Robin Abcarian
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Questions of bias swirl after NBC removes, reinstates a Gaza reporter

IsraelHamasHuman RightsJournalismGaza StripPalestine
NBC should explain why its reporter Ayman Mohyeldin was briefly taken off the ground in Gaza
In the Israel/Palestinian conflict, mainstream media is often attacked by partisans who see bias everywhere
Was CNN right to reassign a reporter in Israel who said some Israelis were 'scum?'

It's not clear why NBC’s talented foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin, who witnessed the killing of four Palestinian cousins in Gaza on Wednesday, was removed from his post later that day, then reinstated tonight.

NBC, which did not respond to a request for comment, has not specifically addressed the question, and Mohyeldin, whose Twitter feed had been silent for two days, offered no explanation other than to announce tonight that he's happy to be back in Gaza.

It is unclear whether the network was responding to accusations that had circulated on the Internet that Mohyledin was yanked out of Gaza because some thought his coverage was too sympathetic toward Palestinians. 

Glenn Greenwald, who shared a 2013 Pulitzer prize for his NSA spy scandal coverage, is among those who whipped up suspicion about NBC. Thursday, on the Intercept website, Greenwald wrote:

"Over the last two weeks, Mohyeldin’s reporting has been far more balanced and even-handed than the standard pro-Israel coverage that dominates establishment American press coverage; his reports have provided context to the conflict that is missing from most American reports and he avoids adopting Israeli government talking points as truth. As a result, neocon and “pro-Israel” websites have repeatedly attacked him as a 'Hamas spokesman' and spouting 'pro-Hamas rants.'

Has Mohyeldin exhibited bias?

Not in my opinion. From what I have seen, it appears that Mohyeldin’s reporting has been fair, accurate and complete. He has not shied away from hard truths, but in the overheated world of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, every mainstream media report is picked apart and judged based on one’s sympathies or political agenda. Bias is often seen where none exists.

Mainstream news outlets that cover the conflict are easy targets for partisans who don't like what they see and read. I'd say NBC has some explaining to do, but until it does, I wouldn't be comfortable assuming that Mohyeldin is off the air for political reasons.

Still, this story illustrates how high emotions run when it comes to coverage of this intractable problem.

The New York Times set off an Internet tempest Wednesday when it changed a headline over its story about the four Palestinian boys who were killed on that Gaza beach. The Times’ original headline, “Four Young Boys Killed Playing on Gaza Beach” was later changed to “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife.”

Some accused the paper of soft-pedaling the deaths. This is a stretch, as the story was accompanied by a graphic photo by Tyler Hicks, who also wrote a first-person account. Hicks and other journalists witnessed the carnage because it occurred in front of a hotel where they stay.

Hicks’ photo showed a curly-haired boy, face down on the sand, his legs twisted into unnatural angles. In the background, a desperate man cradling an injured child runs for help.

The photo caption plainly explained: “Four young Palestinian boys, all cousins, were killed.” Taking the word “killed” out of the headline might simply have been a style decision, as the story, by Anne Barnard, was written not as a hard news story, but as a news feature. (Her lead: "The four Bakr boys were young cousins, the children of Gaza fishermen who had ordered them to stay indoors -- and especially away from the beach.")

In any case, nothing could soften the shock of that photograph, which someone on Twitter correctly described as “heart lacerating.” 

As for Mohyeldin, Greenwald and others have speculated that his bosses might have felt he crossed a journalistic line. Did that happen when he tweeted, in the aftermath of the beach attack: "Just spent 45 min see family relative after relative learn that their children have been killed in #Israeli shelling of #Gaza port #horror."

Or did it happen after a report he filed July 10 where he demonstrated what it was like to cross into the Gaza Strip from Israel -- a trek that involved passing through maximum-security prison-type metal doors, walking down a long, cage-like outdoor hallway that looked to be a quarter of a mile long, and then going through checkpoints manned by Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Mohyeldin explained that Egypt had sealed Gaza’s southern border, even against humanitarian emergencies, and that Israel controls the three other sides, including the Mediterranean coastline, which is patrolled by the Israeli navy.

“You can understand why some human rights organizations call Gaza ‘the world’s largest outdoor prison,’” Mohyeldin said. “One of the major complaints and frustrations among many people is that this is a form of collective punishment. You have 1.7 million people in this territory, now being bombarded, with really no way out.”

Exposition like that is hardly bias. 

And it is in no way comparable to the journalistic sin committed Thursday by CNN reporter Diana Magnay, who was reassigned to Moscow after tweeting that Israelis gathered on a hill to watch the aerial bombardment of Gaza were “scum.”

(Her tweet: “Israelis on hill above Sderot cheer as bombs land on #gaza; threaten to ‘destroy our car if I say a word wrong’. Scum.”) 

CNN told the Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone that Magnay had “reacted angrily on Twitter” after being “threatened and harassed before and during a live shot.” Both Magnay and the network apologized.

When you are a reporter -- even when you are frustrated and afraid -- you cannot  tweet out an epithet like "scum" without compromising your journalistic credibility, and more important, the credibility of your employer.

I give points to CNN for being forthcoming.

NBC, on the other hand, should have been more transparent. On Friday, in a statement posted on its website, the network seemed to acknowledge it had erred in removing a star reporter from his beat.

Mohyledin, the network said, will be returning to Gaza this weekend. It praised his "extraordinary reporting throughout the escalation of the conflict in Gaza ... including his invaluable and well-documented contribution to the story on the deaths of four Palestinian children."

Mohyeldin, for his part, was restrained, even as he ever-so-slightly hinted that folks like Greenwald were correct.

"Thanks for all the support," he tweeted. "Im returning to #Gaza to report. Proud of NBC's continued commitment to cover the #Palestinian side of the story."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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