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Saturday, October 07, 2006

 

Weir: 'Just Another Mother Murdered'

I'd written about the Washington Post's lousy reporting on recent deaths in Gaza here.

Alison Weir has written "Just Another Mother Murdered," about the underreporting of the same incident:

Almost no one bothered to report it. A search of the nation's largest newspapers turned up nothing in USA Today, the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Chicago Sun-Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Houston Chronicle, Tampa Tribune, etc.

There was nothing on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, NPR, Fox News. Nothing.
The LA Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Associated Press each had one sentence, at most, telling about her. All three left out the details, the LA Times had her age significantly off, and the Washington Post reported that she had been killed by an Israeli tank shell.

It hadn't been a tank shell that had killer her, according to witnesses. It had been bullets, multiple ones, fired up close.

Neighbors report that Israeli soldiers had been beating her husband because he wasn't answering their questions. Foolishly or valiantly, how is one to say, the 35-year-old woman had interfered. She tried to explain that her husband was deaf, screamed at the soldiers that her husband couldn't hear them and attempted to stop them from hitting him. So they shot her. Several times.

Her name was Itemad Ismail Abu Mo'ammar.
She didn't die, though. That took longer. It required her life to flow out of her in the form of blood for several hours, as Israeli soldiers refused to allow an ambulance to transport her to help. Her husband and children could do nothing to save her.

Finally, after approximately five hours, an ambulance was allowed to take her to a hospital, where physicians were able to render one service: pronounce her dead, a few days before the commencement of Ramadan, a season of family gatherings much like the Christmas season for Americans. She left 11 children. None of this was in the Washington Post story, which had reported her death in one half of one sentence.

Her husband's brother, who lived in the same house, was also killed. He was a 28-year-old farmer.

Why did this all happen? The family lived behind a resistance fighter wanted by Israel. They were simply "collateral damage" in a failed Israeli assassination/kidnapping operation.
All together, five Palestinians were killed that day. The other three were young shepherds killed in another area, two 15 years old and one 14, who seem to have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gaza.

None of this was reported in most of America's news media, and so the American public never learned about a mother bleeding to death in front of her children, or young shepherds being blown to pieces. Apparently, it just wasn't newsworthy.

A Case Study of "Good" News Coverage

The Washington Post at least mentioned these deaths, so perhaps those who care about journalistic standards should laud the Post for its coverage.

And yet, the Post in its short report got so much so wrong.

In addition to misreporting Itemad's cause of death and omitting critical facts, the Post's story portrayed the entire context incorrectly, telling readers that these five deaths had broken a period of "relative calm."

The fact is that while it was true that in the previous six months not a single Israeli child had been killed by Palestinians, during this period Israelis had killed 75 Palestinian young people, including an 8-month-old and several three-year-olds.

I phoned the Post and spoke to a foreign editor about the need to run a correction, providing information on Itemad's murder. The editor said that she would pass this on to their correspondent (who is based in Israel), but explained that it was "impossible for him to go to Gaza." When I disagreed, she amended the "impossible" to "very difficult." She neglected to mention that the Post has access to stringers in Gaza available to check out any incident the editors deem important.

Next, I wrote a letter to the paper containing the above information. Happily, the Post letters department apparently checked it out and decided it was a good letter. They sent an email informing me that they were considering my letter for publication and needed to confirm that I was the one who had written it, and that I had not sent the information elsewhere.

I replied in the affirmative, we exchanged a few more messages, and everything appeared on target. Normally, when publications contact you in this way, your letter is published shortly thereafter. I waited in anticipation. And waited.

It is now almost two weeks after their report, and I have just been informed that the paper has decided not to print my letter. The Post has apparently determined that there is no need to run a correction.

I think I understand.

Although the Washington Post's statement of principles proclaims, "This newspaper is pledged to minimize the number of errors we make and to correct those that occur... Accuracy is our goal; candor is our defense," the American Society of Newspaper Editors clarifies these ethical requirements: corrections need only be printed when the error of commission or omission is "significant."

And, after all, these were only Palestinians, and it was just another mother dead.

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