My Mideast Punchlines: the corruption of international journalism….

I commend you to an article in The Atlantic by the brilliant journalist, Matti Friedman. It’s a follow-up to his original take on the failings of the foreign media vis-a-vis the latest war with Hamas. I have extracted a few lines from yesterday’s article to highlight my own personal story as a journalist trying to stem the tide of unprofessional conduct shown by my colleagues. Déjà vu for yours truly. Flashback to 1975, and I am working as a sub editor on the Reuters world desk (having worked as a foreign correspondent for the AP in Tel Aviv in 1970). A story comes through on the teleprinter quoting the Palestinian news agency Wafa as saying mujahedin had blown up a petrol station in Tel Aviv. They proudly give the location. I quickly realise that this is only 50 yards from Reuters’ bureau in Tel Aviv (Beit Maariv, to be precise). It was clear that our correspondents would have had to have been deaf not to have heard the blast. I bring this to the attention of the editor in charge and at first he refuses to spike the story. For the sake of accuracy, I plead with him to check with our bureau. He finally relents, and it soon becomes clear that the Palestinians’ story is a complete fabrication. Reluctantly, he spikes the story, but leaves me in no doubt that he is not happy about it. I am not sacked, but I am told that “you will never work for us in Tel Aviv”.

Anyway, here’s the relevant excerpt from Matti Friedman’s article. It concerns his former AP colleague, Mark Lavie.

‘But things changed in earnest in 2000, with the collapse of peace efforts and the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Israel accepted President Bill Clinton’s peace framework that fall and the Palestinians rejected it, as Clinton made clear. Nevertheless, Lavie recently told me, the bureau’s editorial line was still that the conflict was Israel’s fault, and the Palestinians and the Arab world were blameless. By the end of Lavie’s career, he was editing Israel copy on the AP’s Middle East regional desk in Cairo, trying to restore balance and context to stories he thought had little connection to reality. In his words, he had gone from seeing himself as a proud member of the international press corps to “the Jew-boy with his finger in the dike.” He wrote a book, Broken Spring, about his front-row view of the Middle East’s descent into chaos, and retired disillusioned and angry.’

Small FistWay back in 1975, I felt like ‘the Jew-boy with his finger in the dyke’. I retired from Reuters (albeit through ill-health) in 1980. But by then I, too, had become disillusioned and angry. Little did I realise how much worse it was going to get.

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