Tuesday, July 7, 2009

7/6/09: HuffPost covers for a reporter's incompetence* in Israel (*or worse)


On July 6, 2009, HuffPost's top splash headline concerned the ongoing election dispute in Iran.

When one clicked on
that (Iran) thread, however, as shown below, the top of the page featured an unusual "teaser," which read, "Orthodox Jewish Protesters Harass, Spit On Seasoned Journalist."

As shown below, this story was also featured as a "teaser" on HuffPost's front page:

The story thread is located here.

The first four questions we contend one would reasonably ask are:
  1. With all the serious problems occurring in the world today, and particularly the Middle East, why would HuffPost give this inconsequential story such top-line prominence?

  2. Why did HuffPost feel it was important to put into its teaser headline that this reporter is, in its estimation, "seasoned"? Has someone implied that the reporter isn't "seasoned" (translation: competent)?

  3. HuffPost is indisputably a media-driven outlet. So why is there not a single picture of her encounter with these protesters? (The above pictures are from earlier protests.) Why is there no video? Why is there no audio recording?

  4. And given these deficiencies, why would HuffPost still decide to give the story such prominence, in lieu of other far more important stories, for which there was abundant video, pictures, etc.?

The answer to the first question is: We don't know, but given the contents herein, we have our suspicions. Perhaps someday, someone in a position of influence will ask HuffPost to give a clear answer.

The answers to the second, third and fourth questions are revealed as the story behind this "story" unfolds, below. In summary, what we discovered are solid indications that this reporter is deeply irresponsible, at best --- or at worst, she possesses at least some motivation to make Israel look bad. We'll get to the issue of whether or not she's "seasoned" in a moment.

Essentially, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel had been staging protests against citizens and tourists who did any kind of "work" on the day of Sabbath, and particularly in regards to a new parking lot that would be open on the Sabbath. It had been widely reported in recent weeks that they had been acting in an uncivilized manner.

According to the story on HuffPost:
Anne Barker, a reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, was caught in a violent protest of Orthodox Jews against a local carpark that would be open on Saturday--or Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest--that left her "humiliated and degraded", the ABC reports. Expecting a conservative crowd, Barker tells her story of dressing modestly and maintaining a low profile to cover the protest, only to have the mob turn on her and drench her in spit. It was only later that she learned the abuse had been provoked by her turning on her tape recorder, which by Orthodox standards for Shabbat, is unacceptable even for non-Jews.

(And according to Barker)...
"Suddenly the crowd turned on me, screaming in my face. Dozens of angry men began spitting on me. I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting - on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms."

So Barker claimed she was "caught" in a "violent protest." This wording implies that she had been minding her own business, walking down a peaceful street, and was accosted by, or inadvertently became caught up in a group of protesters. But as we will soon see, this is absolutely not what happened.

Before we drift too far into the specifics, however, let's keep in mind the following facts, which were easily discoverable via a simple Google search of "Anne Barker":
  • She had been in Israel for some time covering local issues for the ABC

  • If she is a "seasoned" reporter, as HuffPost made sure to indicate, it is reasonable to assume that she had read some of the many recent accounts of the violent behavior of these protesters. Further, she would have known the basic line of argument of these protesters: that any act of physical exertion other than what's required for survival, even something as simple as turning on a light switch, is considered "work" to them, which is what they were objecting to.

To Barker's credit, she claims she dressed "conservatively." But by her own admission, as we learn from her account:
  • She voluntarily went to interview these protesters

  • She admitted that she knew these protests had gotten violent in the past: "I was aware that earlier protests had erupted into violence on previous weekends - Orthodox Jews throwing rocks at police, or setting rubbish bins alight, even throwing dirty nappies or rotting rubbish at anyone they perceive to be desecrating the Shabbat. But I never expected their anger would be directed at me." (That is a "seasoned" journalist's presumption --- that if she walked into this protest and turned on a tape recorder, she would be exempted from these demonstrably violent protesters' antics?)

  • She went to this protest completely alone --- without an escort, a guard, an acquaintance, or a photo/videographer --- despite the above knowledge. But wait... it gets worse.

As we read further into her account of this incident, she describes:
  • How badly she was (allegedly) mistreated by the protesters, when she turned on her audio recorder

  • How she had good reason to know that her audio recorder was not functioning properly. She blamed it on a malfunctioning flash drive (memory card). Do they not sell new flash drives in Israel? Does her employer, the ABC, not have sufficient funds to pay the $20 or so dollars to buy her a new flash drive --- or a new audiocassette recorder, for about $30?

  • How her treatment at the hands of these protesters was more traumatizing to her than any event in her experiences as a ("seasoned"?) reporter

This all sounded a bit fishy to Huff-Watch, so we did a little more Internet research (which took all of about 10 minutes). We found two articles, shown below (1, 2) that shed disturbing light on this entire matter:

These stories reveal that less than two weeks prior to filing this story, Barker's employer, the ABC, issued an apology to the Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council for her shoddy reporting concerning Israeli issues.

So at the end of the day, what we have here is the following:
  • A reporter whose employer apologized for her, barely a week earlier, for her shoddy reporting on Israeli issues.

  • A reporter who, by her own admission, knew that the ultra-Orthodox Jews she planned to cover had a recent history of violent acts, including even against the local police.

  • A reporter who, by her own admission, went to "cover" these protesters alone, with a malfunctioning audio recorder, yet without a video camera, a videographer, or a companion of any kind.

  • A reporter who had not done basic research into the Orthodox protesters' beliefs, to understand that if they are driven to violence by the act of parking a car, or turning on a light switch, even by non-Jews, perhaps they might be incited by her act of turning on her (malfunctioning) audio recorder?

The above facts, we believe, raise troubling new questions as to
whether or not the incidents Barker described even took place, or to the extent that Ms. Barker indicates.

Which leads a reasonable person to ask these key questions:
  1. Why did HuffPost choose to use the term "seasoned" to describe this reporter --- an act we've never seen it do, before or since?

  2. Why did HuffPost choose to run this story at all, given that there is absolutely no substantiation to it whatsoever?

  3. Why did HuffPost choose to play this story so prominently, amidst stories of genuine global or U.S. significance... while it routinely ignores far more inflammatory stories of the acts of "ultra-orthodox" Muslims?

As to the second question, this is not the first time that HuffPost has run incendiary, libelous stories against Israel and Jews, without --- or in contradiction of --- known facts. Examples:
8/19/09: HuffPost publishes anti-Semitic blood libel without any proof; users unleash anti-Semitic hate (HuffPost: "Approved!!!")

9/16/09: HuffPost runs another al-Jazeera libel against Israel; users unleash hate (HuffPost: "Approved!!!")

8/23/09: Grossly misleading headline about Sen. Lieberman, incites user hate comments (HuffPost: "Approved!!!")

5/23/08: Grossly misleading headline re Israeli Air Force foments torrent of hate (HuffPost: "Approved!!!")

3/11/09: Fomenting anti-Israel hatred by telling only one side of the Charles Freeman withdrawal story

5/16/09: Telling half-truths about Netenyahu approval rating

5/29/09: Using a biased Arabic "news" source to present a distorted account of a terror suspect killed by the IDF

Perhaps one day, someone in a position of influence will ask HuffPost about why it did all this.

Also see:
Archive of anti-Israel, ant-Semitic bias, libels and hate at HuffPost

Archive of false/misleading HuffPost headlines


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