CBC Defends Airing Unsubstantiated Allegation Claiming Israel used Chemical Weapons on Palestinian Children

By Mike Fegelman

May 31, 2013

We recently alerted you to how CBC Radio’s “Information Morning Fredericton” program elected to air an unsubstantiated allegation by anti-Israel activist Tracy Glynn claiming Israel intentionally used chemical weapons on Palestinian children in Gaza in the 2008-09 war with Hamas.

As we pointed out in our alert: “… mentioning ‘chemical weapons’ that Gazan children ‘survived’ certainly conjures up images of Sarin, Mustard Gas, VX and other nerve agents. These are the very same charges that the Syrian government stands accused of in its civil war with rebel forces and vice versa. The alleged use of these weapons is regarded as crossing U.S. President Barack Obama’s self-imposed red line which may prompt a U.S. or coalition military intervention in Syria.”

Glynn’s statement was tantamount to accusing Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity on innocent Palestinian children. These were incredibly serious unfounded charges that came from a pre-recorded comment. CBC journalists heard this comment before it went to air and chose to broadcast it over CBC airwaves. As such, we pointed out that CBC must take responsibility for this inflammatory and unfounded allegation it gave a platform to and apologize to its listeners.

To our dismay, CBC Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire defended the CBC’s airing of this statement. In response to HonestReporting Canada’s complaint, McGuire stated the following in her May 13 reply:

“No doubt Ms. Glynn is fully capable of defending her views.  However, I expect what she is referring to here, if somewhat elliptically, is the IDF’s highly controversial use of white phosphorus munitions in Gaza.  (No one has ever even remotely suggested that either side in the conflict used war gases, biological agents or other weapons of mass destruction).  Its use attracted wide media coverage at the time.  White phosphorus, of course, is an allotrope of the chemical element phosphorous and has been categorized both as an incendiary and chemical weapon.

As you may recall, although the IDF initially denied using WP in Gaza, it subsequently agreed it had been using it and then stopped.  Its use is often controversial, although it is not specifically banned by conventional or chemical weapons conventions.  While military experts justify its use in some circumstances, human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sharply condemned its use in Gaza’s densely populated areas as did Justice Richard Goldstone in his report.

What CBC journalists state as fact must be accurate and provable.  However, it is clear that statements by interview subjects and those we ask to comment cannot be forced to meet the same test, although we do make an effort to ensure the honest opinions expressed on our programs are grounded in fact.

The purpose of a story such as the one you cited on the Fredericton morning show is to expose a wide range of views, often conflicting.  Not everyone will agree with all that is said, as obviously you don’t here.  It is CBC’s obligation to present differing views fairly and accurately affording Canadians the opportunity and the information they need to make up their own minds about the nature or quality of the views expressed.  And I believe we are doing that.”

To read this letter in full please click here.

Contrary to CBC’s contentions, how many people who heard Glynn’s statement on the radio thinking that by “chemical weapons,” she was referring to the relatively benign white phosphorous? In the context of killing children, it’s a smear statement by any standard with a majority of people thinking Israel intentionally used either Sarin, Mustard Gas, VX and/or other nerve agents on innocent Palestinian children.

When CBC News reports about chemical warfare in Syria – reductio ad absurdum – are we to believe that the United Nations, the U.S, and the international community are going after Assad because he’s using white phosphorous?

It apparently never occurred to McGuire, the CBC’s most senior editor, that their interviewer had an obligation to ask anti-Israel activist Tracy Glynn what she meant by her statement instead of leaving it up to the listener’s imagination. But then again, that’s the way the CBC likes to do things.

It’s disconcerting that CBC has staked out a position that interview sources can’t be challenged in the fullest sense on the inherent accuracy of their statements. CBC seemingly grants sources almost impunity to make unsubstantiated allegations which will likely be put to air and will go unchallenged.

Some HonestReporting Canada members who received Ms. McGuire’s letter replied back challenging her reasoning, such as these letters by HRC subscribers Edward Wein and Marc Koplowitz:

“Dear Jennifer McGuire: You are correct that white phosphorus is a chemical and by that definition any explosive can be considered as a chemical weapon. The issue here is that “chemical weapons” in most peoples’ minds evoke images of mass destruction caused by the weapons of mass destruction such as sarin, VX etc which you mentioned in your email. These weapons, as you confirmed, are banned by international convention, whereas white phosphorus is not. Therefore, by allowing the term “chemical weapon” to be used without explanation, in connection with white phosphorus, the CBC is complicit in falsely inflaming public opinion. Word choices, as you are very aware, are very important in development of mental images, especially with regard to the term “chemical weapons”. It therefore behoves the CBC as custodian of the public trust to provide clarification in such cases.


Edward Wein”

“Dear Jennifer McGuire: The use of the words “chemical weapons” in the context of injuries to civilians can only be reasonably construed by the mass public who listen to your program, as referring to “…weapons of mass destruction – i.e. Sarin, VX, nerve gases, and the like” (as you put it).  This is the demonizing of Israel and false propaganda that your program facilitated no doubt knowingly and purposely, as evidenced by your feeble effort to justify it.

By demonizing Israel as your program permitted, your program also facilitates the unleashing of anti-Semitism by those who prowl for any excuse to vent hatred against Israel and by their warped extrapolation, against Jews.  To suggest that the use of the term ‘chemical weapons’ by your program or its guests without legitimately challenging that assertion, can be justified by referring to Israel’s very limited and subsequently terminated (voluntarily) use of white phosphorus agent which is neither banned by conventional or chemical weapons conventions nor condemned by military experts who justify its use in some circumstances, is a poor attempt to whitewash your failure to ensure the truthful reporting of news and events. Your guest should have been pressed to either clarify that she was not intending to refer to ‘nerve gasses and the like’, or that she was referring to white phosphorus and what was its very limited military use in those circumstances of warfare.

Marc Koplowitz”

This file is still open. CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin has confirmed that a review will be launched shortly to determine if this report was adherent to CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices. We will keep you updated once that review is released.


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