Montreal Gazette: Israel Rally Story “Missed the Mark”
May 20, 2008
By: Mike Fegelman
Dear HonestReporting Canada subscriber:
Marking the 60th anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, over 18,000 people joined in celebration by attending a rally in downtown Montreal on Thursday May 8.
It was an opportunity for people from all walks of life to gather and celebrate this joyous and monumental event in peace and harmony.
One would have expected that news coverage of the event would have trumpeted the celebratory atmosphere of the rally, or at the very least echoed the significance of this important and historic milestone, but instead, a report by Jeff Heinrich in the Montreal Gazette, focused on an isolated incident where a youth picked up the fleur-de-lis (Quebec’s flag) and discarded it, saying “I don’t want this one” in exchange for the flag of Israel.
Many people, including several HRC subscribers wrote to the Gazette and complained that this one incident wasn’t representative of the whole event and that the tone and content of the report was too “negative.”
Letter writer Michael Finkelstein wrote the following in a letter to the editor printed in the Gazette in subsequent days:
“The juxtaposition of the image of the crowd celebrating and waving Israel’s blue-and- white flag with the image of the Quebec blue-and-white flag lying on the ground, rejected and “trod upon by oblivious students milling around the monument” is simplistic, divisive and even libellous. When is the celebration of one country’s statehood an automatic rejection of other cultures, communities, or even nations? Why conjure up an image of conflict when reporting on the subject of a celebration? La fête nationale is a celebration for all Quebecers, and isn’t a rejection of Canada. Similarly, celebrating Israel’s birthday doesn’t equal a negation or rejection of other communities and cultures, whether Palestinian, Québécois or Canadian, as implied by the bias of this article.”
Rabbi Michael Whitman, President of the Montreal Board of Rabbis felt that Jewish patriotism was impugned. According to his letter also printed in the Gazette:
“I attended a joyous rally last week to celebrate the miracle of Israel’s 60th birthday, together with thousands of people from every culture, race and religion, proudly carrying thousands of flags from Quebec, Canada and Israel – a perfect day celebrating peace, democracy, brotherhood and idealism. How offensive that your reporter focused on a single incident by one teenager and used that to mischaracterize the entire event. How scurrilous that the article implies a lack of patriotism among Jews for Quebec and Canada when our community is exceptional for its patriotism. You have sadly replaced reporting news with manufacturing controversy. You bear the responsibility for much of the ill will people of different cultures report feeling about each other. Shame on you.”
Along with encouraging our members to voice their concerns about the Gazette’s coverage of the Montreal rally, HonestReporting Canada also brought a factual error contained in Jeff Heinrich’s report to the paper’s attention. See our letter to the editor as printed on May 15 in the Gazette.
As days followed and letters continued to pour in, the Gazette reflected on its coverage of the rally. Writing in an “Ask the Editor” section on Friday May 16, Gazette Editor-in-Chief, Andrew Phillips acknowledged that Jeff Heinrich’s story “Missed the Mark” and stumbled at both the reporting and editorial levels.
It isn’t every day that a newspaper reflects on its coverage, realizes its shortcomings, and publicly admonishes itself. Mr. Phillips’ mea culpa demonstrates that the Gazette is genuinely concerned with ensuring fair and accurate news coverage of Israel and the Middle East.
How You Can Make a Difference
Commend the Gazette’s Editor-in-Chief for his journalistic integrity and dedication towards impartial, balanced, and responsible reporting on Israel. Refer to his May 16 column entitled “Story on rally missed the mark” and send letters to Andrew Phillips at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (514) 987-2500.
Pointers for contacting the Gazette: state your position clearly in your own words, remain rational and polite, and contact us at email@example.com to tell us you took action. To be considered for publication, letters should include sender’s name and contact information for verification purposes.
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