters played a direct role in the dissemination of the story and was clearly responsible for the initial damage.

This, however, was of little consequence to the Reuters Jerusalem bureau chief Luke Baker, who sent an email demanding that changes be made to HonestReporting’s critique, on the basis that Reuters was not responsible for writing the offending story.

Throughout, HonestReporting updated its content making it clear that TRF was the originator of the story. Contrast this with TRF and Reuters’ own treatment of their story. While TRF added a minor acknowledgment to reflect that changes had been made, Reuters included no visible admission that the story had been updated.

This is symptomatic of a wider problem. In the past, a correction would have been published at the end of an online article, but now editors quietly change a few words, or remove or add entire paragraphs in the hope that the readership won’t notice the initial error.

It’s hypocritical of Luke Baker to demand wholesale changes even when our own updates and corrections had been publicly acknowledged. Baker even threatened legal intervention. This was ultimately avoided but the exchange is perhaps unsurprising when considering Baker’s own history with HonestReporting.

Baker, then head of Israel’s Foreign Press Association, openly declared at a Knesset sub-committee meeting that there is “no bias” against Israel from the foreign media, while at the same time pointing to watchdogs such as HonestReporting for playing a positive role in keeping the media straight.

Yet, only a short time later, Baker publicly attacked HonestReporting on social media, questioning its very credibility. Maybe something to do with HonestReporting’s exposure of Baker’s anti-Israel comments on Twitter as well as his and Reuters’ coverage of Israel. This culminated in a feature-length investigation by Forbes reporter Richard Behar that did no favors for Baker’s professional reputation.

In this latest incident, Baker has singularly failed to take responsibility for Reuters’ role in disseminating a deeply flawed and anti-Israel story, preferring to try to take some petty revenge at the organization that had already exposed his own failings.

Does Baker care about making corrections only with respect to HonestReporting but not with respect to news organizations that republish Reuters copy?

If Haaretz can’t even differentiate between Reuters and TRF, you can bet that the average reader can’t either. Instead of passing the buck, it’s time for Luke Baker to concede that Reuters has a branding issue and to acknowledge Reuters’ key role in spreading an anti-Israel falsehood.

Simon Plosker is Managing Editor of HonestReporting (www.honestreporting.com).

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