CNN: Two stories, one news agency

Casualties in Tel Aviv. Casualties in Rafah. Where does CNN go? Tel Aviv. And it was absolutely right to go to Tel Aviv. It’s failure came in an inexcusable unwillingness to send a second crew to Rafah.

A review of the website for Thursday, December 11 shows an unmistakable emphasis on Tel Aviv. A prominent free-standing story was quickly posted about the violence in Tel Aviv which turned out to be an internal criminal attack: “Tel Aviv blast kills 3”.

But CNN only posted a story about Rafah following a complaint from Partners for Peace and then it was only added as an afterthought at the very end of a piece about Ahmed Qureia’s criticism of Israel’s Segregation Barrier: “Qorei: Palestinians won’t accept Israeli barrier”

Perhaps CNN has a quota limiting the number of stories in a day airing Palestinian grievances. (CNN already does have a policy mandating that if Islamic Jihad or Hamas is mentioned that language is included noting that the State Department regards them as terrorist organizations. Fair enough. Each is guilty of heinous crimes. But you simply will not see similar language from CNN noting the IDF’s human rights track record despite the fact that the State Department documents such abuses year in and year out.)

CNN also posted seven transcripts Thursday mentioning the Tel Aviv explosion. Six of these transcripts clearly noted in the link heading that they dealt with the Tel Aviv explosion. How many headings dealt with the Rafah incident? Zero. And only one of the seven transcripts even bothered to mention the attack on Rafah:

“Tel Aviv Blast”

“Explosion in Tel Aviv”

“Blast Rocks Tel Aviv”
This is the one transcript that also touches on the violence in Rafah.

“Large Explosion in Tel Aviv”

“Large Explosion in Tel Aviv”

“Huge Explosion in Tel Aviv”

“International Wrap: Eye on the World”

Perhaps, you might be tempted to think, the killing in Tel Aviv was on a bigger scale than in Rafah. Yet that was not the case. Six Palestinians were killed in Rafah and three Israelis were killed in Tel Aviv. The appalling conclusion to be reached is that somehow CNN regards the killing of Israelis as more newsworthy than the killing of Palestinians. Reports of Israeli casualties drive coverage far more than reports of Palestinian casualties in the forgotten refugee camps of Gaza.

One CNN correspondent responding to the Partners for Peace criticism said that the letter was “excellent.” The correspondence makes clear that within some circles at CNN there is a real awareness of the lack of even-handedness in CNN’s coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

A second correspondent wrote:

“I have some respones [sic] to your crticism [sic]. If there was a long write on Tel Aviv incident versus no seperate [sic] write on the Rafah deaths then that was a mistake which appears now to have been corrected. Both are stories worthy of CNN coverage and of seperate [sic] stories on our webpage.”

Yet there was no separate “ write” on the Rafah deaths. It simply is not there.

The correspondent continued:

“Yes, we did rush a crew to Tel Aviv and no, we did not rush a crew to Rafah…but the comparison is not a fair one. We rushed a crew to TA at the time police were telling us the bombing might have been a terror attack but we cancelled our satellite truck boooking [sic] and turned that crew around pretty promptly once it was established that it was a criminal act. We had been reporting the deaths in Rafah all night on cnn international and the story was to be featured in my live segment on CNN Daybreak this morning as part of a segment on the latest violence and hints of a new Sharon plan on settlements. I didn’t get a chance to reference Rafah because the Tel Aviv incident was breaking at that time but I did talk about the tension in Washington caused by Sharon’s hinting. Finally…there is no such thing as rushing a crew to Rafah even when we would like to…it takes considerable time to get to Rafah because of Israeli travel restrictions and checkpoints as well as security concerns. I think you will find that we have nevertheless done a lot more stories from Gaza than we have from Tel Aviv in the recent past. The deaths in Rafah were being reported as we found out about them but did not happen all at the same time in a single incident…this also effects [sic] our decision on dispatching crews. We are committed to telling all sides of this story fairly and I appreciate your continued attention to detail on our reporting.”

The correspondent touches on a couple of important points here. First, there is an enormous difference between the coverage of CNN International and CNN Domestic on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The former covers the matter in far greater depth than the domestic CNN. The individual correspondent in this instance is undoubtedly doing the best he can to bring the full story to his viewers. There is no reason to doubt his commitment to “telling all sides of this story fairly.” But the failure of CNN’s Atlanta Headquarters to grapple seriously with the bias of CNN Domestic and should be a matter of grave concern. Responses from CNN should come not just from correspondents but from ombudsman types at CNN.

Secondly, the time has come for CNN to place a news team in Gaza precisely because it is so difficult to get crews there. A bias is introduced when CNN keeps it crews in places where they cannot reach Palestinian victims as quickly as Israeli victims. All the victims of this terrible conflict should be covered. Right now that is not happening. As a result, CNN Domestic is misrepresenting the conflict.

One final note: An Israeli official reported that Mohammed Zeino, a man Palestinians reported was a medic assisting on the scene, actually was a member of Hamas and a participant in the fighting. CNN picked up this report. The New York Times and Washington Post also reported the allegation that Zeino was a member of Hamas. A human rights contact of Partners for Peace reported, however, that the Israeli official may have been mixing up Mohammed with a brother of his. At one time this brother was imprisoned by Israel as a member of Hamas. Mohammed, however, was said by this source to be a medic and not a member of Hamas. Partners for Peace passed this information along to a variety of news agencies. Not one has responded. Israeli officials, it seems, have carte blanche to say what they want with very little fear of an independent investigation into the veracity of their statements.

Michael Brown is a regular EI contributor and the Executive Director of Partners for Peace in Washington, DC.