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An Open Letter to CNN

I’ve been putting this talk off for some time, because I’d hoped things would change, but now I’ve reached the end of my tether. I have to talk to you seriously about CNN. When it was just a question of Israel getting bad press, I could live with that. But it’s gone way beyond that now.

In a real sense, CNN is going to get Jews in Israel killed.

In the last two days there have been fifteen artillery attacks against Israel from Gaza. There would have been none had the Israeli army not been forced out of its legitimate, and basic, defensive action by American pressure. In a real sense, that pressure is being encouraged by CNN newscasts and internet stories.

What does CNN call these attacks on the homes of Israelis? “Exchange of gunfire broke out.” Like the measles, it just broke out. The Palestinians started firing, the Israelis defended themselves, and that’s gunfire breaking out. Palestinian violence? “An uprising for independence,” cheers CNN.

There are lives at stake here. Mine. My children and grandchildren. The survivors of the Holocaust for whom President Bush so warmly swore today at the National Holocaust Memorial in Washington to: “avert future tragedies.” How? By forcing our army to let homicidal maniacs shoot at us at will with heavy weapons. Why? Because we were naïve and foolish enough to sign peace agreements with them forced down our throat by the last American “friend” of Israel in the White House?

The time has come to stop whining about CNN and to act. I’ll can’t tell you what to do. But I will tell you what I’m going to do. I ‘m going to start writing letters to every single CNN, Time-Warner, sponsor and tell them that I will no longer patronize their products. And I won’t patronize them. I am going to inform everyone I can that I, personally, am boycotting all CNN broadcasts. And if I had as an Internet server, I would switch to another and tell them why. As for Time magazine, I’d cancel my subscription.

Every dollar CNN earns helps them to expand their world-wide influence. They have shown themselves to be capable of great moral and journalistic corruption. I don’t know what is behind it, although ties with Saudi Arabian interests have often been mentioned. Perhaps there are just more Arabs in the world than Jews. But I, as a Jew, am not willing to contribute to the economic well-being of this destructive force in the world, a source of lies and immorality.

I’m enclosing a very long piece about CNN. Read it if you have the time.

Fourth International Christian Congress on Biblical Zionism

February 21, 2001. Sponsored by the Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, Israel


How A Respected News Network Became a Palestinian Propaganda Tool. Who Is Responsible? And How Can it be Stopped?

by Naomi Ragen

I’d like to begin by saying that I have been an appreciative viewer of CNN for years. In fact, when Ted Turner first founded the news network, I looked at it as almost a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I shall gather all nations and tongues and they shall come and see my glory.” With CNN, I could see that happening. I’ve lived in Jerusalem for over thirty years, and while I might have agreed or disagreed with CNN’s coverage, I always respected it, and understood our differences were those between fair-minded, intelligent people.

And so what I have to say now I say with great disappointment in the loss — hopefully temporary — of an enjoyable and worthwhile source of information, whose potential to bring truth and enlightenment to the world is enormous.

In the time allotted me, I’d like to discuss briefly CNN’s systematic distortion of the truth of Middle East events since September of 2000, some of the reasons for it, and what we can do to challenge and correct the incalculable harm it is doing not only to Israel and the Jewish people, but to truth and morality all over the world.

On February 11, 2001, a truck carrying Israeli soldiers narrowly missed being blown to bits by a bomb detonated on the side of the road near the Jewish townships of Gush Katif and Kfar Darom outside the Gaza Strip.

Two days before, on Friday night, the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, Palestinian artillery shells fell on the Jewish settlement of Netzarim, near the Gaza Strip, forcing families to spend the Sabbath in bomb shelters. Palestinians also opened fire on military roadblocks near Gush Katif. All in all, there were twenty incidents of Palestinian gunfire and three grenade attacks in the Gaza strip on the weekend of February 9-11.

Those watching CNN did not hear of any of these things. Instead, what CNN chose to show us on Sunday, February 11, was the Abdin family of Gaza in their tent, tearfully cursing out Israeli soldiers for leveling their house and land. No, Mrs. Abdin said predictably, our house and land were not used as shelter for gunmen shooting at Israeli cars on the road to Gush Katif. Inexplicably, CNN then cut to a nearby elaborate villa in the building stages, which was untouched, and its owner, an elderly Mrs. Halima, whose shouts in Arabic were dutifully translated by the CNN reporter: “G-d damn the Jews and the Americans. G-d take revenge on them. My son and six or seven others will strap explosives to themselves and blow themselves up in Israel.”

In my Jerusalem Post column of November 11 I spoke about a similar one-sided CNN report. In it, CNN’s Palestinian reporter Rula Amin showed the hardships of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as a result of Israeli forces closing the road they use to visit relatives and transport produce.

That road, too, had been used by Palestinians to attack Israelis. In my column, I suggested, reasonably I think, that if CNN were going to show hardships, why not be even handed and show hardships on both sides?

I pointed out that Jews living in Alon Shvut, only 23 kilometers from Jerusalem, in a settlement that dates back before 1948, were also suffering from a road closure. By opening fire on cars using the bypass tunnel—built at great expense to circumvent Arab villages, PLO gunmen had forced Jewish residents to take huge detours, quadrupling their traveling time. As a result, they were forced to leave work earlier, close businesses earlier to avoid travelling home in the dark. An increasing number of their children are in need of psychological help in dealing with fears their parents may not make it home, or that they themselves may be shot on their way to school or ballet class.

It is common knowledge that school children in these areas now keep their feet up as they ride school buses fearful they might be blown off. Alon Shvut has taxed local residents to purchase medical equipment in case road closures prevent them from reaching hospitals during emergencies. Residents are unable to plan outings, or invite children and grandchildren to come for the weekend. Even going to Jerusalem for a movie, a trip that takes 15 minutes using the bypass tunnel, can take hours when the tunnel is closed. Just last week, a young father was shot in the head and killed on that road.

There was, in short, certainly enough material for an interesting, even-handed report to balance that of Palestinian hardships in Gaza. I suggested to CNN that they find a reporter as sympathetic to Israelis as Rula Amin is to her fellow Palestinians to give some balance and objectivity to their news reports.

In response, CNN’s new Jerusalem bureau chief, Mike Hanna, called me a racist.

Mr. Hanna, a newcomer to the area who arrived in Israel only this past August, knows a great deal about racism. As an award-winning reporter in South Africa for twenty years, he has brought his vast experience in rooting for the underdog and doing his best to pull down unfair regimes. Unfortunately, his experience is inappropriate to the Middle East, where heroes and villains are far less clear—that is, unless you see everything in black and white with blinders on. Unless you decide to fit all events into your preconceived philosophy – the story in your mind about good guys and bad guys.

Mr. Hanna’s one-sided reports may not be racist. But they are certainly bad journalism. Worse, their one‑sidedness makes them boring.

So if CNN’s ratings are plummeting worldwide, I’d ask myself if the sameness of their reports aren’t just wearying their viewers, even those who don’t mind that CNN’s Jerusalem bureau has become a pro-Palestinian propaganda machine under Mr. Hanna.

After all, wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have a report on the heartbroken Arab cancer patients whose Jewish oncologist, Dr. Gillis, was murdered by Arab terrorists on his way home from Hadassah Hospital?

After all, would viewers not be interested in seeing the rehabilitation of the three Israeli schoolchildren whose legs were blown off by a terrorist bomb?

After all, would viewers not be interested in knowing that since the intifada began, 100 Israeli children have been orphaned by terrorists as their young parents were wantonly killed? Would they not be interested in hearing interviews with the schoolchildren who lost their teacher, Mrs. Leisha?

After all, isn’t that what good journalism is all about? Balance? After all, Palestinians do not have an monopoly on suffering in this area.

One wonders too, what has happened to journalistic guidelines and procedures? In that same November 7 report, CNN said: 275 Palestinians have been killed so far.” No mention at all of Israeli casualties. Perhaps as a result of public protests, CNN now says, as it did on February 11 report, that “375 people have been killed since the Intifada began, 75% of them Palestinians.”

What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Well, it equates the death of the one who planted the bomb with the one that died in the bomb blast. The one who is apprehended and shot by policemen for shooting a woman in her car, with the woman in the car. And how do they count Arabs blown up by fellow Arabs, as in the Hadera bus attack? It is a basically immoral and — more importantly for a news organization — misleading to give those kind of statistics.

A survey done a short while ago, when Israeli casualties numbered only 43 instead 55, as they do now, showed that 72% of Israelis killed were noncombatants. Twenty-two out of forty-three were civilians. Nine were soldiers involved in non-combat activity, and 12 were soldiers involved in active defensive measures against combatants. In contrast, the overwhelming number of Palestinian casualties were active combatants, involved in planting bombs, shooting, or rock-throwing that endangered lives.

How else does CNN distort the news reaching the world about the Middle East?

A quick look at the CNN website reveals the following headlines:

“Violence Flares as Israel Withdraws Peace Plan,” says one, falsifying the fact that the violence has been “flaring” since September even when Israel was at its most forthcoming in concessions. Opening up even a mild sounding “Mubarak, Arafat to meet in Cairo,” we are told that “hardliner” Arik Sharon has been elected as Israeli Prime Minister. This nudging of public opinion with adjectives goes all the way through CNN reporting.

While Arik Sharon is called a “hard-liner,” Sheik Yassin, who heads the Hamas terrorist organization which claimed responsibility for blowing up the red and white Israeli school bus carrying elementary school children, is called by CNN a “spiritual leader of an Islamic Fundamentalist organization.” In a Dec. 14 report, CNN called a man who pulled a gun on Israeli soldiers and was involved in a bloody nine-hour gun battle an “activist.”

Palestinian riots are dubbed “demonstrations.”

In reporting on the car bomb in Jerusalem’s Orthodox neighborhood that sent debris flying 150 meters, CNN’s lead is: “Two people were injured, neither seriously. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Israelis were quick to blame Palestinians.”

Is it just me, or does that sound pejorative, as if the Israelis should be less judgmental, and consider blaming, let’s say, the Irish? Later, in the same article the head of the terrorist Hamas organization, again given ample room to air his enlightening views, happily justified the attack.

If I had two hours, I could easily give you two hours worth of this kind of blatant propagandizing in which extremist Moslem leaders are allowed to speak without editorial direction or comment, while readers are nudged by CNN with adjectives to come to the correct conclusion concerning Israeli guilt.

CNN always says, for example, whenever it mentions the territories, that they are “illegal under international law.” What law is that? Since the Arab states refused to recognize Israel’s 1948 borders, she is under no legal obligation to return to them. UN resolutions 224 and 338 talk about mutually agreed upon borders. In this case, and many others, CNN automatically adopts the Arab propaganda machine’s take on these subjects.

For example, when a quarter of a million people attended a rally in support of an undivided Jerusalem, how did CNN treat the event? First by downplaying the numbers. “Thousands,” they said, when every other news source said hundreds of thousands, and then by failing to interview a single attendee. The only quote CNN used was from Moslem Waqf Adnan Husseini, who wasn’t there, who called it: “provocative.”

Were no Jews available for comment?!

And what background does CNN give its readers?: “The site is known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Moslems as the Noble Sanctuary, the third-holiest site in the Islamic world. “

“Third-holiest to Moslems?” — even though it is not mentioned in the Koran once? Was never visited by one Arab leader in the entire time it was under Jordanian control? Would it not have been more helpful, and more accurate to tell CNN viewers that Jerusalem has always been viewed as Judaism’s holiest site, and the capital of the Jewish state for over 3,000 years? Or at least to have balanced its description with some reference to the Jewish claim to Jerusalem known to every Bible-reading schoolchild in the world?

Finally, in describing the site of the demonstration, CNN says: “Jaffa Gate, or Bab al-Khalil, the main western entrance to the walled city.”

“Jaffa Gate” is the standard reference in any encyclopedia, university textbook, diplomatic document, media style guide acceptable to Western sources. So why does CNN go out of its way – particularly in the context of reporting a Jewish rally — to drudge up Bab al-Khalil, an obscure Arabic reference to this geographic site? And if this is their policy, then why not call the territories “Judea and Samaria,” their Jewish name?

I believe it is all part of the Arab’s longstanding campaign to delegitimatize historic Jewish claims to Israel and to Jerusalem, a campaign CNN has wittingly, or unwittingly, bought into. All part of Mr. Hanna’s attempts, along with CNN’s collusion, to cast Israelis as white imperialists with no ties to her historic homeland, and Palestinians as the world’s next mistreated, apartheid Blacks.

Time after time, in broadcast after broadcast, CNN distorts, hides, falsifies, and misrepresents the news in Israel, shaping it to fit a preconceived and well- orchestrated media campaign to discredit the Jewish State and her people, bolstering and giving media shelter to the terrorist activities of Yasir Arafat and his gunmen.

What are CNN’s motives? What are some of the reasons the media giant has turned to such a disastrous policy? And what can ordinary, concerned citizens do about a media giant bent on distorting the news to sell a version of events world-wide that will hide the true facts of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

First, why?

Some of the answer is general. It’s a problem CNN shares with all news media attempting to cover the Middle East conflict. In an article called “Lights, Camera, Intifada,” written by Stephanie Guttman for the Weekly Standard, Ms. Guttman discusses the intimidation of the media by the Palestinian Authority; the lack of Hebrew language skills, laziness and fear of reporters preventing them from giving the recent violence true, unbiased journalistic coverage.

According to Ms. Guttman, Israel is fighting a war on two fronts: the actual shooting, and the war of images provided to hungry world-wide news agencies with the highest bid. Reporting in a war zone is always dangerous, but there is additional danger to journalists, or agencies, that get identified with war stories “the terrorists groups who control these areas don’t like. Take the photos the militiamen like, and you are fine; they’ll even helpfully usher you around. Take pictures that show Palestinians in roles other than victims, and things can get nasty quite fast.”

She reports the following: “Jean Pierre Martin, a TV producer for Radio TV Luxembourg was on his way with his crew to Palestinian- controlled Ramallah when four young men pulled up in a blue Chrysler van and began to give orders to stone- throwing children. The men produced Molotov cocktails from their car and began handing them out (the kids later told Martin the men were from Al Fatah, Arafat’s organization). Martin was the only one who filmed the event. After a few seconds, the young men noticed his filming. They, and the stone-throwers, surrounded the crew. The men took the camera from the hands of the cameramen and disappeared with it.

The crowd began hitting them. One youth got his hands around Martin’s neck and began choking him. A Palestinian cameraman working for an America company rescued them, and brought them to the Palestinian police. Only after assuring police that the ‘cocktail’ incident had been erased, did police agree to return the camera and let them go.”

The next time Martin entered the territories, he was followed by a white Palestinian police van. His car was searched. A still camera smashed, his film erased. Just as Martin reached an Israeli checkpoint, “a bullet fired from the Palestinian side whizzed by.” The incident got back to the Israeli authorities who mentioned it in a cabinet briefing. This angered Martin who felt the Israelis exploited the story, thus making it look as if he was allied with the Israeli government. “They have made it very hard for me to go back.”

Ms. Guttman concluded that: “Rather than jeopardize their already tenuous access to Palestinian territories, or endanger their employees, many of the media are simply ‘not seeing’ things or finding elaborate justifications for ignoring stories that would displease their hosts in the territories.”

How is this affecting coverage? When two Israelis were lynched by a Palestinian mob, many crews were on hand to film it. Only one — an Italian crew working for Mediaset, did. Another Italian crew, headed by Riccardo Christiano, terrified that the PLO would confuse his crew with the other Italians, actually wrote a letter to the Palestinian daily Al Hayat Al Jadida in which he said: “Let us emphasize that… we respect the work arrangements between journalists and the Palestinian Authority. “

Embarrassed at this blatant display of favoritism, he was recalled to Italy, and Israel revoked his press pass. I understand, though, that Christiano has recently returned and continues to report the news.

This is a general explanation.

Are there any factors specific to CNN?

It’s been suggested that because of falling revenues and ratings, the corporation has made a decision to “penetrate” the Arab and Moslem world market with ease by bashing Israel and hiring scores of Moslem announcers.

I don’t know about that.

Another guess is personalities. Who are the people running the news network? Tom Johnson, who is chairman and CEO of the CNN News group, grew up in Macon, Georgia, and has held many distinguished posts, including assistant to former president LBJ. Eason Jordan, CNN’s president of newsgathering and international networks is also a Southerner, and also extremely accomplished. They have been running CNN long before this problem began.

Rick Davis, though, is new. As CNN’s newly appointed executive Vice President of news standards and practices, he is supposed to ensure that CNN News Groups on air reports are fair, accurate and responsible. He reports to Tom Johnson. According to Shoshana Avigayil, founder of CNN-Watch, Mr. Davis seemed eager to emphasize his Jewishness in their phone conversation, and wound up proving how little connection and understanding he has of his Jewish heritage.

His daughter, he told Ms. Avigayil, had a “Bar Mitzvah” (only boys have Bar Mitzvahs. The girls have Bat Mitzvahs….).

Referring to his recent two-day trip to Israel with Eason Jordan to meet with Barak, Sharon and Palestinian Authority officials, he revealed that his time there had been spent in touring the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He told her about the horrors he saw, and how bad he felt for the Palestinian people. “Rick basically told me that he felt as if the Palestinians were being held captive in on their own land.”

“He also let me know he did not tour Israel, or speak to ordinary citizens who live daily with the fear of the terrorists. When I asked him if he had a chance to go to the Western Wall, he told me that he allowed himself an hour to pray in the memory of his late brother. I asked him if while he was there he looked up to where the Temple Mount was — you know — just to make sure he was safe from any stone throwers. He told me he didn’t look up.”

Mike Hanna, CNN’s bureau chief in Israel, is also new to the region, taking over in August, 2000, after a stint in Germany and over twenty years in South Africa. The clear changes in the reporting of the Middle East conflict and its cross-over from objectivity to near, if not actual, advocacy for the Palestinian cause and Mr. Hanna’s arrival, are not, I believe, purely coincidental.

Without even knowing Mr. Hanna’s background, I wrote in my Jerusalem Post piece that “CNN has the story wrong. Yasir Arafat is not Nelson Mandela. And the Palestinians are not the Blacks.”

Mr. Hanna’s all too obvious application of his inappropriate experience with villains and heroes; the underdog and the white supremacists, to the far more complex Middle Eastern situation is all too telling. The change in tone of reports emanating from CNN’s Jerusalem bureau, the telling lack of adequate background in the history of the region and of the Jewish presence here, are new to CNN’s Mideast reporting. Mr. Hanna must bear some responsibility. And so must Mr. Davis. And in the end, so must the distinguished Mr. Johnson and Mr. Jordan.

What can ordinary citizens do to protest and perhaps bring about meaningful change in CNN’s coverage?

First, monitor what is being broadcast and protest blatant propaganda by e-mailing Mr. Johnson, Mr. Jordan, and Mr. Davis, and Gerald Levin. Their addresses are:

  • Eason.Jordan@
  • Tom.Johnson@;

And send a copy to

Secondly, I think we should all ask that Mr. Hanna be transferred to a place in the world where his award-winning South African experience will not confuse him and interfere with his perception. The Middle East is not the right place for a reporter used to seeing things in simplistic terms of black and white, underdog and oppressor.

Third, if reason fails, we need to organize a true boycott of CNN-Time-Warner. Suggest people sell their stock in the company. Compile a list of sponsors and advertisers and urge people not to buy their products and services, and let sponsors know why. Change Internet servers and let know why. Cancel your subscription to Time Magazine, CNN’s new partner, and tell them why (although they deserve to be boycotted on their own merits…)

Most of all, don’t give up, don’t give in. Do this not only for Israel and for her people, but to prevent the degradation of civilized norms, to protest the intimidation of the free press.

This is a war in which all of you can be soldiers. Help us to educate the media giants. And failing that, help us to defeat them. Help us to have more honest and moral reporting. Because if we are going to allow the media conglomerates to brainwash the world to turn a blind eye to truth, to ignore historical facts, to justify violence, if we are going to allow guns and terror to decide what we are going to hear and see on the news; then we are allowing the clock to be turned back to a very dangerous time in history, when black boots and swastikas told the world what they were allowed to hear and what they needed to believe.

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