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Israeli media should do some fact checking

Op-ed: While there is little information about the distribution of Israeli voters according to social-economic-demographic characteristics, claims that the Likud only received votes from Sephardim and people with a lower income have been adopted without any reservations.

Published: 03.30.15, 00:28 / Israel Opinion

I am a devoted reader of a section published in liberal daily newspaper The Washington Post has. Its writers fact-check claims rooted in the public opinion, political discourse and social media. The claims found to be false are given a Pinocchio rating, named after the lying wooden doll.



About two weeks ago, the newspaper looked into the claim that the American legal system was covering up the killing of a young black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, in Fergusson, Missouri. The killing sparked riots and steered the public opinion against the police. A local jury discussed the incident, summoned witnesses and decided not to indict Wilson.


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The decision sparked unrest among the Afro-American public, and the investigation was handed over to the US Department of Justice. Although its final report harshly criticizes the Fergusson Police, it completely cleared the shooting officer. The investigation did not find a single reliable piece of evidence that the black man had raised his hands in surrender and mouthed the words "Don’t shoot," as argued in protests and social media. According to the report, the officer's actions were reasonable and he had acted out of a sense of danger and in self-defense.


But the report's findings and arguments didn't affect the social discourse. The call "Hands Up. Don't Shoot!" was adopted by spokespersons of different protest movements, politicians and biased media. The Washington Post did its own fact checking and returned to its readers with a firm conclusion: There was no cover up. There is no reliable evidence that Michael Brown actually shouted "Hands up, don't shoot" at the policeman. The claim is false and the Washington Post gave it four Pinocchios.


In the same context, the newspaper looked into another claim which has turned into one of the protest's inalienable assets: "A black person is killed by police every 28 hours." The investigation revealed that it was an invented claim based on partial and dubious reports which failed to distinguish between police officers, security guards and vigilantes. In many cases, the cause of death was unclear (a police shooting or an accident) and there was no reliable information on the color of the shooters' skin. In conclusion, the Washington Post gave the claim four Pinocchios.


Immediately after the elections in Israel, the newspaper's Fact Checker looked into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's claim that "tens of thousands of millions" in foreign money were transferred from the US to Israel in order to topple him. The Washington Post investigation revealed that Netanyahu had exaggerated and gave him two Pinocchios.


I am presenting these investigations because they are the latest, and because they address claims which have gained credibility in the social media and have entered the established media without any reservations. In America, like in Israel, everything said by the protest is usually accepted by the broad public opinion as the gospel truth, in the sense of "I protest, therefore I speak the truth" and not "I speak the truth, therefore I protest." That's why the Washington Post's fact checking is so important. It's a shame that it's so rare in Israel.


Take, for example, the way the election results were analyzed. Social-economic-demographic sample polls are usually not held in Israel during the actual voting, so there is little information about the distribution of voters according to these characteristics. That doesn’t stop people from making different claims and assumptions that the Likud only received votes from Sephardic citizens and from people with a lower income.


Only Sephardic? Thirty-nine percent of the Likud's voters define themselves as Sephardic and 41% define themselves as Ashkenazi. Only people with a lower income? According to figures compiled by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the average (gross) income of a family in Ashkelon (NIS 19,300 a month) is higher than the average (gross) income of a family in Ramat Gan (NIS 18,000), but in Ashkelon the Likud got 39% of the votes and in Ramat Gan only 23%.


The Washington Post would have jumped at these findings with investigative passion. Should we take an example from it?


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