Associated Press bungles fact-check of Abbas’ speech

AP tries to fact-check Abbas’ speech at the UN, and ends up accusing him of insufficient adherence to Israeli talking points, while making a series of embarrassing factual errors itself

Generally, I sympathize with those who ask: “Shouldn’t all stories be ‘fact-check’ stories?” Still, as a frequent reader of Israeli journalism, I should be thankful for small favors, and appreciate the genre’s existence in English-language media. But the only thing worse than not checking the facts, is presuming to do so, while being in error oneself. That is what happened to the Associated Press when it tried to fact-check Mahmoud Abbas’ UN speech.

The intro was inauspicious, to say the least. The AP argued that Abbas “presented a narrative that is disputed by Israel.” The agency then offered “counter-arguments” to some of his assertions. Fact-checkers should, at the very least, understand the definition of “fact.” A fact is not an assertion supported by all sides to a debate (otherwise, fact-checking itself would be superfluous) nor is it an argument with no counterargument (ditto). It is simply an assertion which is true. Unless AP is implying that the Israeli “narrative” is always true (an impression bolstered by the omission of an equivalent fact check for Netanyahu’s speech).

Unsurprisingly, and contrary to their assertion, AP has not managed to find a single “factually incorrect” statement in Abbas’ speech, while making quite a few “factually incorrect” assertions of their own along the way.

Occupation: Abbas said Palestinians live under “the only occupation in the world.” AP argues that other groups say they are also occupied. All of those groups, however, live in areas officially annexed by their oppressor, and are citizens of the state that controls their lives. Palestinians, on the other hand, live under military law and have no citizenship. Israel refuses to take responsibility to them or relinquish control. That is what makes it the only occupation in the world.

Prisoners: Abbas views Palestinians held by Israel as “prisoners of conscience.” AP, in accordance with their bizarre method, “refutes” this by referring to Israel’s view of these prisoners as violent security risks. But what are the facts? According to figures provided by the IDF, excluding traffic offenses, less than half [pdf] of the indictments in Israel’s Military Courts, where Palestinians are tried, are for terrorism charges, even under Israel’s expansive definitions of the term. Many of the prisoners are awaiting trial, as Military Court proceedings can last for two years while the accused is incarcerated. Because of this, and the virtually non-existent odds of acquittal, many plead out even though they continue to maintain their innocence. Certainly, many prisoners were involved in violence and terrorism; but many others, perhaps most, fit the definition of “prisoners of conscience.” AP, unfortunately, does not bother providing any of these facts.

Jewish connection to holy land, and Gaza: AP basically slams Abbas for not parroting Israeli talking points, and is unable to find a single inaccurate thing he said.

Peace talks: Abbas said Palestinians “believe in peace”. AP mentions Palestinians have rejected two Israeli peace offers. That, in itself, is a highly inaccurate description of events, but never mind: astonishingly, AP neglects to mention that Israel also rejected Abbas’ offer in the same negotiations in 2008.

Settlements: AP refutes nothing Abbas said, and actually ends up strengthening his point.

Final score: Abbas- 6; AP – zero.