Journalism 101: Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy
The verdict in the murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh last week is in: the Israeli military, accused by eyewitnesses of shooting her, won’t conduct a criminal investigation into the Al Jazeera network reporter’s slaying.
The stated reason according to the Israeli daily Haaretz is that there’s no suspicion of a criminal act as soldiers testified they hadn’t seen Abu Akleh and were firing at gunmen nearby during a military raid on the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin.
“However, it seems that one of the reasons for the decision was the belief that such an investigation, which would necessitate questioning as potential criminal suspects soldiers for their actions during a military operation, would provoke opposition and controversy within the IDF and in Israeli society in general,” the paper said.
Now comes the critical thinking question: how much reporting and follow-up can we expect from Western (mostly U.S.) media, almost a week after their less-than-stellar coverage of Abu Akleh’s funeral and during which Israeli troops viciously attacked her pallbearers and falsely claimed they were the victims of stone throwers, which witnesses and video footage refuted?
TIME magazine reported that when news emerged of Abu Akleh’s killing near where troops were engaged in military arrest raids, Israel convened its national PR staff to form a plan of action.
“It decided to circulate a video of a (sic) Palestinian gunmen shooting indiscriminately from inside the Jenin refugee camp and blame them for the Al Jazeera reporter’s death. But its strategy fell flat when another video revealed that Abu Akleh died nowhere near there,” TIME said.
It added that “deny and deflect” is Israel’s usual strategy for dealing with high-profile civilian deaths.
On Saturday, Dima Khatib, the managing director of Al Jazeera network’s AJ+ Channels, tweeted: “4 days since #ShireenAbuAkleh was killed by Israeli soldiers in Jenin. Still no accountability. Just PR games supported by geopolitics. Impunity over crimes against journalists must end. No more impunity. #Justice_for_ShireenAbuAkleh.”
So how many reporters and editors lap up the Israeli official version of events and what verbs, adjectives and nouns do they employ to characterize such actions?
It’s Journalism 101 that’s tripped up Western reporters and editors whose linguistic contortions in covering the funeral have infuriated professional journalists and others dedicated to accuracy and media ethics.
On the day of the funeral The Associated Press (AP) tweeted: “Israeli police moved in on a crowd of mourners at the funeral of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, beating demonstrators with batons and causing pallbearers to briefly drop the casket.”
Lebanese, writer/translator Lina Mounzer shot back: “So they ‘moved in’ on ‘mourners’ (benign) but then they ‘beat’ some ‘demonstrators’ (who deserved it!) and this somehow ‘caused’ the ‘pallbearers’ (magically!) to drop the casket. I guess these are all different groups of people? Some truly insane language gymnastics at work here.”
Writer/researcher Jihad Samra also smacked down the AP wording.
“It was a funeral, not a demonstration. And what do you mean by ‘moved in?’ How about, ‘they nicely approached and tried to murder them with kindness?’” he asked.
Maybe AP journalists should check their own stylebook and use strong active verbs like “assaulted and battered.”
The AP Stylebook, described as the gold standard for writing, defines assault and battery as, “Assault almost always implies physical contact and sudden, intense violence. Legally, however, assault means simply to threaten violence, as in pointing a pistol at an individual without firing it. Assault and battery is the legal term when the victim was touched by the assaulter or something the assaulter put in motion.”
CNN’s senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt tweeted: “The Biden administration has settled on describing this an ‘intrusion’ on Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “We were deeply troubled by the images of Israeli police intruding into the funeral procession of Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh. Every family deserves to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the intransitive verb “intrude” is to thrust oneself in without invitation, permission, or welcome; to enter as a geologic intrusion. The transitive verb definition is to thrust or force in or upon someone or something especially without permission, welcome or fitness; to cause to enter as if by force.
One wonders if the bend-over-backwards Foggy Bottom verbal trapeze artists were thinking of some gauche uninvited boor intruding on a diplomatic cocktail party.
BBC world tweeted: “Violence breaks out at funeral of reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in East Jerusalem. Her coffin was jostled as Israeli police and Palestinians clashed as it left hospital.”
Tweep Aaron Bastani countered: “How can people carrying a coffin clash with police? They were being attacked.”
Another tweep weighed in: “Would anyone watching the video of this honestly describe this as ‘jostling’?”
Al Jazeera Arabic presenter Rawaa Augé had this recommendation: “Dear @bbcworld let’s meet with other journalists around the world and discuss editorial ethics when reporting about Israeli police attacking fellow journalists carrying the coffin of an assassinated journalist by Israel. It is unjust to equate the peaceful with the violent.”
The Catholic News Agency (CNA) said Christian leaders condemned the police violence at Abu Akleh’s funeral in the parking lot of St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem, calling it ”a violent intrusion.”
“Israeli Police’s invasion and disproportionate use of force, attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital’s patients, is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed also in a public space,” CNA reported.
This statement didn’t get much mileage in mainstream Western media many of whose reporters were surprised to find out Abu Akleh was a U.S. citizen and a Melkite Catholic Christian.
The World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) representing 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, urged Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett “to facilitate the rapid establishment of a thorough, independent, and transparent investigation into this tragic incident.”
According to The Intercept, two congressional Democrats circulated a letter demanding an FBI investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing.
“Addressed to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the draft letter requests both an FBI investigation as well as a determination by the State Department about whether the killing of the American journalist in Israeli-occupied territory violated any U.S. laws,” it said.
How much media follow-up has there been of this request?
Talal Alsadi, the CEO of Cedara Project Management Consultancy, posted a screenshot of a New York Times headline on the death of American journalist Brent Renaud in Ukraine with the verb “killed” underlined and another headline from the same paper stating “Shireen Abu Akleh, Palestinian Journalist, Dies, Aged 51,” with the verb “dies” underlined.
As I wrote last week, “Why do Western media use watered-down, clinical and passive verbs to describe Israeli targeting of Palestinians — in this case journalists — but switch to gung-ho active verbs in denouncing Russian aggression against Ukranian media and citizens was the question making the rounds following Abu Akleh’s cold-blooded murder?”
Tweeps across the Arab world posted an illustration of Shireen Abu Akleh as Lady Liberty wearing a “Press” flak jacket, holding a map of Palestine in one hand and an Al Jazeera microphone raised in the other.