Rudoren Misses Context in Crackdown Coverage

Jodi Rudoren has a new article up published yesterday about the search for three missing Israeli settlers. There is so much lacking in the general coverage of recent events in Occupied Palestine, particularly in the under-reporting of the wide-ranging and brutal Israeli crackdown, that it is hard to know where to start. For this reason, I’m just going to point out one thing in the piece that is actually representative of a bigger problem with Rudoren’s coverage of the area (Naom Sheizaf gets at some other issues with this piece here).

In the piece, Rudoren notes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated Hamas was behind the disappearance of the three Israeli settlers. Yesterday, Hamas’ political leader in exile Khaled Meshal, gave a long interview to Al Jazeera in Arabic. The very first question he was asked by the interviewer was about the three settlers. Meshal’s response, and this is my translation, came at about 1:50 in the video:
Confirmation or denial is tied to information, and, in all honestly, we have no information about what happened.”
For the next six or so minutes, Meshal goes into a lengthy response describing the context of occupation in which the alleged kidnapping occurred in great detail. He concludes with a message to the families of the three missing settlers; that the situation might have been brought about by the Israeli government and Benjamin Netanyahu, whose provocative policies toward settlement expansion, Judaization of Jerusalem and continued administrative detention of hunger striking Palestinian prisoners fueled Palestinian anger and created the conditions for the alleged kidnapping.
Then, the interviewer says, “What you are saying now seems to apply in the event that you can confirm these [three settlers] were taken, but yet you neither confirm nor deny.
Meshal responds: “I am speaking about all possibilities, you asked me about Hamas and I told you I have no information about this to be able to confirm or deny it, however, if what did occur was the outcome of a Palestinian act to capture them, then may the hands that capture them be blessed because this is a Palestinian obligation, this is the responsibility of the Palestinian people. Our prisoners must be released, not Hamas prisoners, Palestinian prisoners. There are 5,700 prisoners, 25 of them are women, 400 of them are children. It is a Palestinian obligation to free these prisoners, to defend themselves and to defend their land…
What Meshal is saying, and what anyone who listened to the interview would come away with, is that Hamas knows nothing about what took place but he views the act as one of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.
Meshal may be lying. Meshal may be telling the truth. But whatever one thinks about whether Hamas is or is not involved in this is irrelevant to what he said and what he said should be reported as such. That is not, however, the way Jodi Rudoren reported it. Here is all what she reported about Meshal’s response:

Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, said in an interview on Monday, “I cannot confirm or deny the abduction,” but “blessed are the hands” that did it.

The single most important and newsworthy part of Meshal’s response, that Hamas had no information about the event, which makes clear that the organization’s leadership did not plan or order it, according to one of its leaders, was not reported. Instead of making that point clear, Rudoren instead presents Meshal’s comments as duplicitous and deliberately ambiguous when in fact he was clear about knowing nothing about what took place. She also mentions nothing about the context Meshal describes which made up the vast majority of his response to the question.

Why did Rudoren do this? Misreporting Meshal’s response in this way fuels the official Israeli narrative. Netanyahu has used the allegation against Hamas as a pretext for a massive crackdown against the organization from its political players down to its charities, so failing to note that Meshal said they know nothing about it only buttresses Netanyahu’s narrative. But, the question remains, was it deliberate? It is hard to tell. What we do know is that Rudoren did not report the quote from listening to the interview herself because she does not understand Arabic. So she must have relied on someone or something else to provide a translation or merely lifted the quote from somewhere else.

Where did this information come from? Was it a translator? Did she read a translated transcript of the interview and the response to the question in its entirety or did she just re-report a spliced quote published elsewhere? How often does this occur in her reporting?

Whatever the answer to these questions are, we know that a reporter who understood the language and was able to listen to the entire interview independently would come away with a different quote than the one Rudoren used and would likely better represent the reality and context of the comments that were being quoted.

That didn’t happen here and The New York Times‘ readers missed out on important information because of it.