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Tony Weaver in his Man Friday Column Cape Times 22 March 2013
A vitriolic and defamatory attack based on poorly researched ‘facts’. (Headline)
I HAVE never met Dr Mike Berger of Simon’s Town. He was invited to a meeting that Cape Times editor, Alide Dasnois and I, as opinion pages editor, attended with the SA Zionist Federation’s “Media Team” on March 5.
He declined to attend, because, in his own words, “I was not prepared to drive 90km to attend since I predicted it would be an exercise in futility. And so it was.”
Au contraire, we found it a very useful exchange of opinions. At that meeting, I expressed my regret that Dr Berger was not in attendance because he was the lead author of a widely circulated document titled “Media Bias and the Deligitimisation of Israel: the case of the Cape Times.”
I told the gathering that I was sorry Dr Berger wasn’t present because his report was “bollocks”. The contents of the off-the-record meeting were relayed to Dr Berger.
The preamble to Dr Berger’s report reads that “the detailed and careful study reported below documents the systematic bias and pre-occupation with Israel and Zionism by the Cape Times in the year 2012… To the knowledge of the author, it is the first such objective and comprehensive investigation of anti-Israel media bias in South Africa.”
Throughout the report, he makes statements like “remarkable predominance of anti-Israel content in the Cape Times”; and “it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Cape Times has transgressed the fundamental requirements of ethical and responsible journalism”.
Dr Berger singled out three “case studies” which he said demonstrated our bias: “The Bulgarian Bomb Attack” on July 18, 2012, which he said was only reported twice; “The Toulouse and Montauban Shootings” in March, 2012, of which he said “the Cape Times did not report this incident at all”; and “Fogel Family (Itamar) Killings” which he said we did not cover.
I did a similar check. He is indeed correct that the Cape Times carried two stories on the Bulgarian bombing, which is statistically probably one story more than any newspaper carries on a bombing in a foreign country in which its nationals are not involved.
He is also correct in saying that the Cape Times did not report the Fogel family murder. What he does not mention is that news of the murders emerged on a Friday, and the next edition of the Cape Times only appeared the following Monday and was dominated by the Japanese tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown.
Virtually no international stories made the pages of the Cape Times (and I would guess, most newspapers worldwide) in the week after the tsunami except the tragedy in Japan. Dr Berger’s “analysis” demonstrates a remarkable lack of understanding of the world of news.
The day after the SAZF meeting, Dr Berger phoned me and asked me if I had called his report “bollocks”. I replied that I had. He asked for one example, and I told him that to the best of my recollection, the Cape Times had carried a string of stories on the Toulouse-Montauban shootings.
He then published a series of vitriolic and highly defamatory attacks on me on his blog, Solar Plexus. On March 7, he wrote “apparently my claim in the Report that the Cape Times had not reported on the Toulouse-Montauban shootings in March last year was grossly mistaken… That rendered the Report ‘bollocks’ in its entirety. Of course, that’s BS. Even a gross error on one item does not invalidate the entire Report, but it does give him and the Cape Times a slender foothold – and being the escape artists that they are, they will exploit it to the maximum. “So of course I have instituted my own checks to see if an error had crept in (and extended it to other incidents as well) and, if so, how did it occur.”
On March 16 he posted “a brief follow-up on ‘Bollocks’. As you remember, that’s how Weaver of the Cape Times dismissed my (Truth in Middle East Reporting) report. He could do that of course because in the absence of an impartial adjudicator (like a court of law or an Ombudsman with teeth) that is what substitutes for argument and fact in the world of the media.
“But I dragged out of him the accusation that I had missed numerous reports (14?) in the Cape Times on the Toulouse-Montauban shootings. Well, I was both astonished and disbelieving, since I come from a science background where we take our facts seriously – apparently unlike modern journalists for whom the criterion seems to be ‘what you can get away with’ and general moral posturing.
“But I went back to the media monitoring service and asked them to look very carefully once again (since they had done so repeatedly in the first instance) into Weaver’s claim of important missed articles relating to the TM shootings. So once again, ZILCH! Now the ball is in Weaver’s court. Come up with the actual reports on the TM shootings or you will stand naked and exposed.”
Then on Wednesday, he posted: “Weaver was challenged, repeatedly, to support his response, to come up with evidence that proved my Report was indeed ‘bollocks’. His response: quiet as mouse – not a peep, not a shred of evidence – not even something plausible if tendentious. Nothing.
“Will anything change? I doubt it. Those who don’t have the moral gumption to pay some decent respect to a careful study or to debate the central thrust of the evidence, but rely on bravado and bluster to ignore its findings, are unlikely to find the cojones to rectify anything or to apologise to the Jewish and Zionist community for their complicity in the iniquitous demonisation of the Jewish state.” Sigh.
I’m afraid that Dr Berger is hoist by his own petard. Cape Times, March 20: World page, first edition lead story with photograph: “Four shot dead at Jewish school in French town.” March 20, World page, second edition lead story with photograph: “Police confirm link in scooter shootings.” March 21, World page, downpage story: “School gunman filmed murderous rampage.” March 22, World page lead: “I brought France to its knees.” March 23, page one: “Siege ends with death of self-confessed killer.” March 23, World page lead, with pictures: “The undoing of a calculated killer” plus a turn from page one, “France to crack down on extremist websites.” March 23, Opinion page, Second Opinion from The Independent: “French dilemma.” March 28, World page, a plea from Nicolas Sarkozy “Don’t show footage of murders.”
Zilch? Is it any wonder that I dismiss Dr Berger’s “detailed and careful study” as bollocks? And may I suggest that he asks his “media monitoring service” a) for his money back and b) to go back and check every single report that they claim to have found, or not found, in the Cape Times?
My Response (unpublished)
From bollocks to sighs. So where lies the truth?
Firstly and unequivocally, Mr Weaver is right when he says the Toulouse-Montauban (TM) shootings were comprehensively reported. The Media Monitoring Service (MMS) has finally come up with the prominent articles (and images) which they missed three times: their routine initial survey, a full repeat survey last year when I found some omissions in their data, and, finally, once again in the past couple of weeks when I demanded a detailed check on the entire month of March 2012. My thoughts on their performance are unprintable. They were not my choice but were the service selected by the Zionist Federation.
What, if anything, has this changed in my Report regarding the selectivity and bias demonstrated by the Cape Times? Mr Weaver has, as I predicted, used these omissions to trash the whole report (and, of course, me along with it). But that allows him to carefully select what he reveals, so let’s take a more careful look.
Firstly, Weaver was offered the free run of my blog to deliver his rebuttal, but was “too busy”. Thinking maybe that he regarded my blog as hostile territory, I suggested the Press Club. Also rejected. But he was not too busy to use considerable space in his own newspaper to tarnish the Report and my own scrupulous care in its preparation.
As far as my own input is concerned, I have no regrets. I took every precaution humanly possible to ensure fairness and completeness. Phase 1 of the study, significantly more important than the 3 case studies, was carried out by me personally scrutinising all 23 issues from 20 June to 20 July 2012. I can vouch for its accuracy within extremely narrow limits. The Report can be found at https://solarplexuss.wordpress.com/media-bias-and-the-delegitimisation-of-israel-the-case-of-the-cape-times/. It is demanding but should be read by anyone desiring a full picture.
The essence of Phase one was a disproportionate and negative emphasis on Israel and Zionists: 59 articles, reports and letters in a single month at a time when nothing much was happening. Only the Letters page showed reasonable parity between positive and negative comment. The reports and articles were overwhelmingly negative, driven by anti-Israeli activists.
Besides the negativity other features included the special prominence given to anti-Israel and anti-Zionist allegations, the use of “reports” simply to repeat verbatim much of the hostile allegations made elsewhere in letters and commentary, and evidence of coordination in which up to 3 hostile articles and letters would appear simultaneously in a single issue or within a couple of days.
Phase 2 of the study ran over about 7 months and was dependent on material supplied to me by the MMS. It was undertaken because I was so astonished by the degree of bias revealed in the one month Phase 1 study that I wondered whether it waas some kind of statistical aberration,The search filters were as wide as possible to avoid any selectivity and I took every precaution to ensure completeness and integrity. Of the 3 case studies, Weaver admits that serious errors occurred only in one, but suggests the failure to cover the Fogel killings was due to other more pressing news.
This is simply disingenuous. There is simply no chance whatsoever that the Cape Times would not have vigorously reported two Israeli settler youths creeping into an Arab-Palestinian home at night and brutally stabbing to death the two parents and 3 children in their sleep, almost decapitating the 3 month old baby in the process.
Furthermore, of the 2 reports on the Bulgarian terror attack on Israeli civilians, one comprised 3 sentences tucked away in a side column and the other was a longer but almost clinically factual report. Weaver fails to tell the reader that at about the same time the Cape Times published an equally long report on the disinvestment of an unknown Disney heiress from her West Bank Israeli investments. This report, far from clinical was replete with hostile anti-Israeli comment.
The remainder of Phase 2 detailed the selectively negative anti-Israeli tone of Cape Times reportage over a period of almost 7 months and its profound failure of contextualisation and balance. Weaver would have the reader believe that this is invalid (bollocks in his terminology) because of the omissions around the TM shootings. This is unlikely on two counts. Firstly, the Cape Times coverage of the TM shootings was virtually unique in my experience and, secondly, I strongly doubt that the MMS was equally bad over the whole time period. The abundance of material that it did come up with argues against many other major omissions.
Nevertheless, I’m requesting a full review of all items appearing in the Cape Times remotely pertaining to Israel and the Middle East from 1 Jan to the end of September 2012 to detect any possible further relevant omissions. Anything relevant will be reported.
To get to the nub: I strongly believe that the evidence is overwhelming that Cape Times had become a willing conduit for anti-Israel propaganda. If anything my analysis may have underestimated the bias since I did not address details of “spin” in the actual content, as had been done, for instance, on Reuters in a peer-reviewed academic paper. Whether the Cape Times has continued along the same path to the same extent I have no clear idea since I have stopped getting the paper other than on Fridays. But from small cues I suspect it is much the same.
The omissions while embarrassing are, I believe, localised and do not invalidate the detailed Report. So unless the editors of the Cape Times are prepared to seriously engage with its substance my accusations stand.
For readers wanting more than ideology and slogans, may I suggest the following sites for generally pro-Israeli comment which is fair, sometimes critical but well-informed: BICOM, Daily Alert and, from a left-wing perspective, Fathom. I would recommend my own blog, Solar Plexus, at http://www.solarplexuss.wordpress.com but I have been undecided as to its future for some time. But do go ahead and try it.