Mideast Stories Lack Critical Info:

Too Many Witnesses and 'Experts' Go Unidentified in Times and AP Stories carried by News and Post

April 7, 2002, Rocky Mountain News

by David Kopel

Missing witnesses, bogus experts and speculation presented as fact - a characterization of detective work conducted by the Inspector Clouseau? No, it's a description of too many of the terrorism and foreign policy stories from The New York Times and Associated Press that have appeared in both The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News.

One of the lead international stories in the April 3 News was an AP article Greg Myre claiming that "The Israeli strategy has produced no tangible benefit so far" - a preposterous claim, in light of the capture of hundreds of terrorists, the seizure of terrorist weapons, the discovery of caches of documents detailing the Palestinian terror network and its links with the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the shutdown of a PA counterfeiting operation creating fake Israeli and U.S. currency. Not to mention a surge in overseas Jewish financial and moral support for Israel. Other than that, no tangible benefits.

April 1's lead story in the News and the Post was also by the AP's Myre. He reported that "Late Sunday [March 31], witnesses in Palestinian officials said Israeli soldiers opened fire on and killed five policeman when the Palestinians tried to surrender in Ramallah." The story quoted another Palestinian policeman, and an Israeli government denial - but the alleged "witnesses" were neither identified nor quoted. By claiming that "witnesses" supported the Arafat government's version of the events, the AP story made it appear that the Israel government was lying.

The March 31 Post led with a story combining Los Angeles Times and New York Times reporting. In this version, the five policemen were killed in an office building sometime before early Saturday (in other words, late on the 29th), and the bloodstain patterns on the wall suggested that they had all been executed with head or neck shots at close range. Again, no source for any of this information was offered.

An April 2 article from the Los Angeles Times (not carried in the Post or the News) explained that the March 29 incident was different from the March 31 incident. On March 31, a single Palestinian policeman who was "surrendering" to the Israelis while still carrying a gun was shot dead. The AP story that ran in the Post and the News on April 1 apparently conflated the March 31 and the March 29 incidents.

Articles in other places revealed more ambiguity about the March 29 incident than the News or the Post had acknowledged. The left-wing London Observer (March 31), while accepting the PA assertion that the five men were shot at close range, noted that the four of the five "policemen" were wearing the uniforms of "Force 17," Yasser Arafat's elite bodyguards (a group which Israel says has perpetrated numerous terrorist acts in recent months). CNN's Michael Holmes, in a March 30 story which is available at the CNN Web site, visited the scene personally; he examined the empty shell casings and other combat evidence and concluded "It would require a forensics team to work out exactly what happened." Neither the Post nor the News informed readers that, as the Los Angles Times wrote on April 2, all the killed "policemen [in both incidents] were members of the Palestinian National Security Forces, the body of Palestinian police closest to a standing army." In other words, they were elite soldiers.

The April 2 Post offered a Knight-Ridder story claiming that "Israeli soldiers opened fire on an unarmed group of international peace activists" in Bethlehem. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, a left-wing daily which has been extremely critical of the Ariel Sharon government, provided a few details omitted from the Knight-Ridder story: television footage showed that a lone soldier fired when a crowd of 100 people began marching toward an Israeli armored personnel carrier. The soldier did not shoot at the people, but at the ground in front of them.

The Knight-Ridder story concluded with an indignant quote from one of the pro-Arafat activists, "What have we done to provoke anybody?" Knight-Ridder failed to provide any context of Israeli concerns: the so-called "peace activists" have been caught trying to smuggle known terrorists out of Yasser Arafat's besieged compound.

On March 25, the Post carried a Times story warning against U.S. efforts to capture terrorists hiding in the Northwest tribal areas of Pakistan. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf "cannot afford unrest in the tribal areas, Pakistani political observers say." Well, which "Pakistani political observers"? The same ones who warned us that invading Afghanistan would lead to the overthrow of Musharraf's government? Disclosing the names of the "experts" would help readers make a determination about credibility.

The March 29 Post featured more secret "experts" from the Times, in a news article bemoaning the Justice Department's decision to seek the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui, alleged to be the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. According to the Times, "Capital punishment specialists said this appeared to be the first time prosecutors have sought the federal death penalty on the basis of conspiracy charges alone." It would be nice to know who these alleged "capital punishment specialists" are, since they are amazingly ignorant of American history. The most famous federal death penalty case ever in America was the conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and other Soviet spies in the early '50s for conspiracy for selling the atomic bomb secret to the Soviet Union.

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