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July 13, 2010
NYT Buries Key Findings
If evidence still is needed of why readers are turned off by reporters placing their own judgment and opinions ahead of the facts, one need go no further than Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner's July 13 article in the New York Times on the findings of an Israeli inquiry into the deadly raid on a Gaza-bound ship on May 31 ("Israeli Military Finds Flotilla Killings Justified" page A4).
Bronner, in his piece, waits until the very end before reporting the reasons why the inquiry found the killings justified. And these conclusions just happen to reflect essential findings that previously received scant attention.
In his second paragraph, Bronner mentions that "65 Turkish Islamic militants armed with metal sticks and knives were on the flotilla's main ship, and had vowed to fight any effort by the Israeli Navy to board." Well, we knew that already. The main question was: Did they initiate a fierce attack on Israeli commandos as they rappelled down from their helicopter to the main deck? The inquiry answers that question. But Bronner holds off mentioning it.
In Bronner's third paragraph, he writes that "the scuffles that ensued led to Israeli commandos shooting the nine Turks." But were these just "scuffles" as Bronner describes the encounter? "Scuffles" doesn't come close to the far more serious take by the inquiry about the ferocity of the battle aboard the ship. And readers still are kept in the dark by Bronner about the report's conclusion of who initiated the fighting and the complete weapons arsenal of the Islamic militants.
In his fourth paragraph, Bronner mentions that the investigators "called the use of live fire justified." But he again fails to report why the investigators reached this most pivotal conclusion. It's in the inquiry report, but Bronner sitll holds off giving readers the lowdown.
In the middle of the article, when the all-important findings still aren't mentioned. Bronner substitutes his own judgment: "Everything that happened on board the Turkish flotilla six weeks ago remains a matter of controversy -- who shot first, how aggressive the passengers were, how violent the commandos became," he writes.
To Bronner, who short first still is an open question. Fair enough. But it's not what the investigators found and reported. Not by a long shot. They answered the question. But Bronner holds off reporting it.
For this all-essential part of the report, readers have to wait until the 14th and 15th paragraphs in Bronner's 16-paragraph piece.
Only then does he own up to the finding in the report that there was at least one gun on board because an Israeli soldier took a bullet in the knee that was not from an Israeli weapon. And he also finally writes that the report "contends that Israelis most likely fired only after having been fired upon first."
Why wait until the very end to report this? Everything else had long been widely reported -- except that Israeli commandos encountered not just "metal sticks and knives" (paragraph 2) but also gunfire (paragraph 14).
In the 15th paragraph, Bronner also finally gets around to quoting a senior Israeli official involved in the investigation as telling him that "all the shooting was either when the soldiers were in immediate danger of their lives or when they had to rescue fellow soldiers." And this official adds that there wasn't just one shot from the Islamic militants' side, but that there were between four and six events in which Israeli soldiers were fired upon with live fire by those aboard.
Thus, the very heart of the report is relegated to 2 paragraphs at the very end -- paragraphs which belonged near the lead under responsible journalistic practice. They constitute the very gist of what's newsworthy about this report.
Reporters in my day were told that the most important and newsworthy stuff belongs at the top of a piece -- not at the end. But that kind of journalism is now so passé in the New York Times.