At the AP, Opinion Masquerades As Reporting

Yesterday the Associated Press published an article by its Jerusalem bureau chief, Josef Federman, on Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to President Obama’s betrayal of Israel in the U.N. The article is an opinion piece–a virulent one, in fact. It is suitable for publication in, say, the New York Times, as an anti-Israel op-ed. The piece is headlined Israel: humbled Netanyahu places hopes in Trump. It begins:

The Israeli government’s furious reaction to the U.N. Security Council’s adoption of a resolution opposing Jewish settlements in occupied territory underscores its fundamental and bitter dispute with the international community about the future of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that there is nothing wrong with his controversial policy of building Jewish towns in occupied areas that the Palestinians, with overwhelming world support, claim for their state. But Friday’s U.N. rebuke was a stark reminder that the rest of the world considers it a crime. The embattled leader is now placing his hopes in the incoming administration of Donald Trump, which is shaping up as the first major player to embrace Israel’s nationalist right and its West Bank settlements.

Those are perhaps defensible statements of opinion, although I would argue that they are mostly incorrect. The overall thrust of the opening paragraphs–that the entire world other than Netanyahu’s administration and “Israel’s nationalist right” considers it a “crime” for Jews to live in their Biblical home of Judea Samaria, and that Donald Trump is the first “major player” to disagree, is blatantly false.

There is much more, for example:

In a series of statements, Netanyahu has criticized the Obama Administration for letting Resolution 2334 pass Friday by abstaining, using unprecedented language that has turned a policy disagreement into a personal vendetta.

Netanyahu’s language was unprecedented? What, did he call Obama a “chickens*t”? And was not Obama’s betrayal, coordinated with the Arabs and timed to avoid accountability to Congress or the voters, the culmination of a vendetta that included interference in Israel’s election to try to defeat the Prime Minister? That wasn’t a vendetta because, I suppose, Federman welcomed it.

Federman has opinions about Trump, too:

The recent diplomatic defeat would be much more damaging if not for a potential remaining and rather major ace in Netanyahu’s hand: the incoming Trump Administration.

In a striking departure from past policy of incumbent [Ed.: sic] presidents waiting on the sidelines, Trump tried to scuttle the resolution and called for a U.S. veto. After the vote, Trump vowed that “things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

So it’s Netanyahu and Trump who have disrupted the natural order of things by smashing precedents. How about this, Mr. Federman: what’s the precedent for a lame-duck president executing a major change in American foreign policy, against the wishes of Congress and the American people, less than 30 days before leaving office, in the face of no crisis or emergency, or even a change in circumstances?

Critically, he has appointed an outspoken supporter and donor to the settlements, his longtime attorney David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel. And aides say Trump is serious about a promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which even many Israelis fear could spark violence. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, home to sensitive religious sites, as the capital of the future state to which they aspire.

Sensitive religious sites like Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Moving the U.S. embassy to Israel’s capital has been part of the Republican Party’s platform for a long time. The suggestion that having the U.S. embassy on Jerusalem, along with the Knesset, Israel’s Supreme Court and other organs of Israel’s government “could spark violence” is sheer editorializing.

Mr. Federman’s article is a typical expression of the international Left’s pro-Palestinian view of the situation in Judea and Samaria. It is, as I said, an op-ed that could easily appear in a liberal organ like the New York Times. But there is not a shred of news anywhere in it. It is merely a recitation of Federman’s opinions, with the opinions of Netanyahu, Trump and their allies erected as straw men to be struck down by others.

This conclusion was so obvious that I thought the AP must have designated the Federman article an opinion piece. But no: it went out on the wire as a straight news story. In fact, as I understand the AP’s position, it doesn’t publish opinion pieces. In fact, it cautions its reporters against expressing opinions at all:

EXPRESSIONS OF OPINION:

Anyone who works for the AP must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. They must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum, whether in Web logs, chat rooms, letters to the editor, petitions, bumper stickers or lapel buttons, and must not take part in demonstrations in support of causes or movements.

How about expressions of opinion in AP news stories? That, apparently, is fine, as long as the opinions are on the left.

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