THE NEW YORK POST
March 24, 2002
HOW TERROR SKEWS THE NEWS
By NEIL J. KRESSEL
CHRISTIANE Amanpour, CNN's ace foreign correspondent and the mother of a small boy, lives a dangerous life.
Last week, in what her network described as a "rare encounter," she met in a secret location with black-hooded Palestinian terrorists. The killers waved their weapons freely and displayed scary stores of ammunition.
Needless to say, Amanpour - like most sensible journalists in similar situations - stayed as far as possible from the tough questions.
Indeed, if a top New York public relations firm had been hired to make the terrorists look good, it couldn't have done a better job.
When the terrorists announced a "preference" for attacking "military infrastructure or army checkpoints" - something that is patently false - the reportedly highest-paid foreign correspondent in the world let them off without a follow-up question.
Indeed, two days after her story aired, members of the very same group (Yasser Arafat's Al Aqsa Brigades) showed their true preference when they bombed a Jerusalem shopping district, killing three civilians and wounding 60. Some military target!
Exploring why terrorists murder innocent civilians, Amanpour turned to an 8-year-old Palestinian girl: "First, my grandfather was hit. And then, when my father went to help him, he was killed." The girl's Uncle Farid provided corroboration. In a scene complete with wailing widows, Uncle insisted that the two Palestinians had been entirely innocent. Now he was bitter, Amanpour suggested - as if to say Palestinian resentment stems primarily from attacks by Israelis.
This is not the first time she has shown anti-Israeli bias. Perhaps that's why she was chosen by the terrorists for the much-coveted interview in the first place.
But Amanpour's skewed report and others like it reflect something more insidious than the misguided sympathies of reporters. By murdering and threatening reporters, terrorists deter them from presenting news honestly.
Call it the Daniel Pearl effect.
Killers need kidnap and murder only a single reporter to strike fear in the hearts of their fellow journalists.
Since the decapitation of Daniel Pearl, correspondents throughout the Middle East no doubt are waking with images of themselves, hands bound, surrounded by crazies, begging for their lives.
And such fear, even if subconscious, can change for years the way events are presented in the press.
Foreign correspondents are an intrepid lot. But, after all, they are also human beings, with loved ones. As they interview sources and write stories, some surely will remember what happened to Pearl - and think about his widow and unborn child.
Perhaps unconsciously, many will calculate the life-threatening ramifications of landing atop the terrorists' enemies list.
That may lead them to refrain from pursuing important but potentially dangerous leads. Or writing honestly about the evil of people who may well retaliate.
In the end, the West gets a terribly skewed view of the thugs.
Yes, a few fearless souls - who worship truth and Pulitzers - will pursue tough stories. Some may even manage to retain a modicum of objectivity.
But most will not.
And who can blame them?
Jewish journalists face special risks. But all reporters in the Middle East - regardless of their ethnicity - have long understood what can happen when local extremists decide they are too critical of Islam, too supportive of Israel or otherwise offensive.
Thus, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and most other Middle Eastern countries for decades have attracted correspondents with pro-Arab and pro-Muslim orientations.
For years, most journalists writing about Palestinian and Lebanese extremists from bases in the Muslim world have tried to court these people's friendship, in part, no doubt, out of unacknowledged fear.
The biggest problem is that most folks back home usually don't think about the Pearl factor when they're ingesting "news" reports like Amanpour's.
Maybe, in the interest of full disclosure, networks and newspapers should announce up front that their reports from dangerous areas are produced under duress.
And that the public should discount them accordingly.
Neil J. Kressel (kresseln @wpunj.edu) is author of "Mass Hate: The Global Rise of Genocide and Terror."
Yet another reason to view news reports with a jaundiced eye and take them with a large grain of salt. Certainly must bear on the reporter's objectivity if they must report from a position of fear.
Good post, thanks for sharing it.