Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 4/5/2012: Homemade Statistics Replace Journalism

From DG:
1) Damn lies and statistics

On vacation, the incoming New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren tweeted:
What do #Israel and #Iran have in common? Jailing journalists, according to @cjrhttp://bit.ly/H9BdgT
This led to a number of critiques of the study, including Elder of Zion's How to misuse statistics and Omri Ceren's One Academic’s Breathtakingly Dishonest Attack on Israel’s Press Freedoms, and questions about Rudoren's choice of "factoid" to publicize. Apparently after reading some of the recommended critiques, Rudoren expressed regrets:

Folks, I tweeted the CJR link w/o reading it carefully (and w/o reading any of the analyses). Apologies.
Unfortunately, in an interview with Adam Kredo, Rudoren added:
“There’s also clearly people trying to just make the whole experience of reporting on or discussing the issues toxic,” Rudoren said. “Which is unfortunate.”
The problem wasn't about "toxicity" but about the validity of the study. A reporter should be able to judge credibility of information she reports, and if not, produce sources that either support or refute that which she reported. Here she simply promoted something that sounded provocative. It was careless. The author of the CJR article that interpreted the study, is Justin Martin, a professor of journalism at the University of Maine. In his own defense he tweeted:
Pro-Israel commenters on my CJR column focus on defending Israel's image, rather than defending its jailed journalists http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/which_countries_jail_the_most.php
The critiques linked to above said nothing about Israel's image, but were refutations of the study's use of questionable statistics. The critiques were substantive but the professor of journalism didn't bother to answer them. 
2) A Thomas Twofer

Yesterday I criticized Thomas Friedman's column, partly on account of Marwan Barghouti's past record. Elder of Ziyon did some research and discovered that even the letter that Friedman quoted from is not so moderate.
[Barghouti] then reiterates his major points:
The belief in the absolute right to the land of our parents and grandparents, and our right to resist occupation by all means and methods, and our belief in the ability of our people to survive and emerge victorious with unwavering faith, and our absolute confidence in our people in all generations to continue the path of resistance and struggle.
There is nothing the least bit moderate about Barghouti's position. He supports terror in its proper time and place, he supports the complete destruction of Israel in stages, and he insists the Arab world today to go back to how it was before 1967 and create a constant state of war with Israel on all levels.

Jonathan Tobin observes:
For years, Friedman has been promoting Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and “Fayyadism” as the coming wave of Palestinian politics. But Fayyad’s name isn’t mentioned once in Friedman’s column. That’s because the moderate, who is a favorite of both the U.S. and Israel, has no constituency among his own people and is being chucked out of office by Abbas to appease his new Hamas partners. Israel would like nothing better than a free market-trading partner in the West Bank led by a man such as Fayyad as opposed to another Islamist wasteland such as currently exists in Gaza. The problem is the Palestinians prefer Hamas to Fayyad or the advice of the clueless Friedman.
Last year, Fayyadism was Friedman's fad. Israel had to support Salam Fayyad because he was a moderate working to create a Palestinian state. Friedman's apparently given up on Fayyadism in favor of supporting the unrepentant terrorist, Barghouti. Did he ever believe in Fayyadism, or was it just another means for criticizing Israel.


3) The knowledge gaps

For a while Barry Rubin has been writing that President Obama's speech at AIPAC means that an Israeli war with Iran is inevitable. A couple of articles underline the intelligence gaps that are pointed out by Rubin's analysis.

Ephraim Asculai in a paper last week wrote (link to the paper is here):
Herein lies the big difference in the estimates of the situation. While there is little doubt that the Iranians can, if the technicians receive the order to do so, quite quickly produce HEU for the first core of a nuclear explosive device, the US thinks that there would still be enough time to do something about it, since it would discover this in time. The same NYT article, however, also outlines US difficulties in gathering intelligence in Iran, so that there are some doubts about the efficacy of timely intelligence gathering and the wisdom of depending on the timely warning that would be given by the intelligence agencies. If the intelligence is encountering so many difficulties, how can one be sure of the intelligence-based estimates? 
Indeed, the US tactics regarding the Iranian nuclear project imply a significant gamble: the probability that sanctions will work; the probability that the Iranians have not restarted the explosive mechanism development work; the probability that they do not have a working nuclear explosive mechanism design; the probability that the world will discover in time should Iran decide to breakout and start enriching uranium to military-usable levels. Dependence on the sanctions, the non-availability of a workable explosive mechanism, and the discovery of the intentions of the Iranian government in time to stop it is probably too much for the government of Israel. Moreover, it is also uncertain what action would be eventually taken by the US if a crisis point is reached. 
Therefore, it is not the undisputed fact that the leadership of Iran has not yet given the order to produce HEU at its known facilities that is troublesome. It is the question of what could be done, and whether that would be enough to remove the danger that the present regime in Iran would come out with a nuclear weapon in its hands.
In a similar vein, Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote in How Washington Encourages Israel to bomb Iran:
The Israelis surely know that when the administration says it has "no evidence" that Mr. Khamenei has decided to build a nuclear weapon, this really means that Washington has no solid information. That is, Washington is guessing—most likely in the spirit of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which willfully downplayed Tehran's nuclear progress. 
Because of his multilateral openness with our allies, Mr. Obama has likely guaranteed that the Western intelligence consensus on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program will default to what the Israelis and French have always said is most critical to weaponization: How many centrifuges do the Iranians have running, and are they trying to hide them or put them deep underground? 
The Israeli cabinet reportedly still hasn't had the great debate about launching a pre-emptive strike. Democracies always temporize when confronted with war. But that discussion is coming soon and Barack Obama—who, despite his improving efforts at bellicosity, just doesn't seem like a man who would choose war with another Muslim nation—has most likely helped Messrs. Netanyahu and Barak make the case for military action.
Gerecht's last point has significance in light of a report last week of a possible Israeli plan to attack Iran. Lee Smith asked Who leaked Iraeli Iran plan?  In the end Smith is left wondering.
Presumably, hurting a president who has spoken of putting some distance between the United States and Israel was the last thing that Mark Perry and his sources had in mind. But there are obviously plenty of actors, throughout American and Israeli politics, who are eager to see Obama weakened in an election year. Deception is part of war, but so is clarity. Whoever is responsible for the information conveyed in Perry’s story, and for whatever purposes it’s been put to, in the end it’s the Islamic Republic that stands to gain the most when the U.S.-Israel alliance is strained.
Gary Rosenblatt looks at a different angle and concludes NY Times Editor Not Convinced Iran Working To Build A Bomb:
In any event, while Abramson notes that “a huge, fundamental difference” between the Iraq situation then and the Iran crisis now is that “at least the administration as it shapes policy is not actively promoting a policy to strike Iran,” she states: “It’s a highly politically charged issue. And it involves intelligence that is somewhat murky.” 
The only thing murky here is why the editors of the paper of record seem to be the last folks around to question Iran’s intentions and efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
Pretty scary.
The United States apparently doesn't know as much about Iran's nuclear abilities or potential as Israel. The New York Times doesn't want to know.
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