Inmate Death: What the Media Chose to Ignore

Inmate Death: What the Media Chose to Ignore

February 27, 2013 14:13

When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

Apparently, when it doesn’t fit the media’s narrative, like the coverage of Arafat Jaradat, who died in an Israeli prison this week.

Jaradat, a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, was arrested for throwing stones that wounded an Israeli civilian. Five days later, he died of a possible cardiac arrest.

The death became an international story when Palestinian officials claimed the autopsy report indicated he died as a result of torture. Israeli officials countered that the autopsy was inconclusive and what the Palestinians were calling signs of “torture” – bruises on his chest and broker ribs – may have been efforts to revive Jaradat after his heart failure.

Regardless of how he died, the media has an obligation to tell the truth about who he was, not to cherry-pick elements of his biography to give him a particular image. The Los Angeles Times, to its credit, was one of the few media outlets to include information about Jaradat’s terrorist affiliation, noting:

Musa Jaradat said his cousin had never been arrested before, but was a member of the Fatah Youth Movement and, according to Al Aqsa members who attended his funeral, part of the West Bank military brigade.

The Irish Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, and McClatchy News were the only other major publications to note Jaradat’s membership in the terror group.

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Beyond those notable exceptions, the media bent over backwards to whitewash Jaradat and even, in some cases, the fact that he committed a violent crime. Here is how the New York Times described Jaradat and what he did:

After weeks of intensifying protests in solidarity with the hunger strikers, attention turned Sunday to Mr. Jaradat, who relatives said worked at a gas station, was the father of a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, and came from a family in which all the men had spent time in Israeli jails. He was arrested last Monday over throwing stones at Israeli cars near a West Bank settlement during November’s conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

The Times takes pains to present Jaradat as a family man with two small children and a regular job, but ignores the fact that he was a member of  a group designated as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU.

The New York Times also downplays the violence of stone throwing. It notes a general fact about what Jaradat did, where he did it, and when. But it completely ignores the fact that there was at least one victim. New York Times readers would never know that Jaradat was directly responsible for injuring someone.

In fact, the treatment the stone throwing incident is consistent with the general trend of coverage that downplays stone throwing as a minor offense, not as an act of violence. As more media coverage of a burgeoning Third Intifida surfaces, it is essential that the media cover stone throwing as acts of violence capable of wounding and even killing innocent victims.

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CNN‘s coverage improved on the NY Times slightly. It included information about the Jaradat’s crime, but still ignored his membership in a terrorist organization: “Jaradat had been held for interrogation since Monday for a 2011 incident in which an Israeli citizen was injured by rock-throwing Palestinian protestors. Jaradat confessed, Israeli security sources said,” CNN reported.

And it wasn’t just the New York Times and CNN that ignored Jaradat’s ties to terror, sticking to the established narrative of Jaradat as an upstanding citizen devoted to his family. Other publications that covered the story without mentioning the ties to al Aqsa Brigades included the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor,The Guardian,and The Independent,. among other media outlets.

There is a world of difference between reporting that a violent terrorist died in Israeli custody versus the prevailing narrative that a beloved father of two was tortured to death by Israel. As the story of Jaradat’s death continues to unfold, the media has an obligation to expose the public to Jaradat’s entire biography, not just those facts that are likely to draw sympathy.

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