Oct. 17, 2000
MISLABELED PHOTO DRAWS BIAS
Press Coverage Of Middle East Watched Closely
By Steve Friess
It was one of the most compelling images from
the first day of recent violence in the Middle East: An Israeli
cop, baton in hand, standing menacingly over a Palestinian man,
shouting at an unseen figure as blood gushed down from the man's
Except the injured man wasn't Palestinian,
as the Associated Press caption reported and major papers around
the world printed on Sept. 30. It was a Jewish student from
Chicago who had just been pulled from a taxi by Palestinians
and beaten. The police officer wasn't threatening 20-year-old
Tuvia Grossman, but protecting him as the attackers came back.
The mistake prompted pro-Israeli Americans
to cite the incident as proof of anti-Israeli bias in the U.S.
media. "Sure, lots of newspapers have an anti-Israel spin,
but don't we expect The New York Times to exhibit a bit of professionalism
when it comes to their reporting?" blared JewishYouth.Com,
a site that claims nearly 90,000 hits to its Tuvia Grossman
page since Oct. 4.
New York Post columnist Eric Fettmann also
sensed bias in the wide publication of the photo: "Thanks
to a constant media barrage, the automatic assumption these
days is that only cold, callous Israelis commit such atrocities
and that only Palestinian Arabs are the victims in the Middle
AP spokesperson Janus Magin said the incorrect
caption was simply a mistake. "[Bias] has absolutely nothing
to do with that," she said.
The picture came from Zoom, an Israeli photo
agency that turned in dozens of photos to the AP that day -
most of which were of Palestinians wounded in clashes with Israeli
soldiers at the contested center of Jerusalem's Old City. The
caption information came over garbled because of a transmission
problem, but photo editors in Jerusalem failed to call Zoom
for clarification, Magin said.
Instead, someone made an assumption based on
the other photos sent in from Zoom and slapped the inaccurate
caption onto the picture. "You have to understand it was
a crazy day," Magin said. "That was the first day
of the violence going on. In their haste, they did not call
the agency. An assumption was made. It was inadvertant; it was
The error came to light immediately because
U.S. relatives recognized Grossman, and Grossman's father sent
a letter to The New York Times, which ran the photo on page
A5. It ran in full color on 1A of The Boston Globe and also
appeared in the New York Daily News, the Houston Chronicle,
The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., The Record in Bergen
County, N.J., and the Portland Oregonian, among others.
The AP moved a correction immediately, instructing
photo desks to kill the original photo and replace it with a
new one carrying accurate information. Both the AP and The New
York Times wrote stories about the attack on Grossman and his
two American friends in which the photo error was discussed.
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