Thursday, April 15, 2010

Abusing the Power of the Press at The Hartford Courant

This op-ed was published in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger April 16, 2010.

Abusing the Power of the Press
Hartford Courant Publishes Lies, Quashes Criticism

By Alan Stein

There apparently is life-after-death. Years after even The Hartford Courant became embarrassed by the fanaticism of one columnist, Amy Pagnozzi has apparently been resurrected as Bessy Reyna.

Like Pagnozzi, Bessy Reyna specializes in writing anti-Israel diatribes that are venomous, misleading and filled with obvious factual errors.

The Courant not only keeps publishing Reyna's screeds and refuses to issue corrections, but adamantly refuses to even publish letters pointing out their factual errors.

At a meeting PRIMER held with Editorial Page Editor Carolyn Lumsden and Op-Ed Editor Peter Pach on November 11, 2008, Lumsden tacitly conceded Reyna's columns crossed a line leaving us with the impression that Reyna would be sticking to local issues about which she had some knowledge.

Yet The Courant published another one of Reyna's anti-Israel screeds on March 21, although Lumsden defended it as having a hometown angle.

The hometown angle consisted of unfair criticism of United States Congressman Joseph Courtney and Goodspeed Opera House Executive Director Michael Price. Their crime was planning to travel to Israel to promote business for Connecticut companies, but that was incidental to what seems to be Reyna's true purpose, defaming Israel.

Even without its factual errors, Reyna's March 21 column contained errors of omission and distortions which should have prevented its publication in any responsible newspaper.

For example, she refers to the "Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron" and the "Mosque of Biai ibn Rabah" in Bethlehem without any reference to their more neutral and familiar names, the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb, thus deliberately hiding their Jewish connection predating Islam by millennia.

PRIMER didn't even ask for corrections of these errors of omission, restricting its request for corrections to errors of commission, reminding The Courant about the portion of Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists that specifies "Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other" and "Journalists should: ... Admit mistakes and correct them promptly" and the portion of the Statement of Principles of the American Society of Newspaper Editors which specifies "Editorials, analytical articles and commentary should be held to the same standards of accuracy with respect to facts as news reports. Significant errors of fact, as well as errors of omission, should be corrected promptly and prominently."

Among Reyna's errors of commission:

- Reyna falsely referred to plans for additional housing in the existing Jewish community of Ramat Shlomo as "a new settlement."

- Reyna falsely stated the Israeli government's inclusion of The Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb in a list of Jewish heritage sites would limit access for Muslims.

- Reyna falsely referred to The Tomb of the Patriarchs as a "Palestinian place of worship since the seventh century."

- Reyna falsely referred to the demonstration held after the publication of the list of Jewish heritage sites as "peaceful." (I happened to be in Jerusalem when those "peaceful" demonstrators were throwing stones down at Jews trying to worship at the Western Wall and avoided walking to The Wall one Shabbat to keep my head intact.)

- Reyna falsely referred to Ramat Shlomo as being in "East Jerusalem." (Ramat Shlomo isn't even in eastern Jerusalem; it clearly is in northern Jerusalem, if you can even find it on a map, since it's north of the areas shown on most maps. According to Pach, the (incorrect) use of the term "East Jerusalem" by many other people makes it okay for The Courant.)

The editors of The Courant denied any of these were errors.

They also refused to publish a letter the president of PRIMER submitted. Their stated grounds: the letter falsely asserted Reyna's op-ed contained errors. (The letter may be viewed on PRIMER's web site.)

The Hartford Courant isn't alone in its reluctance to issue corrections to factual errors but, as my mother used to tell me, just because everyone else does it doesn't make it right.

The Courant's misrepresentations and quashing of criticism are unethical and abuses of journalistic responsibility on the part of what's considered Connecticut's flagship newspaper.

Alan Stein, Ph.D., is president of PRIMER-Connecticut, the statewide, media monitoring organization composed of volunteers devoted to Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting. He may be reached by email at

The texts of the correspondence between PRIMER and The Hartford Courant are available both on the PRIMER website at and the PRIMER blog at

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