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Topic: Newseum

Newseum Backtracks on Hamas Honor

After first defending its decision to honor two members of the Hamas terrorist organization, the Newseum–a museum dedicated to the media, located in Washington D.C.–seems to have reversed course. On Friday, I wrote about the museum’s exhibit honoring journalists killed on the job, and the inclusion on that list of two Hamas members who did propaganda work for the terrorist group who were killed in Hamas’s latest round of fighting with Israel.

The Newseum’s first instinct was to try to justify including the Hamasniks in the memorial, telling the Washington Free Beacon that they had the letters “TV” on the car they were in. Therefore, they said, the two men were journalists. This was ridiculous, and apparently as soon as they said it they realized just how silly it was and began the process of reconsidering. They were also criticized by a range of organizations who opposed honoring terrorists posing as journalists. Now, reports the Free Beacon, the Newseum’s leadership has decided to drop the terrorists from the exhibit–probably:

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After first defending its decision to honor two members of the Hamas terrorist organization, the Newseum–a museum dedicated to the media, located in Washington D.C.–seems to have reversed course. On Friday, I wrote about the museum’s exhibit honoring journalists killed on the job, and the inclusion on that list of two Hamas members who did propaganda work for the terrorist group who were killed in Hamas’s latest round of fighting with Israel.

The Newseum’s first instinct was to try to justify including the Hamasniks in the memorial, telling the Washington Free Beacon that they had the letters “TV” on the car they were in. Therefore, they said, the two men were journalists. This was ridiculous, and apparently as soon as they said it they realized just how silly it was and began the process of reconsidering. They were also criticized by a range of organizations who opposed honoring terrorists posing as journalists. Now, reports the Free Beacon, the Newseum’s leadership has decided to drop the terrorists from the exhibit–probably:

Cathy Trost, the Newseum’s vice president of exhibits, programs, and media relations, told the Free Beacon that the two Hamas operatives in question could be included in the Journalist’s Memorial at a future ceremony.

“The process is that serious questions were raised and we’re going to look in to the nature of their work,” Trost told the Free Beacon following the ceremony. “Based on a pending investigation, yes,” the two could be included in the memorial.

“We’ll look into the nature of their work,” Trost said. “We’re reevaluating.”

Since “the nature of [Hamas’s propaganda] work” is really quite horrifying, it’s doubtful the Newseum will reverse its reversal. The Newseum is treating this as a bit of a teaching moment about the need to double-check first impressions in the fog of war, but not everyone was thrilled about the way that debate took shape. After Foundation for Defense of Democracies President Cliff May suggested FDD would move a conference planned for the Newseum to a new venue, the Washington Post’s Max Fisher tweeted:

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Fisher elaborated today in a blog post after the Newseum backed away from the Hamasniks, and raised the question of where the line should be drawn delineating who is a legitimate journalist and who isn’t. Journalists working for state-run media, Fisher noted, pose a challenge. But he suggested perhaps they should get the benefit of the doubt that, say, a Voice of America reporter gets, or even an NBC news anchor when there’s a possible conflict of interest with the station’s corporate owners:

But there are three important caveats to that case for including them in the Newseum honor. First, sometimes we do consider journalists with state-owned outlets to be serving the interests of their ownership over journalistic principle; for example, few would argue that the scribes at Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency are much more than propagandists (al-Aqsa is not KCNA, but neither is it the BBC). Second, journalists in the employ of combatants are sometimes considered components of that military force: this might include, as the writer Andrew Exum has argued, Serbian state media that helped incite ethnic violence in 1999; it might also include uniformed army soldiers who carry cameras, such as Goldberg’s hypothetical Israeli military cameraman. Third, though the Al-Aqsa cameraman were not uniformed, both Hamas and Al-Aqsa are classified by the U.S. government as terrorist organizations, so perhaps the line between journalist and combatant is easier to cross when you’re employed by such people.

That last detail is what makes the case of Hamas pretty clear cut. Hamas is a designated terrorist organization, and the members of Hamas who sometimes drove around in a car that said “TV” were terrorists. They were killed during their organization’s attempt to annihilate the Jewish state. Fisher may be a bit generous to BBC reporters when assuming their accuracy or integrity but for all the BBC’s failings, it is not a terrorist organization.

The question of whether a Hamas terrorist is a journalist is not an interesting one, but the question when applied more generally is interesting, and important. We do, after all, have “shield” laws which are meant to absolve a reporter, in most cases, from having to divulge a source even under legal pressure–a right not given to most citizens. So who gets that right? It’s a challenging question to answer, and can even undermine the shield laws themselves. For example, having spent part of my career as a newspaper reporter and editor, I am sympathetic to the journalistic value of being able to protect a source. But I’ve never been thrilled about the prospect of letting the government–which, after all, is generally the entity pressuring reporters to give up their sources or go to prison–choose who gets that designation.

The Newseum didn’t need to dive too deeply into the question because this was an open and shut case. Additionally, the Free Beacon’s report has the other way the Newseum could have figured out the answer to this one: the full-page advertisement it took out for the exhibit features the following text: “Some were targeted deliberately while others were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. All were working to expand the reach of a free press around the world.”

How the Newseum could ever think to justify applying that description to Hamas propagandists, who are absolutely working against the establishment of a free press everywhere it can, we’ll never know. If they truly have dropped the Hamasniks from their exhibit, they made the right call. But by the Newseum’s own criteria, those two names should never have been on the list to begin with.

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Newseum Puts Journalists at Risk by Honoring Terrorists

There were many lessons about the double-standards to which the world subjects Israel that were illuminated by the reaction to the deaths of two Hamas members posing as journalists during November’s hostilities in Gaza. Alana Goodman had covered the controversy extensively for COMMENTARY, criticizing New York Times scribe David Carr for not only pushing the line that the men were merely journalists caught up in the line of fire but then, when corrected, refusing to retract the story. Instead, he defended himself by saying that other organizations also referred to the Hamas men as journalists.

I noted in a follow-up that one such organization, Reporters Without Borders, penalized Israel in its annual survey of media freedom for killing the Hamasniks. One lesson in all this was the bias and unconscionably low standards of both the press and activist organizations that cover Israel. But another–and very important–lesson was this: Allowing terrorists to masquerade as journalists and then celebrating their “work” in war zones will almost surely put all journalists at much greater risk by blurring the lines that should keep them safe and treating terrorists as media martyrs. And it would be difficult to argue with the use of the term “martyr” here after Daniel Halper’s scoop yesterday that the two Hamasniks are being honored as such–by the Newseum:

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There were many lessons about the double-standards to which the world subjects Israel that were illuminated by the reaction to the deaths of two Hamas members posing as journalists during November’s hostilities in Gaza. Alana Goodman had covered the controversy extensively for COMMENTARY, criticizing New York Times scribe David Carr for not only pushing the line that the men were merely journalists caught up in the line of fire but then, when corrected, refusing to retract the story. Instead, he defended himself by saying that other organizations also referred to the Hamas men as journalists.

I noted in a follow-up that one such organization, Reporters Without Borders, penalized Israel in its annual survey of media freedom for killing the Hamasniks. One lesson in all this was the bias and unconscionably low standards of both the press and activist organizations that cover Israel. But another–and very important–lesson was this: Allowing terrorists to masquerade as journalists and then celebrating their “work” in war zones will almost surely put all journalists at much greater risk by blurring the lines that should keep them safe and treating terrorists as media martyrs. And it would be difficult to argue with the use of the term “martyr” here after Daniel Halper’s scoop yesterday that the two Hamasniks are being honored as such–by the Newseum:

The Newseum, a museum in Washington, D.C. that chronicles the news industry, plans to add two dead terrorists to its “Journalists Memorial.”  The announcement to include these terrorists on the memorial, which “pays tribute to reporters, photographers and broadcasters who have died reporting the news,” was made on the Newseum’s website.

The terrorists the Newseum plans to honor are former members of the terrorist group Hamas, Mahmoud Al-Kumi and Hussam Salama.

This kind of event manages to be both appalling and unsurprising. Appalling, because the Newseum should not be in the habit of honoring terrorists, and doing so will only further encourage the Palestinian tradition of doing the same. Unsurprising, because the Newseum is, at its heart, a florid love letter from the media to itself; a towering monument built to house an ego that has already far outgrown it; an anachronistic altar to flatter, please and serve the god of self.

And most of all, the journalists of the Western world refuse to draw the line between partisan and press because they themselves crossed that line so long ago they wouldn’t know how to truly tell the difference. They may go into the war zone with a camera mounted on their shoulder instead of a rocket launcher, but they increasingly refuse to pretend their mission isn’t also the defeat of one side at the hands of the other.

All of which helps explain the Newseum’s reaction to the outrage engendered by their decision. Buzzfeed reported today that the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where I was a national security fellow in 2011, was strongly considering moving its annual conference, which had originally been planned for the Newseum, to another location. The framing of the story is just as interesting. Buzzfeed begins the piece: “A pro-Israel think tank in Washington is so concerned over the Newseum’s honoring of two slain Palestinian journalists with links to Hamas that they may consider pulling their annual policy summit from the venue.”

It’s telling that objecting to honoring terrorists makes one “pro-Israel”; I’m guessing outside of the media most Americans would consider that an American value statement as well. FDD President Cliff May explained this to Buzzfeed “in a follow-up email,” which suggests, amazingly, that it needed clearing up. In any event, the Newseum defended itself in a statement to the Free Beacon:

“Hussam Salama and Mahmoud Al-Kumi were cameramen in a car clearly marked ‘TV,’” Newseum spokesman Scott Williams told the Free Beacon via email. “The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line duty.”

Got that? The letters “TV” appeared on the car, so they were clearly journalists. Let’s think through the implications. In 2006, during Israel’s counteroffensive against Hezbollah in South Lebanon, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards used ambulances to smuggle weapons and fighters to Hezbollah to kill Israelis. Do we consider them civilian doctors?

The Newseum says that the men killed were identified by NGOs and the media as journalists. The truth, then, is based not on what is said but on who says it. Independent corroboration, fact-checking, diligent investigation–actions that were once considered basic journalism were found by the Western media to be harmful to their cause and discarded, replaced by an appeal to their own authority. And the increased danger this puts on journalists in war zones doesn’t appear to have crossed their minds.

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Newseum and Freedom House Smear Israel

Freedom House released its annual report on press freedom throughout the world today at an event sponsored by the Newseum in Washington. But along with the usual and appropriate condemnations of dictatorships and totalitarian states, the group decided to slam the one democracy in the Middle East as well as one of the few states in the region where press freedom actually exists: Israel.

Karin Karleklar, the organization’s project direct for monitoring press freedom, told an audience at the Newseum streamed live over the Internet this morning that Israel’s status was being downgraded from “free” to “partly free.” This is astonishing by itself, but the bizarre nature of this judgment is only made clear when one hears the reasons. Two of the reasons stated by Karleklar—the indictment of a journalist for possessing stolen classified materials and the problems that one television station has had in getting its license renewed—are hardly violations of freedom but do speak to issues that could be misinterpreted as tyrannical if they were discussing a country where there wasn’t a vibrant free press. But the third is so absurd as to call into question not merely the judgment but the impartiality of the entire report.

The report claims that the appearance on the scene of Israel Hayom, a relatively new Israeli newspaper, is a threat to press freedom because it is a success that has hurt the business prospects of its competitors. No, you didn’t misread that sentence. Freedom House is taking the position that the fact that Israel Hayom has claimed an impressive share of the hyper-competitive newspaper market is undermining the freedom of the press. The justification for this ridiculous claim is that Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul and well-known contributor to Republican candidates, has “subsidized” the paper and that its editorial line favors Prime Minister Netanyahu. The paper, which is distributed free of charge, is now the most-read paper in Israel, a state of affairs which Freedom House not unreasonably connects to the demise of Maariv, a longtime mainstay of the Hebrew daily press. But the question readers of this report have to ask is what in the name of Joseph Pulitzer does the ability of Adelson’s paper to succeed where many other print papers are failing have to do with freedom of the press?

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Freedom House released its annual report on press freedom throughout the world today at an event sponsored by the Newseum in Washington. But along with the usual and appropriate condemnations of dictatorships and totalitarian states, the group decided to slam the one democracy in the Middle East as well as one of the few states in the region where press freedom actually exists: Israel.

Karin Karleklar, the organization’s project direct for monitoring press freedom, told an audience at the Newseum streamed live over the Internet this morning that Israel’s status was being downgraded from “free” to “partly free.” This is astonishing by itself, but the bizarre nature of this judgment is only made clear when one hears the reasons. Two of the reasons stated by Karleklar—the indictment of a journalist for possessing stolen classified materials and the problems that one television station has had in getting its license renewed—are hardly violations of freedom but do speak to issues that could be misinterpreted as tyrannical if they were discussing a country where there wasn’t a vibrant free press. But the third is so absurd as to call into question not merely the judgment but the impartiality of the entire report.

The report claims that the appearance on the scene of Israel Hayom, a relatively new Israeli newspaper, is a threat to press freedom because it is a success that has hurt the business prospects of its competitors. No, you didn’t misread that sentence. Freedom House is taking the position that the fact that Israel Hayom has claimed an impressive share of the hyper-competitive newspaper market is undermining the freedom of the press. The justification for this ridiculous claim is that Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul and well-known contributor to Republican candidates, has “subsidized” the paper and that its editorial line favors Prime Minister Netanyahu. The paper, which is distributed free of charge, is now the most-read paper in Israel, a state of affairs which Freedom House not unreasonably connects to the demise of Maariv, a longtime mainstay of the Hebrew daily press. But the question readers of this report have to ask is what in the name of Joseph Pulitzer does the ability of Adelson’s paper to succeed where many other print papers are failing have to do with freedom of the press?

The implication of the report is that there is something sinister in the way Israel Hayom has conducted its business and that its backing of Netanyahu creates a quasi-official press organ. But that is specious reasoning that bears no relation to either truth or the realities of the publishing business.

Newspapers that are distributed free of charge are not exactly an innovation. Many local sheets are run in that manner all across the United States. Moreover, the Metro papers that are available in a number of major urban markets including New York are operated in the same fashion without anyone—other than their competitors or critics of their superficial content—crying foul.

If Israel Hayom has won the affection of a plurality of Israeli readers in a country where people are, as Freedom House notes, avid consumers of newspapers in a fashion that is no longer the case in places like the United States, it is not because of a supposedly unfair advantage but because readers prefer it. And that is something that relates directly to the false implications of Freedom House’s report that tries to allege that its appearance is an attempt to suppress opposition views.

It will come as little surprise to Americans who are aware of the way their own press tilts to the left that this is even more true in Israel. The Hebrew press in Israel has always had a strong left-wing tilt with a particular bias against Netanyahu’s Likud Party and its predecessors. If there was any criticism to be made of the press in Israel in the past it was the lack of ideological diversity, a situation that was admittedly troubling in the era before the first Likud government was elected in 1977, when government ownership of the few broadcast outlets as well as its interests in the press allowed little room for dissent from the Labor Party.

But, like the appearance of Fox News and talk radio in the United States, Israel Hayom has helped rectify a historical imbalance. Its rivals may decry its success, but the fact that it has thrived is testimony to Israeli freedom, not its absence. If more people prefer its columns to that of, say, Haaretz, which enjoys an undeserved reputation for excellence abroad, it is due to the fact that the latter regularly attacks not just Netanyahu but the entire idea of a Jewish state. Like Murdoch, Adelson’s paper has captured an underserved niche that happens to consist of approximately half of the Israeli public.

As for the other two complaints against Israel, they are easily dismissed.

One concerns the indictment of Haaretz’s Uri Blau for possession of state secrets. It may be unusual for governments in free countries to prosecute journalists who obtain classified documents in addition to the leakers. But it should be remembered that Israel remains a nation at war, besieged by real enemies who shoot rockets and launch terrorist attacks against it as well as threatening it with extinction. That military censorship of security-related stories still exists is regrettable but necessary. When one considers that the documents that he received dealt with actual operational details of the Israeli military rather than outdated items that didn’t deserve a classified rating, the seriousness of the crime can’t be underestimated.

As it happens, Blau got off rather lightly for trafficking in stolen top-secret documents when he received four months of community service for an offense with troubling implications for the country’s ability to defend itself. Suffice it to say that if any American journalist had behaved similarly during a war when our own survival was at stake, as in World War II, they would not have received such merciful treatment.

The third black mark against Israel concerned the licensing of Channel 10, an independent television channel that had broadcast highly critical reports about Netanyahu. Its license was held up leading to charges that the Likud had retaliated against Channel 10. But even the Freedom House report admits that the real problem with the network is that it was deeply in debt and couldn’t pay its bills. But rather than suppressing a hostile news outlet, the government actually stepped in and helped the channel repay its debts over an extended period allowing it to keep its license. Any idea that this represents the heavy hand of government repression is simply contradicted by the facts.

It boggles the mind how any of this could possibly be interpreted by an impartial evaluator as proof that Israel’s lively press is less free. As muddled as Freedom House’s views on the Blau and Channel 10 cases might be, their arguments are within the bounds of reasonable opinion. But for the group to treat the success of a news organization that has actually made the mainstream press in Israel more diverse as a blow to freedom is not reasonable. In fact, it betrays an ideological bias that undermines the credibility of their report.

The focus of any attempt to defend freedom of the press ought to be on the efforts of governments throughout the globe to repress dissent and to threaten and imprison journalists, not to defend the hegemony of liberals in democracies. Israel remains a bulwark of liberty in a region where despotism is the rule, including a nation like Egypt which recently replaced an authoritarian dictator with a theocratic tyranny. Freedom House ought to be ashamed of tarnishing its impressive brand in this manner. They need to retract the attack on Israel Hayom and restore the Jewish state’s rating to “free.”

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