The Associated Press is pushing back against charges leveled by one of its former Israel-based reporters that the global news agency is systematically biased against Israel and specifically makes editorial choices meant to portray the Jewish state in negative terms.
The article by former AP reporter Matti Friedman accused the organization’s Jerusalem bureau staff, as well as other reporters who cover the issue, of having an innate "distaste for Israel."
Friedman, who worked for the AP from 2006 to 2011, claims that these reporters choose and write stories about Israel based on "a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills."
The article, published Sunday in the Atlantic, follows on an August article by Friedman making similar claims about deep-rooted anti-Israel biases at the AP and other major news outlets.
This prejudice, Friedman wrote, even impacts editorial decisions about who to talk to. In the AP’s case, "explicit orders" were given to reporters around 2008 "to never quote" the pro-Israel research organization NGO Monitor, or its founder, Gerald Steinberg.
"In my time as an AP writer moving through the local conflict, with its myriad lunatics, bigots, and killers, the only person I ever saw subjected to an interview ban was this professor," Friedman wrote.
The AP on Monday vehemently denied these charges when approached by the Washington Free Beacon and claimed that Friedman has been promulgating "distortions, half-truths, and inaccuracies" about the news outlet.
Friedman’s "suggestion of AP bias against Israel is false," Paul Colford, the AP’s director of media relations, told the Free Beacon in a statement.
"It is misleading and disingenuous to selectively pick examples of our work to promote narrow viewpoints," Colford said. "The AP is proud of its staff on both sides of the border for producing a broad, independent, and comprehensive report in such adverse conditions."
Asked specifically to address the charge that AP reporters were ordered not to speak to NGO Monitor or Steinberg, Colford called the claim "demonstrably false."
"A claim that AP ordered reporters not to use Gerald Steinberg and his NGO Monitor as sources in AP stories after the Gaza war of 2008-2009 is demonstrably false, as shown in an array of more than a dozen stories in recent years quoting Prof. Steinberg by name and mentioning the group," Colford said.
NGO Monitor’s Steinberg says he was not shocked to learn of the AP’s purported ban on his group.
"Matti Friedman’s revelations regarding the efforts to censor NGO Monitor and me as its president are not entirely surprising," Steinberg wrote Monday on the organization’s website. "Based on our experience in publishing detailed research on over 150 NGOs claiming to promote human rights and humanitarian objectives, we are aware of the intense efforts to maintain the NGO ‘halo effect’ and prevent critical debate. While the AP censorship was explicit, we have experienced similar silencing from other media platforms."
Steinberg has further petitioned the AP to prove its claim that NGO Monitor was not banned during the 2008-2009 war in Gaza by providing a list of stories mentioning the group and the date they were published.
Only one article is from the disputed time period, and its focus is on Hamas war crimes, not crimes regarding the Israeli side. The AP routinely publishes reports authored by NGOs critical of Israel.
In addition to his claims about NGO Monitor, Friedman recounts multiple examples of stories that he says the AP declined to publish because they did not fit the conventional narrative about Israel and the Palestinians.
In one case, news outlets including the AP declined to cover a Nazi-style rally by militants that was held on the campus of the Palestinian Al Quds University, according to Friedman.
The rally only received attention when outlets such as the Free Beacon published photos showing students dressed in military gear and giving the traditional Nazi salute.
Friedman writes that examples "show the way in which the pipeline of information from this place is not just rusty and leaking, which is the usual state of affairs in the media, but intentionally plugged."
The AP countered that it has tried to cover all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often putting reporters in dangerous situations.
"In covering the Gaza war, the AP aimed, as always, to present a fair and accurate picture," Collard said. "Like other media covering this story, we dealt with numerous obstacles, including Hamas intimidation, Israeli military censorship, anti-media incitement on both sides of the border, Hamas rocket fire, and intense Israeli airstrikes that made it difficult to get around Gaza during the fighting."
Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert and vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), said that reporters often find themselves in over their heads once they enter the region.
"The coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been a circus for as long as I can remember," said Schanzer. "My sense has been for a long time that a lot of people are dropped into the conflict or arrive without the requisite context. As a result they find themselves completely beholden to fixers and to bought contacts, particularly in the Palestinian arena."
Due to language barriers and safety issues, reporters become "beholden to others who steer them to certain people and findings," Schanzer said. "As a result, real stories get hidden and lost and often times, misleading stories get published."