HAT TIP ... my brother in law ... Uncle Lloyd
Despite all the issues surrounding the Gaza war, the unfounded claims of war crimes, the UN censure, lawfare efforts, and the contentious casualty count, readers selected a Swedish journalist who had never previously been on HonestReporting's radar. The article in question had absolutely nothing to do with the war, but the fallout it created was steady and ongoing - albeit less dramatic.
So we weren't surprised in the least to find that our winner, Aftonbladet's Donald Bostrom, touched a nerve in readers in ways that few journalists ever do.
It began in August when Aftonbladet, one of Sweden's largest dailies, published a double-page spread in its cultural section headlined: They Plunder the Organs of Our Sons. The story quoted Palestinian claims that Israeli soldiers seized young men from the West Bank and Gaza and later returned the bodies with missing organs. (Read the original article in Swedish here.) It stirred a hornet's nest of issues:
REPORTERS' INNER BIGOTED COMPULSIONS ARE THE MAIN TOOL
1) Independent verification: Bostrom failed to independently verify the claims of the family of Bilal Ahmed Ghanem, who died in 1992. Bostrom later backtracked, saying:
I was [present] during the interview that night, I was a witness. It concerns me to the extent that I want it to be investigated . . . But whether it's true or not - I have no idea, I have no clue.
Moreover, when Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh tracked down the Ghanem family who said they never told Bostrom their son was missing organs:
The mother denied that she had told any foreign journalist that her son's organs had been stolen.
However, she said that now she does not rule out the possibility that Israel was harvesting organs of Palestinians . . . .
Bottom line: Bostrom's story is based on nothing more than unconfirmed testimonies, half-truths and speculation.
2) Using true facts to make a false conclusion: Bostrom "covered" Ghanem's death in 1992, so why revisit the issue? Because he places it in the context of the New Jersey organ trafficking scandal, an international conspiracy is strongly implied but never proven.
3) Burden of proof: Although the burden of proof for such a claim normally falls on the journalist, amazingly, Aftonbladet editor Jan Helin shifted it to Israel, when he told reporters:
The article poses a question - why has this body been autopsied when the cause of death is obvious? There I think Israeli authorities owe us an answer.
Not at all. It's up to Bostrom to convince doctors like Mazen Arafah and Andrea Meyerhoff, who point out that it's medically impossible to harvest organs from people who die of gunshots to the abdomen and chest--as Bostrom described of Ghanem.
4) Is the article anti-Semitic? The question cuts to the core of the ensuing diplomatic crisis when the Swedish government refused to condemn the article. Swedish officials maintained it was an issue of free speech, while Israeli officials argued that irresponsible journalism that incites against Israel and Jews everywhere.
For the record, Israel didn't ask Sweden to censor the article. For comparison, the UK government condemned the New Statesman for its interview with Khaled Mashaal.
5) News stories take on a life of their own: Since the article went to print, rumors of Israeli organ-harvesting surfaced in Ukrainian elections, were an excuse to ban Israeli doctors from an Egyptian medical conference, and brought at least one pseudo-journalists crawling out of the woodwork with copycat claims.
Moreover, as we prepared to publish these awards, Israel's Channel 2 aired a video of top pathologist, Dr. Yehuda Hiss, admitting that his staff harvested organs from Israelis and Palestinians during the 1990s without families' permission. The video offered no evidence that Palestinians were killed by the IDF (Israel's Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Kabir is a civilian facility operated by the Ministry of Health.) Not letting facts get in the way of a sensational headline, a headline in Sydney's Daily Telegraph stated:
Israeli Army Admits Stealing Organs
"This reprinting of old information must not be allowed to become the occasion for mischief, blasphemous lies or distortions," Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Chairman Alan Solow and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a statement. Media interviews surrounding the reports "provided no evidence to indicate that any Palestinian was killed to 'harvest organs.' Such accusations can inflame the region, incite violence and undermine the chances of peace."
As nasty as the story is, there is actually no linkage to Bostrom's false allegations, which libeled the IDF. The Abu Kabir scandal did not target Palestinians. Israeli soldiers, civilians, Jews, non-Jews as well as Palestinians were the victims of a domestic scandal that was discovered and dealt with by the Israeli authorities to ensure that such ethical lapses would not be allowed to reoccur.
(More information can be found here.)
6) Bostrom's flippant attitude towards the truth: While attending a November media conference in Israel, Bostrom told Ha'aretz's Gideon Levy:
If I were writing it again, I would stress that the IDF liquidates so many youths without a trial and that they take bodies and conduct autopsies on them without the permission of the families. My article created confusion and was incorrectly interpreted.
Even more amazingly, he also told Israel Channel 2's Yair Lapid:
In response, Bostrom said that he understands why people are angry, saying that everyone lies while at war. He said that it is difficult for reporters to distinguish between what is correct and what is a lie.
That's Bostrom in his own words.
Donald Bostrom doesn't know the truth because he failed to put in the necessary long-term investigative work real journalism demands. Nor does he show any concern for the consequences of his words. And for those reasons, HonestReporting readers chose him as the Dishonest Reporter of 2009.