Terrorist propaganda, AP style: A case study

Until I wrote the adjacent post this morning I had forgotten the article I wrote for the February 4, 2008 issue of the Weekly Standard. In the article I took a look at widely circulated AP and Reuters photographs of Yasser Arafat allegedly donating blood to the United States in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I titled the article “He didn’t give at the office.”

Weekly Standard managing editor Richard Starr had asked me to examine remarks made by the prominent French journalist Charles Enderlin at Harvard University on January 17, 2008. In the article I summarized Enderlin’s statement as follows:

Enderlin told his Harvard audience “that Yasser Arafat had faked his blood donation to the victims of the September 11th attacks. Enderlin said the event had been staged for the media to counteract the embarrassing television images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.”

The story of Arafat’s blood donation was reported around the world in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, usually accompanied by photographs depicting Arafat in the apparent act of giving blood at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Enderlin elaborated on his contention that the scene depicted in the photographs was staged. According to [journalist Joel] Pollak’s account of Enderlin’s remarks, “Arafat didn’t like needles, and so the doctor put a needle near his arm and agitated a bag of blood. The reporters took the requisite photographs.”

I then took a look at the two photographs disseminated around the world by the Associated Press:

Two photographs of a reclining Arafat are credited to the AP’s Adel Hana. Both photos ran with a caption that reads like a press release: “Arafat, along with hundreds of Palestinians, participated in a blood drive for the victims of the deadly airline hijackings in the United States, which he condemned as a ‘horrible attack.’ ” We all know how much Arafat disliked horrible attacks by Arab terrorists.

In neither photo is a needle in evidence. In the first AP photo, Arafat is prostrate. His blood has not yet been drawn and no blood is in evidence. Rather, Arafat stares warily at the tourniquet placed around his bare arm. The donation is about to be made. A nurse with a head scarf is about to search for the chairman’s vein, Arafat looking on at his arm.

In the other AP photo, Arafat has apparently given his blood. The nurse with the head scarf is nowhere to be seen. In her place, a kneeling male medical official with his back to the camera jointly holds a nearly bursting bag of blood together with a uniformed security officer. With Enderlin’s gloss, the photo takes on a comic aspect. Heavy lifting is required; it takes two hands to hold all the blood donated by the chairman to the beloved American people!

Here is how I described the photograph disseminated by Reuters:

Reuters photographer Ahmed Jadallah also took a widely disseminated photograph of Arafat giving blood on September 12. Jadallah’s photograph provides a wider view of the scene depicted in Hana’s second photograph, with the male medical official displaying Arafat’s voluminous blood donation with the assistance of the uniformed security official. The Reuters caption also reads like a press release covering talking points: “Palestinians said they sympathized with the victims of the attack in the United States despite their criticism of U.S. support for Israel during the Palestinian uprising.”

The second of the two Adel Hana/AP photographs remains accessible online (below). The Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters photograph is accessible online here.

According to his Twitter account, Adel Hana has been a staff photographer for the Associated Press based in Gaza since 1993. According to me, the AP is still in the business of passing off terrorist propaganda as news.