Thursday, August 15, 2002

Last Saturday, CNN Europe's "International Correspondents" program decided to take up the issue of why the European press so unskeptically accepted the Palestinian fabrications about a "massacre" in Jenin..

Janine Di Giovanni (of the London Times) claimed that the press really did the best job that it could to evaluate the competing Israeli and Palestinian versions of what happened, that reporters such as herself who were out on the ground in the West Bank were not merely heroic and but also the most reliable, that the press was actually heavily impressed by IDF spokesman Ron Kitrey's later-retracted remark of "hundreds dead" (though in reality, Kitrey spoke of 100 "casualties"), and that what "we were really concerned about" was the human rights violations conducted by the IDF such as those described in the Human Rights Watch report on Jenin eg. the "use of human shields".

Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday was less slick, but he skewered Di Giovanni's attempt to portray herself as circumspect by reading from an article she wrote entitled The Meaning of Jenin: "The refugees I had interviewed in recent days while trying to enter the camp were not lying. If anything, they underestimated the the carnage and the horror. Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life."

While praising those brave journalists on the ground, di Giovanni described how the IDF turned Palestinian homes into "sniper's nests" (another nice phrase she would never apply to Palestinian snipers). She said this as if she were describing a major revelation - though it's well-known that the IDF established positions in buildings in the Jenin refugee camp. She could have found that out from the Israeli press; I've even heard second and third-hand stories that started with reservists.

What di Giovanni said on CNN does not stand up to even minimal scrutiny - she was relying on her charisma, the uninformedness of her audience, and the limited ability of her opponent to respond. If CNN were to place transcripts on its web site it would contribute to the quality of public debate by preventing people from getting away with this kind of thing.

That accusation of the "use of human shields" - you don't hear much about what accusation is about. It would seem to be this ie. ordering local Palestinians to go door-to-door advising residents to evacuate. Maybe that's unethical or even really does contravene international conventions, but the intentional vagueness on the part of di Giovanni (and apparently HRW) is obviously tendentious.

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