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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:

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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