By Barry Rubin
Sometimes, when I think that the AP has hit the heights of irresponsibility, when I start to feel that all the principles of democratic, responsible journalism have been breached, I read the news in the desperate hope that I won’t find anything to complain about.
Then I find something so shocking, so bizarre that I feel I have—like a character on the old “Twilight Zone” episode—fallen into an alternative universe.
And to make it even worse, no one else is shocked to the point of fainting, protesting, or firing those responsible.
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I refer to an Associated Press article entitled, “Was Arafat Poisoned?”
Every few hours Arab regimes, Islamists, or revolutionary groups come up with new conspiracy theories, usually aimed against Israel, sometimes against America: September 11 was done by the Mossad or White House; Jews kill children to drink their blood, war crimes in Gaza, massacre in Jenin, Israel spreads AIDs, Israeli coins prove the country claims the whole Middle East, racism, imperialism, and so on.
Now the Associated Press has violated the conspiracy theory that Israel murdered Arafat. It is simply taken without criticism as fact. This 17-paragraph story does not contain a single word to make one believe that this charge is a bunch of nonsense.
For example, paragraph 2 tells us that his death immediately spawned speculation he was killed by Israel. Yet it spawned a lot more reportage that he died a natural death. Paragraph 3 makes it sound as if he fell ill suddenly—and suspiciously—when he suffered from a long illness that was the subject of much discussion for months. Many who saw Arafat in person or on television saw he was ailing.
None of this is mentioned in the article.
It quotes Ashraf al-Kurdi, Arafat’s doctor, as implying his death was suspicious though Kurdi has never provided any proof or reason to think so.
Let me tell you a story about Kurdi that was told to me by someone who was standing there. Kurdi and another doctor were approached by a reporter who asked—before the collapse mentioned here—whether Arafat had Parkinson’s disease. Kurdi said absolutely not. The reporter ran off to report his story.
The second doctor turned to Kurdi and said he was surprised because he believed Arafat had the illness. “Of course he does!” Kurdi responded.
The article tries to set up Israel’s motive: Arafat refused to make peace (at least this point is mentioned when it isn’t in other contexts) and was running an uprising against Israel so it decided to knock him off.
The fact was that Arafat was 75 years old, overweight, never exercised, and had bad medical care. From my own investigations at the time, it was clear to me that for political reasons the Palestinian Authority and Fatah did not want to admit Arafat was ill and delayed getting him proper care.
Such reporting can only make one imagine what it would have been like if such a news service had been around centuries ago. We would have been treated to stories like: “Jews Poison Wells, Experts Say” or “Third Murdered Boy Found, Killing Attributed to Blood for Matzoh Scheme,” and “Documents Show: Jews Seek World Domination.”
The reporter who wrote this story should be fired or at least disciplined. Inquiries should be raised on how it was edited and released. Presumably none of this will happen. The AP and Reuters have become transmission belts for propaganda, and not even a very good class of propaganda at that.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org