Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hartford Courant Again Publishes and Refuses to Correct Blatant Errors

The Hartford Courant has a history of publishing columns by Bessy Reyna which are not only heavily-biased against Israel (which is permissible in an opinion piece), but which are filled with blatant errors and misrepresentations (which is not permissible even in an opinion piece).

In the past, PRIMER has pointed this out to The Courant, which has always refused to issue corrections despite its ethical obligation to do so. It has also offered to act as a resource so The Courant could find errors before publication, but The Courant has never availed itself of PRIMER's offer.

On March 21, The Hartford Courant published yet another commentary by Bessy Reyna, filled with errors of commission and omission, misrepresentations and distortions, entitled Amid Repression, Provocations of Palestinians, It's Business As Usual.

PRIMER quickly sent a message to the editorial page editor of The Courant, listing some of the blatant factual errors and requesting corrections be issued. Such corrections are mandated both by the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Statement of Principles of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

The Courant not only refused to issue any corrections, but also told PRIMER it would not publish a letter longer than 200 words, even though a concise, partial listing of errors, without even giving context, took 225 words.

A letter is being sent to the letters editor of The Hartford Courant. It, of course, addresses only a miniscule portion of the errors and misrepresentations in Reyna's commentary, not to mention the unwillingness of The Courant to issue corrections. The letter is not included here.

The following is the text of the exchange of emails between PRIMER President Alan Stein, Courant Editorial Page Editor Carolyn Lumsden and Courant Op-Ed Editor Peter Pach. Portions of some of the messages quoted earlier messages; for the sake of clarity and brevity, those portions are replaced by ellipses (…).

March 21, 2010. From Alan Stein to Carolny Lumsden:

I was disappointed to see yet another Bessy Reyna commentary about Israel published, the second of which I'm aware since our 2008 meeting at which we were told she had been instructed to stop writing on that subject.

Besides her expected extreme bias and sins of omission which go beyond any responsible commentary, Reyna again included several blatant factual errors. On behalf of PRIMER-Connecticut and in line with the responsibility of newspapers when factual errors are published, I request that corrections be issued.

Among the factual errors:

•" … the announcement of Israel's plan to build a new settlement of 1,600 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem."

The plans are not for a "new settlement." They are for additions to an existing community. (The Israeli government hasn't approved any "new settlements" since the start of the failed Oslo process.)

There also is no entity by the name of "East Jerusalem," despite the widespread, but incorrect use of that term. Ramat Shlomo is not even in the eastern portion of Jerusalem; it's actually in northwest Jerusalem.

It's also highly questionable to refer to the area as occupied, since it isn't even in the portion of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan but it's in what had been a "no man's land" between the Israeli portion and the portion occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967.

•" … prompted by Israel's decision to name the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron- a Palestinian place of worship since the seventh century - and the Mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah in Bethlehem as Jewish heritage sites, thus limiting Muslims' access to their own mosques."

Including these sites on a list of Jewish heritage sites (which they clearly are) in no way limits the access of Muslims. Indeed, the improvements planned will actually increase the accessibility for Muslims. (One might consider the latter assertion as a matter of opinion, but Reyna's statement was asserted as fact and is clearly false.)

It's also false to refer to the first as a "Palestinian place of worship since the seventh century," since it is indisputable that there was no "Palestinian people" at that time.

What Reyna misleadingly refers to only as the "Ibrahimi Mosque" is the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It has had some significance to Muslims, but that is predated by millennia by the holiness to Jews, something Reyna completely omits.

Similarly, what Reyna misleadingly refers to only as the "Mosque of Bilal ibn Rabah" is actually Rachel's Tomb, similarly revered by Jews long before Islam arose.

These omissions may not technically be factual errors, but are certainly misleading distortions which qualify as egregious violations of journalistic responsibility.

•…"The peaceful demonstrations which have resulted as a reaction to the taking of these mosques …"

The demonstrations were far from peaceful. Some of them involved throwing stones at people trying to worship at the Western Wall. (This affected me personally, since I happened to be in Jerusalem at the time, was planning to visit the Western Wall and changed those plans primarily because of the violent demonstrations.)

To refer to "the taking of these mosques" is also totally false; nothing has been taken.

•"Known as the Goldstone Report, it concluded that there was strong evidence confirming that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza from Dec. 27, 2008, to Jan. 17, 2009."

This is also false and contradicted by the words of the author of the report. Judge Goldstone himself has stated "If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven."

One can reasonably question the wisdom of certain Israeli actions, but like Reyna's previously commentaries on the Arab war against the existence of the only Jewish state in the world, this column was venomous, goes far beyond the line of reasonable criticism, contains unacceptable distortions resulting from what can only be inferred to be the deliberate omission of highly relevant facts and contains blatant factual errors.

Again, on behalf of PRIMER, I request The Courant appropriate issue official corrections for the blatant factual errors and in the future refrain from staining its pages by publishing additional commentaries which so blatantly cross the line separating legitimate criticism from hateful screeds.

March 25. Carolyn Lumsden to Alan Stein:

Dear Mr. Stein: Thank you for your thoughtful email. I apologize if I gave you the impression that I had told Bessy Reyna to stop writing entirely about Israel. I had asked her to write about topics closer to home. Her Sunday op-ed had the kind of hometown angles that do localize an international topic.

Peter Pach researched Bessy's article thoroughly. I understand and appreciate that you disagree with much of it. We strive for a lively exchange of opinion. We've had many letters on both Bessy's op-ed and Mr. Fuchs'. You might want to consider that avenue as well.

As always, we appreciate your writing us.

March 28. Alan Stein to Carolyn Lumsden:

I guess I, along with the others at that meeting, had incorrectly inferred her being told to write on topics closer to home meant she had been told to not write on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Letters in response, along with other columns, are indeed an appropriate avenue for an exchange of opinion, but that is not what my previous message was about. Indeed, I barely mentioned the opinions with which I disagree.

My previous message was primarily about blatant factual errors, of which I listed at least four. (The actual number depends on how one counts multiple factual errors in the same sentence.)

My interpretation of the "Be Accountable" portion of the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, where it says "Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each otther" and "Journalists should: ... Admit mistakes and correct them promptly" as well as the "Truth and Accuracy" portion of the Statement of Principles of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, where it says "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" is that factual errors such as those I pointed out should be officially corrected by the newspaper itself.

I thus repeat the request I made in my earlier message, that "The Courant appropriate issue official corrections for the blatant factual errors."

I would also recommend that if in the future there are any questions about factual accuracy, knowledgeable persons be consulted. I am certainly willing to assist. I think it is certainly preferable to catch errors prior to publication.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to reading appropriate corrections in The Courant.

I will also, in a separate email, submit my own column for your consideration. Although I am sure Ms. Reyna would disagree with my opinions, I'm confident she won't find any factual errors.

April 1. Peter Pach to Alan Stein:

Dear Mr. Stein,

Carolyn Lumsden has passed your e-mails concerning the piece written by Bessy Reyna along to me for review. Of course, I am familiar with your long involvement with the contentious politics in the Middle East and read your concerns about the piece closely.

Although you take issue with her on a number of statements, these appear to be areas that revolve around point of view rather than settled fact and not matters for a correction. The location of the proposed building of 1,600 housing units, for example, is widely reported to be in East Jerusalem, a reference used by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, publications in Israel and many others. Some say it is in northern or northeastern Jerusalem. You are the only source I have found that says the proposed building is in northwest Jerusalem. Maps I have consulted show the area to be north and to the east of the city’s midpoint. But, as you know, this debate goes beyond geography.

We would welcome a letter from you in response to Ms. Reyna’s piece that offers your perspective on the issues she raises.

April 1. Alan Stein to Peter Pach:

That is incorrect.

There are certainly several additional statements which one might consider revolving around a "point of view," but I specifically mentioned at least four clear factual errors.

1. While one might argue over whether Ramat Shlomo is in northern or northwestern Jerusalem (it is almost directly north of the "Golden Triangle" (bounded by King George, Yafo and Ben Yehuda, considered the center of western Jerusalem), there is no such place as "East Jerusalem." That some others also incorrectly refer to a nonexistent entity does not change that fact.

2. The housing being planned is not a new settlement.

3. Including Jewish heritage sites on a list of Jewish heritage sites doesn't limit the access of Muslims. (If Reyna asserted that Muslims feared that Israel might, at some point in the future, restrict their access that would be an opinion; what she stated was stated as fact and is simply false.)

4. The Tomb of the Patriarchs could not possibly have been "a Palestinian place of worship since the seventh century" since there were no Palestinians (in the sense obviously meant) until relatively recently. (I will concede one could argue that by the seventh century the Romans had renamed the area and the fact that there were then Jews worshipping there - as they and their forefathers had for millenia - made it a "Palestinian place of worship" in a geographic sense. If so, that's clearly not the impression Reyna sought to create and thus itself merits an clarification by The Courant.)

I again request that The Courant observe the journalistic standards I previously cited and issue corrections of these clear, factual errors.

If you decline, then I request you at least give me sufficient space to adequately respond in a letter, recognizing even the very brief listing of the errors given above took about 225 words, already above your usual limit of 200 words for letters, without even including the context or any reference to the myriad misrepresentations and errors of omission, such as failing to even mention the generally recognized names for the sites and the way their importance to Jews predates Islam by millenia.

April 2. Peter Pach to Alan Stein:

Dear Mr. Stein,

You are welcome to write a letter within the usual word limit in regard to Bessy Reyna’s column. We have already printed three letters concerning the column including one that challenged her view of the religious shrines that have been listed as Jewish heritage sites. You might want to emphasize other points not mentioned in that letter but that would be up to you.

PRIMER Comments on Reyna Commentary

The following are brief comments produced by PRIMER after Reyna's commentary was published.

Reyna falsely refers to Israel's building plans as being for a "new settlement." The apartments being planned are for an existing Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, Ramat Shlomo, which already has about 20,000 people living in it.

Reyna also refers to it as being in "occupied East Jerusalem." Ramat Shlomo is actually in northwest Jerusalem, as is much of what's so often referred to as "East Jerusalem." It also is not in an area that had been previously occupied by Jordan, being in what had been a no-man's land between Israel and territory occupied by Jordan.

Reyna falsely refers to the "Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron" as a "Palestinian place of worship since the seventh century. There were no "Palestinians" in the seventh century, as the Palestinian identity has only recently been forged as a reaction to the reestablishment of Israel. It has been a place of worship for Muslims, but Reyna omits the fact that the Machpelah Cave, the burial place of the Jewish patriarchs, was holy to the Jews millenia before the onset of Islam and doesn't even refer to its Jewish name.

Her reference to Rachel's Tomb, which she refers to as the "Mosque of Biai ibn Rabah," is similarly misleading.

Meanwhile, her assertion that Israel's naming them Jewish heritage sites would limit Muslis' access is simply false. (As is typical, this false anti-Israel accusation reflects the reality of what the Arabs are trying to do to the Jews.)

One might ask whether Reyna denies that the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb are holy to the Jewish people?

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