1) When is news not really news?

The Newseum – a museum devoted to the news business – recently held an event to honor journalists killed in the line of duty. Included in that honor members of Hamas who were killed by Israel this past November.

BuzzFeed covers the story and includes this from Cliff May:

May said that a decision would not be made before speaking with the CEO of the Newseum.

“Let me be fair and give them an opportunity to answer my questions (I have more than a few),” he said. “As I said: Perhaps there’s been a misunderstanding or perhaps some re-thinking is taking place in light of additional information they have received.”

“But I will say this: I spent most of my adult life as a journalist – at the New York Times and other media organizations,” May said. “I know the difference between a reporter and a terrorist propagandist. I’m hopeful that the folks at the Newseum also are able to make such distinctions.”

Does the New York Times know the difference between a reporter and propagandist?

I bring you former public editor of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt, defending the paper’s decision to publish an op-ed by a spokesman for Hamas in 2007:

Many readers were outraged, complaining that The Times had provided a platform for a terrorist. One, Jon Pensak of Sherborn, Mass., said that allowing Yousef space in The Times “isn’t balanced journalism, it is more the dissemination of propaganda in the spirit of advocacy journalism.”

Well, yes. The point of the op-ed page is advocacy. And, Rosenthal said, “we do not feel the obligation to provide the kind of balance you find in news coverage, because it is opinion.”

David Shipley, one of Rosenthal’s deputies and the man in charge of the op-ed page, said: “The news of the Hamas takeover of Gaza was one of the most important stories of the week. … This was our opportunity to hear what Hamas had to say.”

True, the New York Times didn’t presume that Yousef was a reporter. But if the Hamas view was really necessary, it could have been included in a news article. The New York Times elected to give a terrorist organization an unchallenged platform for its propaganda and passed it off as “debate.”

Fortunately the Treasury Department isn’t given over to such ambiguity. The department’s press release designating Al Aqsa TV as a terrorist organization reads:

Hamas leadership raised the initial capital for the station shortly after the January 2006 Palestinian elections. At that time, donors contributed half a million dollars for the channel, which was to be headed by members of Hamas, and shortly thereafter, Hamas leaders negotiated broadcasting arrangements with a satellite television provider. As of late 2009, the Hamas headquarters in Damascus, Syria, allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars for Al-Aqsa TV’s budget, and senior Hamas officials continued to control the station’s operations.

Fathi Hammad, the former director of Al-Aqsa TV, currently serves as the Hamas interior minister in Gaza, is a former senior member of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, and as of 2007, was a member of the Hamas Shura Council. Hammad has supervised the construction of smuggling tunnels for Hamas and has encouraged the building and use of homemade weapons for use against Israel. In May 2009, Dr. Mahmud Abu-Daf replaced Hammad as the head of Al-Aqsa TV. Abu-Daf is a senior Hamas figure who served as a member of the Hamas Shura Council and Political Bureau.

Hamas, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist backed by Iran, has intentionally killed hundreds of civilians, including U.S. citizens. Its violent takeover of Gaza in 2007 has allowed continued rocket attacks against Israeli cities and civilians within range of the territory. As of this year, Hamas has continued to ignore demands from the international community to renounce violence and accept the other Quartet principles, including the recognition of Israel and a commitment to abide by past diplomatic agreements. Moreover, statements by Hamas leader Khaled Mish’al indicate that the group continues to produce and smuggle weapons into Gaza.

The interior ministry in thugocracies like that of Hamas in charge of internal security, in other words, the police and security forces. These are the people who enforce the rule of Hamas.

The Newseum’s self description is:

The Newseum — a 250,000-square-foot museum of news — offers visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits.

Unfortunately, as this exhibit shows, it reflects the mindset in too many newsrooms nowadays. I suspect that no one bothered to check on the Treasury’s designation of Al Aqsa TV. The Newseum wouldn’t acknowledge that Mahmoud Al Kumi belonged to a terrorist organization. (I just noticed another journalist honored by the Museum, Ali Abbas. Abbas, was an official of the SANA news agency in Syria. In other words he was a mouthpiece for Bashar Assad. The Newseum really needs to learn the difference between journalism and propaganda.)

Last week Jonathan Tobin had more about the topsy turvy moral world of the news business.

UDATE: Adam Kredo reported earlier today:

The Newseum made the announcement just minutes before the induction of several new reporters into its Journalist Memorial, which honors members of the media who have been killed in the line of duty.

“Serious questions have been raised as to whether two of the individuals included on our initial list of journalists who died covering the news this past year were truly journalists or whether they were engaged in terrorist activities,” the museum said in a statement posted to its website.

“We take the concerns raised about these two men seriously and have decided to re-evaluate their inclusion as journalists on our memorial wall pending further investigation,” the statement said.

I give BuzzFeed credit for promoting this story, but what was troublesome about BuzzFeed’s coverage was its framing of the controversy as between the Newseum and a pro-Israel group, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. This should have been an issue taken up by anyone who cares about democracy and freedom of the press. That the Newseum would choose to honor members of Hamas (or, for that matter, the Syrian and Iranian regimes) as members of the press calls into question whether it understand the values it claims to champion.

2) The Hawking Irony

Wednesday, Prof. Jacobson covered the on-again/off-again controversy of Stephen Hawking’s canceled trip to Israel.

The New York Times reported:

Organizers of the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference, held under the auspices of President Shimon Peres, said they had received a letter over the weekend from Dr. Hawking, a longtime Cambridge professor, announcing his decision.

Cambridge issued a statement indicating that Dr. Hawking had told the Israelis that he would not be attending “based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott,” according to The Associated Press.

Israel Maimon, the chairman of the conference, strongly criticized the professor’s decision, saying in a statement, “The academic boycott of Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission.”

I wonder who Dr. Hawking’s interlocutors are among “Palestinian academics?” Are they professors who can freely explore new ideas without fear of losing their jobs or freedom? Israel Maimon is correct. The problem inst not just that Hawking, in embracing the boycott of Israel, denies “the spirit of liberty.” He came to his decision in consultation with those who operate in an environment that deprives them of their liberty to do their jobs and pursue inquiries without official interference.

The irony is sharpened by the fact that Israel’s openness fostered the creation of technology that allows Hawking to communicate and develop therapies to fight the illness that has robbed him (and others) of so much.

Simon Plosker offers additional thoughts on the controversy.