Michael Totten takes on a BBC headline

In the all too uniform world of Middle East-focused journalism produced by Western writers, Michael Totten stands out as a rare exception to the rule. Few can claim his level of insight into the way the region works and in particular his understanding of the dynamics at work in Lebanon

Below is an excerpt from one of his recent articles.

“It’s a simple to understand formula: Always point the finger at Israel. If a different enemy deserves blame instead, accuse them of collaboration with Israel. When Israel is clearly responsible (as it was in this case), accuse your enemies of collaboration with Israel just because and for extra credit. […]

Assad is especially adept at this game. Everyone, especially journalists who quote people for a living, needs to understand that. Yet they don’t. The BBC let Assad write their headline. Israeli strikes on Syria ‘co-ordinated with terrorists it says. That’s the actual headline. It was literally written by Assad’s foreign ministry.

Of course the words “co-ordinated with terrorists” are inside quotation marks, and the article makes it clear that this accusation comes from the Syrian government, but most people who see the headline won’t read the article. Casual readers of the BBC Web site won’t even notice the quote marks. Israel is coordinating with Al Qaeda in Syria? Really, BBC? You’re broadcasting that ludicrous accusation with a straight face?”

Read the rest here.

Two days after the article’s initial publication – and much public outcry – the BBC amended the headline, which now reads “Syria says Israeli strikes ‘co-ordinated with terrorists'”. 

correction May 7

amended headline 8 5

Whilst that correction is of course welcome, the question we still need to ask is how the original headline got published in the first place  – and stayed up for two days.