Pearl's history barely reported

News, Post give little notice to crucial importance of slain Journal reporter's religious background

by David Kopel

March 10, 2002, Rocky Mountain News

Coverage of the Daniel Pearl murder has been voluminous in both the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, but both papers gave short shrift to very important parts of the story.

For example, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (one of the country's two major newspapers) reported that Pearl held dual citizenship in Israel and the United States. The Associated Press picked up the story (Feb. 25) and repeated Ha'aretz's claim that the American media had cooperated with the request of Pearl's family not to mention the citizenship issue. The New York Post reported the explanation from Pearl's family is that Pearl was given an Israeli ID number when he lived in Israel as a teen-ager, but that he never obtained Israeli citizenship.

Keeping the Israeli issue out of the news certainly made sense when Pearl was alive, so as not to provide his kidnappers with an additional reason to kill him. But after Pearl was murdered, the Denver papers should have reported the controversy. Given the terrorists' claims that Pearl was a Israeli secret service (Mossad) agent, Pearl's earlier life in Israel, even if he never formally became a citizen, was relevant news.

Indeed, the fact that Pearl was Jewish was mentioned only a few times in the News and Post, but that fact too is more relevant than the papers have acknowledged. As syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams (Tribune Media Services; not carried in Denver) pointed out, Pakistan is 98 percent Muslim and 2 percent Christian. "Jews exist not as people, but as objects -- a symbolic scourge throughout time and for all time. Only the murder of a Jew would create more -- not less -- pubic acceptance for Jaish-e-Mohammad's extremist cause," Williams concludes.

Daniel Pearl isn't the only American kidnapped and held hostage by terrorists tied to al-Qaida. Last May in the Philippines, Martin and Gracia Burnham were abducted by Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group attempting to overthrow the nation's democracy and replace it with an Islamic dictatorship. The Burnhams, who were on their honeymoon, are Christian missionaries. The News and Post has each mentioned the Burnhams in only a handful of stories.

It's an old and accurate cliche that police respond to a fellow officer in danger faster than to any other crisis. It's all right for journalists to be likewise vigilant about a fellow member of their profession, but the disparity in this case is striking.

Detailing the legislature's rejection of a bill to limit appeal bonds in tobacco lawsuits, the Post headlined "big tobacco" in the headline and the text was a pejorative. The "big tobacco" smear was invented by trial lawyers who sued the tobacco industry, and who have gleefully recounted how the media instantly picked up the lawyers' hit phrase. It would be unfair for a headline to call the Colorado Education Association "big labor" or to call Coors "big business." In the tobacco story, the tobacco company should have been called by its actual name, Philip Morris.

La Voz is Colorado's leading Spanish newspaper; 27 years old, it publishes bilingual weekly editions. Sometimes, the Spanish version of a story differs significantly from the English version, with Spanish versions tending to be more biased. For example, a Feb. 20 story reported on the Colorado Senate Transportation Committee's rejection of a bill to give driver's licenses to illegal aliens. The vote was on party lines, except for Sen. Alice Nichols, D-Aurora, who voted against the bill.

In the English version, "she never met or had a dialogue with Latino leaders" about the bill. In Spanish, Nichol nego (refused) to meet with them.

The story also describes Nichols' own bill to prohibit the permanent display of "non-American flags" inside some public buildings. This is an accurate description of the bill. But in Spanish, La Voz wrote that the Nichol bill would prohibit the Mexican flag in public schools (que la bandera de Mexico no pueda ser exhibida permanentemente dentro de las escuelas publicas de Colorado.) The Spanish text makes it appear that Nichol is singling out the Mexican flag for special discrimination that wouldn't apply to the French flag, the Irish flag, and every other nation's flag.

Thank you to the readers who tipped me off about some of the stories this week. Remember, the letters section at the bottom of this page wants comments on all Colorado media; these letters (even the ones that don't get published) provide me with lots of ideas.

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