The Sydney Morning Herald's Middle East correspondent, Ed O'Loughlin, taking on Michael Danby MP, Labor's Minister for Israel in...The Australian Jewish News!? Read on:-
As indicated in an earlier post (Ed v Abraham), Fairfax's Middle East correspondent is not (unlike The Australian's Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan*) exactly flavour of the month in The Australian Jewish News. Sniping at Fairfax/Ed has been going on for years in Tzvi Fleischer's Media Matters column, but a concerted attack against him in the form of an opinion piece (Sullying a fine reputation) by Danby on September 14 last year must have come as the last straw.
And so, lo and behold, in the 22/2/08 edition of the AJN, a no-punches-pulled, point-by-point rebuttal of Danby's "falsehoods" (Ed's word) by Ed himself...and a revealing editorial, Why we published O'Loughlin. I present both below, beginning with the consummate chutzpah of the editorial (and my between the lines reading and comments):-
"Within days of starting work in a newsroom, trainee journalists are quickly and firmly made aware that they are there to report the news, not make the news. Maybe Ed O'Loughlin was away that day. O'Loughlin is the ME correspondent for Fairfax Media, and has attracted headlines in this newspaper, and occasionally the general media [I'm certainly not aware of any], for a perceived lack of balance in his reporting from Israel and surrounding areas. As a foreign correspondent in a region perpetually on the brink of conflict [most of it initiated by yours truly], O'Loughlin's main brief is to report back to Australians on that conflict. Fair enough. But he has done little to enlighten Fairfax readers that Israel is a living, breathing, first-world nation, a world leader in science, technology, art and culture, which has maintained a thriving and robust democracy despite the perpetual threats it faces to its existence. [IOW, O'Loughlin eschews the partisan reporting of Greg Sheridan. And surprise, surprise...]The Australian's foreign editor, Greg Sheridan, covered this side of Israel far better in a 3-week visit late last year than O'Loughlin has during his entire posting. [See my posts: Gullible's Travels; When Even the Retraction is Dodgy 1 & 2] Fairfax raised further shackles [sic] with a recent spate of letters published in the Sydney Morning Herald, comparing Israel's treatement of the Palestinians in Gaza to the Nazis' treatment of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. From all reports, a flurry of letters rebutting these claims were not published, leading to further claims of anti-Israel bias at The SMH. [See my posts We Remember Warsaw; WRW: The Sequel] This week, The AJN has taken the unusual step of publishing an opinion piece by O'Loughlin, rebutting some of the criticisms of his reporting from Israel that we published in a column by Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby last September. Mainstream media balance, or the lack thereof, has been a bugbear of our community [What, all of them?] for many years, with the ABC and SBS also targets of Jewish [Zionist lobby?] ire. We share that discomfort. But it would be churlish and hypocritical of us to editorialise on media balance and then not put that into practice by denying O'Loughlin an opportunity to defend his work. [I have no way of knowing but could the AJN perhaps have been given the choice of printing Ed's rebuttal or facing an Australian Press Council adjudication?] Fairfax might produce some of Australia's finest newspapers, but this week, at least, we would like to think we have taught it a lesson in presenting both sides of a story."
And here is Ed O'Loughlin's withering rebuttal of "Danby's rubbish" (Ed's word again), My Israel reporting explained:-
"This newspaper published an article by Federal MP Michael Danby on September 14 last year, alleging bias on the part of Fairfax newspapers and myself. The article contained a number of falsehoods. In fact, it contained little else. One: I have never referred, as Danby claims I habitually do, to suicide bombers as 'militants'. Two: When writing about Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank, I refer to it not merely as a wall, as he states, but as a complex of walls and fences. The term 'wall' is used alone only in relation to specific sections, such as those in and around East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Qalqilya, and Tulkarm, where the barrier is, in fact, a wall. Three: In relation to Israel's controversial deportation of African refugees last August, Danby writes, bizarrely, that there was no mention in Fairfax newspapers 'of the riots by Darfuris in pro-Sudan Cairo or the murderous beating of [sic] Egyptian border guards of Darfuri refugees. No context. No report by O'Loughlin. In fact, I reported on the issue on August 21. The piece fully set out the Israeli Government's policy, its explanation for its policy and the criticism of that policy in a petition signed by a majority of Israeli parliamentarians headed by Opposition Leader and former Likud prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Perhaps Danby should save his bile for them, rather than Fairfax newspapers. Four: Dr Hanan Ashrawi denies thinking or saying, as Danby says she does, that 'some Fairfax newspapers are too pro-Hamas'. She says she is 'very puzzled' by his reference to 'her criticism of Fairfax ME correspondent Ed O'Loughlin's most recent coverage of events in Gaza', as she is not familiar with me or my reporting. Nor are any such allegations made in the SBS broadcast to which he refers. I asked Dr Ashrawi if perhaps she had made such statements in private to Danby, or if he is authorised to make statements on her behalf, as he did in your newspaper, but she says she does not know him. Five: I have never stated that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza was 'all part of a cynical scheme to occupy the West Bank forever'. Mr Danby may be referring to contextual references in some of my reports to an interview given to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz in October 2004 by the chief adviser to then prime minister Ariel Sharon, Dov Weisglass, the leading architect of that 'disengagement' policy. In his interview Weisglass stated: 'The significance of our disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process...It supplies the formaldehyde necessary so there is no political process with Palestinians...When you freeze the process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Effectively, this whole package called a Palestinian state, with all it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda'. Similarly, one of Israel's most respected and well-connected mainstream commentators, Nahum Barnea, wrote in the mass daily Yediot Ahronot on February 21, 2005, several months before the evacuation of the Gaza settlements, that 'Sharon believes that his plan will put off for years, perhaps forever, a withdrawal from all the territories. His tactics may have changed, but the plan remains the same: to reach a stable arrangement that will leave Israel with a large chunk, up to 40%, of the West Bank'. If Mr Danby chooses to interpret this policy as cynical, then he is, of course, entitled to his opinion. Six: In a rare foray into fact, Danby points out that I did not report on a Human Rights Watch report accusing Hezbollah of committing war crimes by bombarding Israeli civilian centers during the 2006 war. This is true. He is wrong, however, to leap to the conclusion that this stems from bias against Israel. I did not file a piece on the Hezbollah report because I was on another assignment in Gaza at the time of its release. In my absence, the story was covered with a syndicated piece from The New York Times. A little honest research could have cleared up all these points before Danby's baseless and uninformed attack went to print in your newspaper. I was not, however, given any opportunity to respond before the article was published. Sadly, Danby's rubbish has now taken on a life of its own on the internet, where it is being cited as factual evidence of bias on the part of Fairfax newspapers and myself, from a 'reliable source'."
* Sheridan wrote a lame and self-serving letter in the AJN of 15/2/08. It should be read as a postscript to my posts on his minimalist and dodgy retractions of factual inaccuracies published in The Australian (When Even the Retraction is Dodgy 1 & 2):-
"I am delighted that The AJN and some of its writers and readers found my recent series of articles in The Australian to be of some interest. To these editorialists, op-ed writers and correspondents who wrote in praise of the articles: I am deeply grateful. To those who pointed out some of my mistakes: I am also very grateful, for well meant criticism is helpful to anybody trying to write about complex issues. Certainly, in one article [only one!?], I got the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorism wrong and I am glad to be corrected on such an important matter. I'm also glad to be corrected on the spelling of Gilo, where my wandering finger added an unrequired 't'. The article in my series which provoked by far the greatest interest [& criticism] was one entitled 'Deep inside the plucky country', which appeared in The Weekend Australian of January 19-20. It was mostly an impressionistic [& highly partisan] piece about the sights and sounds and personalities I encountered in Israel. I think it caused so much reaction in part because of its very simple thesis: that there are things in Israel which are compellingly interesting beyond the conflict with the Palestinians. When, aeons ago, I was a student, it was common to talk of Israel in the context of the kibbutz movement, or Israeli social egalitarianism, or the role of the trade union movement in Israel, or some aspect of Jewish culture. [Typically, the present diminished role of the kibbutzim and trade union movement, and Israel's growing social divisions, hold no interest for Sheridan.] But now, so many opponents of Israel, and even as a consequence sometimes its supporters, seem to talk of it only in connection with the conflict, whereas it is an incredibly fascinating and diverse, and therefore paradoxically undereported, society." So the only problem with his PR piece was a factual error and a typo!?