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The Times’ David Carr Responds to Tablet

But now we have a bigger concern

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A Car in Gaza With Press Credential Sprayed on Hood(Screengrab)

As I noted yesterday, David Carr, a journalist I very much respect, wrote a story about the very real issue of journalists who are increasingly being targeted and murdered while doing their important work in dangerous places.

What bothered me was Carr’s lead example of such outrages—the death of three Palestinian so-called journalists in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense. Two of the men were affiliated with al-Aqsa TV and were killed in a car that had been spray-painted with the letters “TV” to designate themselves as press. The other man was affiliated with Al-Quds Educational Radio and was killed in a separate strike. The problem was that the three men were also affiliated with the terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. To my mind (and hopefully Carr’s), this seems like a very different thing than targeting someone because they are trying to report the news.

I got in touch with David Carr and asked him for a comment. Here’s what he wrote back:

The three men who died in missile strikes in cars on Nov. 20 that I wrote about were identified as working journalists by Reuters, AP, AFP, and the Washington Post and many other news outlets. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I treat as a reliable source in these matters, identified them as journalists as well. (as did Reporters without Borders.) I also ran my column by reporters and editors at our shop who are in narrative with current events in the region before I printed it. I don’t believe that an ID made by the IDF is dispostive or obviates what news outlets have printed. Doesn’t mean that I could not have gotten it wrong, only that the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.

Before I jump into the problems here, I think it’s important to show appreciation for David’s response. As a regular reader of his work, I have confidence that getting the story straight is important to him, and his frankness here reinforces that.

If I’m reading this right, being in the employ of a terrorist organization doesn’t make anyone less of a working journalist so long as other news outlets and nonprofit journalist organizations call him a journalist. There are a few problems with this—two small and specific to this case, and one broader and more troubling.

The first problem is that a day earlier, Mohammed Shamalah, a man named as a senior Palestinian terrorist leader, was targeted in an Israeli airstrike while driving a car with “TV” spray-painted on the the hood. According to reports, no media equipment was found in the car. A second problem was that one of the three journalists Carr named in an entirely off-hand way was Mohamed Abu Aisha, whom Carr identifies as the director of a private radio network. But according to the Islamic Jihad website, Mohamed Abu Aisha was one of its uniformed members.

Now let’s say that the practice of terrorists spraying “TV” on a car to use as a shield doesn’t blunt the intensity of Carr’s charges. Let’s zoom out and look at the media affiliation itself. Two of the men that Carr mourns worked for the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV, which he acknowledges in his story–apparently in the belief that Hamas’ TV network plays by similar-enough rules, and serves as similar-enough social function, to be thought of as Gaza’s CNN.

But that’s simply not true, which is why Al-Aqsa TV, has been designated by the United States Treasury as a terrorist financing organization. “Al-Aqsa is a primary Hamas media outlet and airs programs and music videos designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood,” notes the 2010 press release. “‘Treasury will not distinguish between a business financed and controlled by a terrorist group, such as Al-Aqsa Television, and the terrorist group itself,’ [Treasury Secretary Stuart] Levey said.”

Which brings us directly to the broader problem at work here. Committees to protect journalists and other such institutions exist in the West because of the valuable social functions that journalists perform. Making clear distinctions between journalists and combatants is essential to performing those functions, especially in conflict zones, where the work gathering news and shedding light on official conduct and abuses is all the more urgent. While there may be different standards of “engagement” for journalists in different cultures, actively promoting the murder of civilians would seem like enough to get your press card revoked. By the same token, if your “news organization” has been designed as a terrorist organization by the US Government, and you regularly broadcast “entertainment” designed to get children to martyr themselves, you probably forfeit the pleasure of drinks at the press club–and not just because some people might take issue with your news judgment. Blurring these lines is, in fact, what gets real journalists killed.

According to Carr, his story passed not only his own smell test, but also those of layers of reporters and editors at the New York Times. This raises a troubling question about whether these in-house experts lack not only the basic knowledge of the Middle East that would have quickly ferreted out the above, but also an understanding of the real circumstances under which journalists in this region work.

Earlier: Times Mistakes Gaza Terrorists for Journalists [The Scroll]
Details Emerge About Sinai Attack [The Scroll]
Using War as Cover to Target Journalists [NYT]
Treasury Designates Gaza-Based Business, Television Station for Hamas ties [Treasury]

Update: An earlier version of this post misidentified Hammed Shamalah, a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike while driving in a car that was marked “TV.” Al-Aqsa’s Hussam Salama, named a Hamas operative, was killed a day later. We apologize for the error.

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Bravo! It is time someone rub their noses into it and their troubling one sided view of the area.

marjorie says:

Important and troubling concerns raised here. (And I appreciate Mr. Carr’s answer.) Well done, Adam.

Adam, you have identified the problem precisely. There is no barrier to entry to opining on Israel/Palestine, whether at The New York Times or in the the broader world of internet and television punditry, any more than there is to venturing one’s opinion on the outcome of a football game. If we were reading about Spain, to pick an example at random, we would reasonably expect the writer to have some knowledge of Spanish, or at the very least a strong command of its history, or perhaps to be a resident. Not so Israel/Palestine. There are no requirements for jumping headlong into the fray and piping up with ill-considered, sophomoric interpretations of the conflict, or else hackneyed, impractical suggestions for resolving it. It has become our common possession, subject to routine trivialization, Monday-morning quarter-backing, and the obscene spectacle of journalists crawling around on all fours scouring for evidence of Israeli crimes while a procession of avowedly hate-filled Palestinians passes by in plain site. Carr, like the so many other of his colleagues, is a bumbling Inspector Clouseau, haplessly pointing fingers at every bystander while the villain, Hamas in this case, blithely exploits his and his organizations ideological blinders.

Yisrael Medad says:

and on that use of the term “partisan” –

By the way, since we have Anderson Cooper, former host of the television game show “The Mole”, traipsing around Gaza, couldn’t we dispatch Trebek there as well? Category: Homicidal Mass Murderers. Clue: Gaza-based terror organization, five letters, starting with an H.”

tahoerochelle says:

Organizations devoted to protecting journalists are betraying their own mission if they provide cover to people who are are working to kill and terrorize civilians. One gets the impression from this piece that the two cited by Mr. Carr (Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders) are guilty, whether purposely or negligently, of very serious misconduct in designating publicly identified terrorists as ‘journalists’. Since Mr. Carr relies upon them in his own defense (rather feebly in my opinion), they should be asked for their response as well.

A very important piece by Adam Chandler, and I also appreciate David Carr’s response to him. This situation should be throughly examined by a seasoned and open-minded investigative reporter (or i-team) — even if it takes many months (even a year) to get to the bottom of it. I would think that all foreign correspondents would like to see this done, and as soon as possible. Such a probe might also need to address why many media outlets are comfortable referring to al-Qaeda operatives as “terrorists,” but are reluctant to do the same with Hamas operatives — despite the fact that the U.S. and European Union (also Canada and Japan) consider both to be terrorist groups. I think readers and viewers might like to see more editors and producers explain the distinctions and their reasoning. In other words, where is “the line,” and who gets to draw it? And how many (and which) nations need to label a group as terrorists before it is commonly accepted by the most major media outlets? There must be an answer. Hell if I know what it is!

genelevit says:

DanieI, I can ask similar questions as you do but David Carr instread. For example, since he claimes that these were journalists – exactly what articles did they write, where, when and how their names were spelled? BTW, do you know Palestinian dialect of Arabic?

fred capio says:

Carr had a choice between writing an article “Hamas hiding behind Journalists” or “Israel (IDF) is killing Journalists” He choose the latter. Shame on him

herbcaen says:

According to Carr, his story passed not only his own smell test, but also those of layers of reporters and editors at the New York Times… I find this likely to be true given that The New York Times is at best neutral, if not pro-Hamas. Roger Cohen of the New York Times, is a big fan of Ahmadinejad and Khomenei. Once other media sites emulate the practices of Al manar Hezbollah TV, they lead themselves to being identified as enemy combatants. If these “journalists” want to engage as human shields to defend Hamas, then they must recognize that they take on the risks of enemy combatants

When Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005, the Lebanese rose up against their Syrian “protectors” and demanded they remove their forces. Thus, Syria withdrew their military from Lebanon. Since they were loathe to leave without installing their security personnel behind to keep up their spying, assassinations and general interference in Lebanese politics and in order to maintain its influence in Lebanon, Syria handed out over 15,000 “press credentials” to its spies. I know this for a fact as a Syrian Kurdish friend of mine was arrested by a “reporter” and sent back to his native Syria where he was thrown in jail and tortured for two months. To say that anyone sitting in the offices of Al Manar or “Al Aqsa TV” is not abetting and aiding terror is disingenous in the extreme or just too plain stupid to be considered a serious reporter.

ginzy1 says:

Well good morning Adam! Perhaps your, and for that matter the Tabletarian elite’s near slavish idolization of anything covered by the imputed halo of the NY Times should be questioned.

Or to mix another metaphor and put it more bluntly, perhaps y’all should finally open your eyes and see that the Emperor of Valhalla has no clothes.

I have some news for you. Journalists are human, with all the failings and foibles of humans. Even at the Times. Being journalists does not inherently make them more intellectually honest or careful about details or immune to useful idiocy or outright lying. If anything, being a journalist seems to make one more prone to thin-skinned egocentrism, hubris and herd-think. And perhaps most critically, an impaired ability to admit error in judgement or fact.

Yes journalists are supposed to play an important role in society and they are supposed to be the watch dogs of democracy and all the other usual bromides that are invariably bandied about. But politicians also play an important role in society, are the instruments of democracy, etc. etc, but I don’t think you would say that politicians are necessarily honest, immune to idiocy (useful or otherwise) etc. etc. They too are human.

I strongly suggest you (a) broaden your info sources (b) spend more time on the web sites of media watch dog groups like CAMERA and and NGO monitoring groups like NGO Monitor and (c) whenever you read or hear something critical about Israel in the Times, Guardian, NPR, the BBC, or for that matter Ha’aretz (Israel’s NY Times wannabe), take it with a grain of salt. Make that a lump of salt. And sometimes the whole salt mine.


J’lem / Efrat

Jean Michael Jarr says:

Dave Carr – a bit of advise: If you see a bearded Hamas activist shooting children using a machine-gun, his AP /Reuters/ NY Times journalist ID card may not be sufficient to identify him as a reporter…

mouskatel says:

Wow. I’m deeply impressed. Cogent, precise and great links. I hope you emailed this directly to Carr.

Yes, Joseph Goebbels was journalist too.

Mr Carr no doubt stills mourns is loss.

Scott Tennis says:

Carr is your typical Lefty staff writer for the Times. Everything he writes for that anti-Israel POS fits the Times agenda,on Israel, on domestic issues, on everything. “Respect’ is hardly a word I would use to describe his politics.


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The Times’ David Carr Responds to Tablet

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