The AP’s Gonzo Journalism

The decay of the traditional Western media into irrelevance continues, as it sinks to the level of the old Soviet Pravda.

News item (the numbering of the paragraphs is mine):

1. (AP) JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has made two overtures to West Bank settlers in the run-up to his party’s leadership race on Tuesday: It’s offering financial incentives to encourage people to move to settlements and opening the door to legalizing rogue settler outposts.

2. The gestures appear to be aimed at appeasing hardline elements in the ruling Likud Party who are sympathetic to settlers. While Netanyahu is expected to win the leadership race, a relatively strong showing by his ultranationalist rival would suggest many Likud voters consider the prime minister too soft on peacemaking with the Palestinians.

3. The moves threatened to derail tentative new peace efforts with the Palestinians. A round of low-level peace negotiations ground to a halt last week, in large part because of Palestinian objections to Israeli settlement construction. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon is expected in the region Wednesday in an effort to restart the talks…

4. Years ago, the Israeli government halted generous financial enticements designed to encourage Israelis to settle in the West Bank, the occupied territory the Palestinians see as the core of their future state.

5. But in this week’s government decision, 70 settlements appeared on a new list of 557 communities inside Israel and the West Bank that qualify for housing subsidies. The incentives, according to a statement from the prime minister’s office, are “meant to encourage positive migration to these communities.” …

6. In a separate move, the government on Monday appointed a committee to examine land ownership issues in the West Bank. The panel will review a 2005 government report that found several dozen outposts were built not only without state approval, but on privately held Palestinian land. Officials said the report needs to be reviewed because its author, state prosecutor Talia Sasson, later entered politics with a dovish political party, raising questions about her objectivity…

7. …the panel’s makeup aroused suspicions it would legalize at least some of the more than 100 outposts built without government authorization, including dozens Sasson says were erected on privately held Palestinian land.

This is presented as a news story, not an editorial. Let’s look at how it’s constructed.

In the very first sentence, the idea is introduced that these actions were taken in order to improve PM Netanyahu’s chances in the Likud primary. This may be true to some extent — although his opponent, Moshe Feiglin, is in no way a real threat (initial results show Netanyahu with 63% of the vote vs. Feiglin’s 36) — but surely, unsourced speculation about Netanyahu’s motives does not belong in the lead sentence of a news story.

The reporter does not let up in the second paragraph, where he refers to “hardline elements” who are “sympathetic to settlers.” I would hazard a guess that almost all Likud party members are to some extent sympathetic to Jews living east of the Green Line, considering that they face pressure from the Arabs, the US, the EU and the (vanishing but foreign-supported) Israeli Left to leave their homes and become refugees like the former residents of Gush Katif.

In paragraph 3, we get the usual line that “settlement construction” — meaning construction within existing settlements — may “derail” peace efforts. Why is that? It doesn’t change anything, particularly since most of the construction is in the larger settlements or eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods that would be expected to become part of Israel in any reasonable peace agreement. It is a problem only because the Palestinians insist that it will be. One would think that the introduction of the Hamas into the Palestinian Authority and the likelihood that it will win future elections (or coups) would be a much bigger problem! But the writer doesn’t mention that.

Then in paragraph 4, he trots out the “occupied territory the Palestinians see as the core of their future state.”  The implication is that Israelis don’t have a right to live here, and Palestinian demands for Jew-free land are acceptable. I’ve discussed the falsehood of this view here.

Only in paragraphs 5-6 do we get to something partially resembling factual reporting. We are led to understand that there is a controversy concerning a 2005 land use report authored by Talia Sasson. The writer tells us that she became associated with a “dovish” party and so her objectivity  when she determined that many settlements were built on “private Palestinian land” may have been questionable.

But Talia Sasson is a board member of the New Israel Fund, a member of the Public Council of Yesh Din, a foreign-funded left-wing NGO which carries out ‘lawfare’ against Israel in the name of ‘human rights’, and a Knesset candidate of the fringe New Movement-Meretz party (which has 3 seats out of 120 in the Knesset). She is a professional opponent of the Jewish presence in the territories. Her objectivity is more than questionable, it is non-existent.

Finally, paragraph 7 uses the loaded phrase “arouses suspicion” and quotes Sasson as an authority.

Although the writer clearly has a point of view, it would still have been possible to provide some balance by including other interpretations. But this was not done: the article does not quote a single spokesman for PM Netanyahu or the Israeli government. It does, however, give voice to the Palestinian position:

“They are adding obstacles at a time when everyone is intensifying efforts to try to resume peace talks,” said Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib. “I think with every additional settlement activity, the feasibility of having two states is diminished.”

And just to be fair, a spokesperson for Peace Now also appears:

After suspending benefits unique to the settlements, the government is now encouraging settlers to move to the West Bank under a different program, said Hagit Ofran of the anti-settlement group Peace Now. “They put in 70 settlements, in effect encouraging them to live there,” Ofran said.

I know that there is a place for what Hunter Thompson called “Gonzo journalism,” but it isn’t a wire service news report, where the ancient Five Ws are still appropriate.

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One Response to “The AP’s Gonzo Journalism”

  1. Robman says:

    There may be some sort of esoteric strategic political reason for not doing this – yet – but I am still at a loss to explain why Netanyahu did not firmly and openly declare Oslo dead and the PA illegitimate as soon as Abbas opened his big mouth at the UN this past September.

    That is the huge galaxy-sized FACT that is missing in this garbage journalism (“gonzo” is way too polite).

    The Israelis have no real reason to show any restraint. The PA has not budged a millimeter on any important issue. Screw them. KEEP BUILDING.

    All this use of the word “settlements” and “settlers”…I so tire of this.

    Heck, Cincinnati is a “settlement”. It was founded years before Ohio even became a state. The Western U.S> is chock full of “settlements” (I would define a “settlement” as any community established in a geographic region prior to that region being formally incorporated into the nation state from whence the inhabitants came).

    At what point does a “settlement” become a “community”? Is there some statute of limitations on being called a “settlement”?

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