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Oct. 17, 2000

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 skull.

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 East."

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 a mistake."

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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