HonestReporting

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Group.png HonestReporting   Facebook Powerbase WebsiteRdf-icon.png
Formation2000
Founder• Larry Ben-David
• Aish Hatorah
• [[..|...]]
Typelobby
Interests“Terrorism”, Journalism, Palestine, Israel

HonestReporting is a media lobbying group "dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the Media".[1] They "aim to provide educational tools and resources to anyone wishing to advocate for Israel".[1] The organisation was set up by Aish Hatorah and is also a client of Israeli ambassador Lenny Ben-David's Communications Consultancy I-Consult.[2] By his own admission Larry Ben-David was one of the founders[3]. The organisation is best known for a campaign against CNN which reportedly led to changes in CNN's editorial policy towards Israel:

It's Web site once touted "major editorial changes at CNN which greatly shifted public perception of the Arab-Israel conflict." The impetus, according to the Jerusalem Post, was "up to 6,000 e-mails per day to CNN executives, effectively paralyzing their internal e-mail system[4]."

Honest Reporting describes its mission as follows:

Israel is in the midst of a battle for public opinion - waged primarily via the media. To ensure Israel is represented fairly and accurately HonestReporting monitors the media, exposes cases of bias, promotes balance, and effects change through education and action.

When media bias occurs, our worldwide base of subscribers takes action by contacting news agencies, drawing issues of bias to their attention, and requesting changes. Media outlets, correspondents, and editors are now held accountable for biased reporting and are becoming more aware of the need for factual, impartial and fair reporting. Our subscribers also make use of our Communiqués to bolster their own knowledge and understanding of the often complex issues.

The work of HonestReporting yields results. Since 2000, the organization prompted hundreds of apologies, retractions, and revisions from news outlets. These efforts are changing the face of the media and reporting of Israel throughout the world.

As an organization dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the Media, we aim to provide educational tools and resources to anyone wishing to advocate for Israel. Our materials provide people with information that is helpful when responding to the Media, in their dealings on Campus or in the work place, and in any other sphere where having credible, considered background material is of value.

Why is the struggle for media fairness so important? The media sways public opinion, which directly affects foreign policy towards Israel and in turn the lives of her citizens. One person alone may not impact this struggle, but thousands united can![1]

Visitors to the website can subscribe to updates from HonestReporting.[5] In July 2006 HonestReporting said that it had 140,000 subscribers, 3,000 of whom are in Britain.[6]

History

The following is HonestReporting's description of its founding:

It was Yom Kippur, 2000. The Intifada had just broken out and a huge wave of terror had suddenly descended upon Israel. The media in Europe was twisting the story to brand Israel as a bad guy! Jews in the UK were in shock and felt under attack. A few idealists decided enough was enough.

So there were 4 or 5 of us British university students, kicking ideas around, frustrated and wondering what we could do to help Israel. We came up with the idea of encouraging thousands of e-mails to some of the publications in order to make our complaints heard. But in order to create an email protest, we had to have a website. Otherwise people couldn't respond, and we couldn't communicate with a base of supporters. So we just decided to go ahead and do it: design a simple, basic website. The whole project took only a couple of weeks - you know, when you have 4 or 5 people working together, all of whom are really committed, you can get almost anything done.[7]

According to the HonestReporting website, the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah was instrumental in HonestReporting's founding. It helped "build a website, develop materials and grow the subscriber base even further".[7] Media Watch International have also claimed to have set up HonestReporting:

With Sharon Tzur at the helm, Media Watch International - an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to presenting a positive image of Israel and promoting accurate and impartial media coverage of the Middle East conflict - oversaw the runaway success of Honestreporting.com, until it reached over 50,000 activists and became an independent organization[8].

HonestReporting described their first campaign against the London Evening Standard journalist Brian Sewell as a success. Sewell had written an article criticising Israel. HonestReporting described their response:

"The next day, (we) sent out a letter to subscribers." Standard articles recorded "a wave of complaints hundreds of Jewish readers have written in". Then "after more pressure" there followed a pro-Israel article by Simon Sebag-Montefiore. "This is an example of what we can do."[9]

This campaign was followed by one against The Guardian in February 2001, described here by Guardian columnist David Leigh:

Why would the Guardian provide moral and medical justification for the multiple murder of innocent Israeli civilians? It's a pretty bizarre question, but we found ourselves being asked it over and over again this week. Emails clicked in to the letters page by the hundred, all making the same weirdly alliterative points. This followed publication of a Guardian article trying to understand the motivations of the Palestinian bus driver who ploughed into a queue this month, killing eight Israelis.

The mysteriously similar emails - from all over the world - started coming in, too, to our foreign editor; to our website; and to the personal email address of our Middle East correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg. They were inconvenient, and also sometimes a bit scary in their violent tone - "The bloody Guardian Have you killed a Jew today? Are you anti-Jewish? Unrelenting Guardian anti-Israel bias Why would the Guardian provide moral and medical justification etc ?'

This global blitzing was tending to crowd out genuine expressions of opinion from our readers. Our suspicions aroused, we tried to discover what was going on. It wasn't straightforward. But eventually we discovered the trick. A website calling itself HonestReporting.com was set up in London last autumn[10].

Activities

HonestReporting identifies four 'case studies' of its successful intervention in media reporting by CNN, Ithaca Journal, Reuters, and The Dubliner.

Lobbying CNN on Jenin

In the case of CNN, HonestReporting says:

CNN's coverage of the Middle East had been a continual bone of contention since the September 2000 outbreak of Palestinian violence against Israelis. HonestReporting maintained the pressure on the cable news station, highlighting inaccuracies, bias and lack of objectivity.[11]

HonestReporting objected to CNN's repeating what it called a "big lie ... spread by Palestinian spokesmen" that 500 Palestinians died in Jenin in 2002. The Jerusalem Post reported how HonestReporting's efforts paid off:

HonestReporting.com readers sent up to 6,000 e-mails a day to CNN executives, effectively paralyzing their internal e-mail system. The consultant, who was present at several meetings with watchdog groups initiated by CNN, says the top CNN executives had, until then, failed to appreciate the strength of public feeling on the issue.

"At the beginning," says the consultant, "the executives didn't believe there was a problem, mostly out of ignorance of what was going on [in the field]. They were not aware of how often the big lie [that 500 Palestinians died in Jenin in April] was spread by Palestinian spokesmen, and seemed shocked when we told them there were 30 cases in 10 days. They were not watching this narrow little part of CNN's operation - they have to watch what's going on in a massive empire, and suddenly this corner started biting them in the backside."[11]

The upshot was:

HonestReporting was invited to enter into dialogue with executives at CNN's Atlanta headquarters, who demonstrated a genuine sensitivity to HonestReporting's concerns... the network certainly made efforts to improve its reporting.[11]

Lobbying CNN on Israeli settlements

According to a report by Rachel Coen in FAIR, HonestReporting may have played a part in successfully lobbying CNN to stop using the terms "settlers" or "settlements" to describe Israeli-occupied territories. Instead, CNN was persuaded to describe the settlements as "neighborhoods".[12] The FAIR report, using the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz as its source, says that the original edict for rebranding the settlements as "neighborhoods" came from "a member of the Israeli cabinet" to the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which in turn passed the order on to its editorial departments.[12]

Coen comments:

According to Ha'aretz, "it is not clear if the editors will obey the order." What does seem clear is that settlements - housing built on land illegally seized by Israel after the 1967 war - are such a contentious issue within Israel that the Israeli government would like to stop reporters from even saying the word.[12]

Coen remarks on the irony that an Israeli paper is more open about Israel's settlement policy than the US media:

the opinion pages of an Israeli paper like Ha'aretz often show a franker debate over Israel's aggressive settlement policy than one can generally find in mainstream U.S. media. Government interference doesn't seem to have been necessary to convince some major U.S. news outlets to avoid honest investigation of settlements, and sometimes even to avoid the word itself.[12]

Coen says that this may be due to the activities of pressure groups in the US, including HonestReporting:

Take the case of Gilo, an Israeli settlement that some pro-settler groups have used as a focal point for their campaigns to eliminate the term "settlements" in favor of "neighborhoods." In September 2001, CNN changed its policy on how to characterize Gilo: "We refer to Gilo as 'a Jewish neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem, built on land occupied by Israel in 1967.' We don't refer to it as a settlement," said the order from CNN headquarters. CNN denies that its decision was a concession to outside pressure, but according to veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk (London Independent, 9/3/01), sources within the network said that the switch followed "months of internal debate in CNN, which has been constantly criticized by CNN Watch, honestreporting.com and other pro-Israeli pressure groups."[12]

Following the instruction on not describing Gilo as a settlement one CNN journalist responded by saying:

"There's a feeling by some people here that what we are doing is searching for euphemisms for what is really happening," one of them told The Independent yesterday. "We've managed to eliminate the word 'terrorism' - we now talk about 'militants' - because we know that the word 'terrorist' is used by one side or another to damage the other side. But now there's pressure on us not to use the word 'settler' in any context - but to just refer to the settlers as 'Israelis'".[13]

Robert Fisk describes the effect of the media buckling to pressure from organised lobby groups:

Many other US news organisations have already capitulated. Last week, for example, the Associated Press referred to Gilo as "a Jewish neighbourhood on war-won (sic) land and annexed to Jerusalem" - an expression that successfully conceals the fact that its inhabitants are settlers and that it is built on occupied land".[13].

But by using the homely phrase "neighbourhood", CNN and AP are obscuring the illegality of Gilo. Its construction was also in violation of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 - which is one reason why Palestinians have been shooting at it. "Our battle of words is still going on," the CNN reporter said yesterday. "There has been an intense internal debate over the use of words. And sometimes we still do use the word 'settlement' about Gilo. In fact, we don't necessarily say all that stuff about 'occupied by Israel in 1967'. But we're having problems. There are many small pro- settler Jewish groups who're trying to win the war of words."".[13]

A Screenshot of the Terror Petition from HonestReporting[14]

2002 Campaign to Change "Suicide Bomber" references to "Terrorists"

In 2002 HonestReporting ran an initiative called terror petition where they gathered signatures supporting a motion to have the media change their description of suicide bombers and to call them terrorists instead. They operated the campaign from the website www.TerrorPetition.com, which is now defunct[15].

Film Production and Distribution

Honestreporting were involved in the production and distribution of the film Obsession, which was described by critics as "Islampohobic" and "hate propaganda".[2] The film was co-produced by the Endowment for Middle East Truth and the Clarion Fund who are closely linked to an organisation called Aish Hatorah.[2]

According to a report in IPS:

Critics allege that the movie "Obsession" is "hate propaganda" which paints Muslims as violent extremists and, among other things, explicitly compares the threat posed by radical Islam to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.[2]

The report went on to say:

Honestreporting.com, an organisation set up by Aish Hatorah and also a client of (Larry) Ben-David, admitted to IPS that it had aided the production of the film.[2]

Jack Shaheen, an Oxford University research scholar and author of four books on racism, stereotyping and propaganda, describes the film as "very convincing", he went on to say that:

Goebbels would be proud. This film has a place in cinema history with the racist film Birth of a Nation and the Nazi film Triumph of the Will because it so cleverly advances lies to vilify a people.[16].

HonestReporting produced another film named Relentless, which gave an account of the breakdown of the Oslo Peace process[17].

Protest Against the San Diego Tribune

HonestReporting orchestrated a letter writing and e-mail campaign targeting The San-Diego Tribune after they had included the deaths of "two Americans killed in the Middle East. Student Marla Bennett of San Diego died last year when a terrorist's bomb exploded at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In March, Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian peace activist, was run over by an Israeli bulldozer in the southern Gaza Strip". HonestReporting campaigned against the paper for including the two women in the same story:

Several hundred local, national and international e-mails (were sent) in response to a July 20 front-page article about two Americans killed in the Middle East. A campaign to protest including the two women in one story was orchestrated by www.honestreporting.com[18].

Criticism

Robert Fisk Critique

Robert Fisk describes Honest Reporting as "an American Jewish group which has for months been misquoting and distorting my articles - and those of my Jerusalem colleague Phil Reeves"[19]. Writing in The Independent, Robert Fisk gives the following account of Honest Reporting:

Several papers, including The Independent, have been bombarded by hundreds of letters and e-mails from supposedly outraged American "readers" ­ most of them from parts of the United States where The Independent, for example, is not on sale and many of them written in vitriolic, even violent language. A number have been written in answer to an appeal from an outfit called "honestreporting.com", which carries a series of misleading and, in some cases, untruthful statements about my own articles[20].

Fisk went on to say:

But honestreporting.com's supporters whose letters often reveal that they've never actually read anything I've written ­are in a class of their own. Only last month, I wrote a comment-page article in The Independent describing the way in which any serious journalist who criticised Israeli policy ­the operation of death squads, for example, or the building of illegal Jewish settlements on stolen Arab land ­was reviled as "anti-Semitic". This, the most disgraceful of the accusations made against Western journalists, permeates many of the letters provoked by honestreporting.com.

There's no doubt what prompted this revealing deluge of purple prose. Honestreporting.com urges its supporters to read The Independent's website. It would like, somehow, to close down The Independent's Middle East coverage ­ and, to be fair, The Guardian's as well ­ and return Americans to the bland, generally pro-American (and thus pro-Israeli) reports of the US press. Much of my ordinary mailbag ­ I'm not counting the lobby boys ­ now comes from the US. University departments are asking me and other European journalists to lecture in the States, where our discussions tend to be a lot more straight-talking than that of our American colleagues.

But honestreporting.com's methods are themselves revealing. In one "communiqué", it manages to quote my 1982 description of a Palestinian woman's face as that of a Madonna and a Lebanese friend's (described by the outfit as a Palestinian) weeping at the departure of the PLO from Beirut. What they don't mention is that they were weeping because they feared that in the absence of Palestinian fighters, they would be massacred by Israel's brutal Lebanese allies ­ which is exactly what happened a few days later.

Then it quotes from my article of 17 April this year, in which I remarked that some Israeli leaders had been "bestializing" [sic] Arabs, referring to my account of how Palestinian taxi drivers are humiliated as they approach Israeli checkpoints on Arab land. But honestreporting.com ­ and the "honest" bit is a joke in itself ­ didn't mention that the quotes come from two different articles. The "bestialisation" story referred to Israeli leaders who had at various times called Palestinians "serpents", "two-legged beasts", "cockroaches in a glass jar", and "crocodiles". Of course, honestreporting.com erased all mention of that in its "communiqué".[20]

In another report Fisk describes the letters he has received at the instigation of HonestReporting:

Not since my most favourite e-mail ("Why I Know Robert Fisk Is a NATO Disinformation Agent") have I received anything like this. By the hundred, the e-mails - with childish misspellings and often appalling grammar - have been arriving at our London office. I am, according to these letters, "a coward", "sick", "inflammatory", "anti-Semitic", "shameful", "grotesque", "a poor, bitter, raging lunatic", a "falsifier, "twisted", "perverted", "virulent", a "vicious anti-Semite" (thank you, "Professor BH Stone"), "fanatical" and a man who "steals a march from Goebbels and Streicher in his rape of the truth"".[19]

American Journalism Review

Writing for the American Journalism Review Barbara Matusow criticised media monitoring on both sides of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. She said of Honest Reporting:

"Frequently, these so-called media monitors, who say they are only interested in fairness and balance, will seize on a word or a phrase and leave out the context. Take the case of a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial that called both PLO leader Yassir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "pigheaded and destructive." In a communiqué urging readers to complain to the Inquirer, HonestReporting.com omitted the reference to Arafat to make the editorial sound like a one-sided attack on Sharon"[21].

Views

There is no such thing as Palestine

In a 2007 letter to the National Post in Canada, Mike Fegelman, the executive director of HonestReporting Canada, argued against the legitimacy of references to Palestine in a letter entitled "There is no such thing as Palestine", in the letter he argued that:

As the Palestinians have not been granted statehood, to refer to the Palestinian territories or the Palestinian Authority as "Palestine" is essentially erroneous. Headline writers at the Post have the responsibility to state the facts as neutrally as possible[22].

People

As of December 2009:

  • Simon Plosker - reporting senior editor[23]
  • Mike Fegelman - executive director of HonestReporting Canada[24]

Endorsements

The HonestReporting website gives endorsements from the following people and organisations. The descriptions are HonestReporting's as of December 2009:[25]

  • Natan Sharansky - Former Prisoner of Zion, and Diaspora Affairs Minister
  • Gary Bauer - Renowned Christian Leader; American Values, President
  • Bob Diener - Founder Hotels.com; Founder and President Consumer Club
  • The Jerusalem Report

Resources


References

  1. a b c Our mission, HonestReporting website, accessed 12 Dec 2009
  2. a b c d e Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton, POLITICS: Neo-cons, Ex-Israeli Diplomats Push Islamophobic Video, IPS, 24-September-2008, accessed 16-December-2009
  3. Larry Ben-David, Turkey and Armenia: What Jews should do, The Jerusalem Post, 4-September-2007, Accessed via Nexis UK 16-December-2009
  4. George Bisharat, Pro-Israeli lobby is silencing dissent, Sacramento Bee, 25-February-2007, Accessed 16-December-2009
  5. HonestReporting Homepage, accessed 8 March 2006
  6. Bad news all in a day's work for editor Simon, HonestReporting website, accessed 12 Dec 2009
  7. a b Our history, HonestReporting website, accessed 12 Dec 2009
  8. Media QWatch International, About Us, Media Watch International, Accessed 16-December-2009
  9. David Leigh, Comment & Analysis: Media manipulators: How a north London web-designer began a campaign that deluged the Guardian with emails, The Guardian, 22-February-2001, Accessed via Nexis UK 16-December-2009
  10. David Leigh, Comment & Analysis: Media manipulators: How a north London web-designer began a campaign that deluged the Guardian with emails, The Guardian, 22-February-2001, Accessed via Nexis UK 16-December-2009
  11. a b c Case Studies: CNN, HonestReporting website, accessed 12 Dec 2009
  12. a b c d e Rachel Coen, Euphemisms for Israeli Settlements Confuse Coverage, August 2002, FAIR.com, accessed 12 Dec 2009
  13. a b c Robert Fisk, CNN CAVES IN TO ISRAEL ON REPORTS ABOUT SETTLERS, The Independent, 3-September-2001, Accessed 16-December-2009
  14. Terror Petition, Petition managed by Honest Reporting, www.TerrorPertition.com Accessed via Internet Archive 16-December-2009
  15. John N. Frank, MAT SPREADS WORD ABOUT APPROPRIATE 'TERROR' REFERENCES, PR Week, 28-April-2003
  16. Meg Lauchlin, MCCOLLUM, MUSLIMS TO DISCUSS FILM, St. Petersburg Times, 12-February-2008, Accessed via Nexis UK 16-December-2009
  17. Sheldon Kirschner, Film analyzes breakdown of Oslo peace process Relentless: the struggle for peace in Israel, Canadian Jewish News, 3-July-2003, Accessed 16-December-2009
  18. Gina Lubrano, Readers irked by story, ask retraction, The San-Diego Tribune, 28-July-2003, Accessed 16-December-2009
  19. a b Robert Fisk, IN THE FIRST OF A SERIES OF DISPATCHES FROM OUR CORRESPONDENTS AROUND THE WORLD, ROBERT FISK REPORTS FROM THE CITY HE CALLS HOME, Independent on Sunday, 17-June-2001, Accessed via Nexis UK 16-December-2009
  20. a b Robert Fisk, Robert Fisk: The internet threat to truly honest reporting, The Independent, 28-May-2001, Accessed 15-December-2009
  21. Barbara Matusow, Caught in the Crossfire, American Journalism Review, June/July 2004, Accessed 15-December-2009
  22. Mike Fegelman, There is no such thing as 'Palestine', National Post (f/k/a The Financial Post), 21-November-2007, Accessed via Nexis UK 16-December-2009
  23. Bad news all in a day's work for editor Simon, HonestReporting website, accessed 12 Dec 2009
  24. Hasbara Fellowships Speakers Bureau, IsraelActivism.com website, accessed 12 Dec 2009
  25. Endorsements HonestReporting website, accessed 12 Dec 2009