Sydney Morning Herald correpsondent Paul McGeough was aboard Challenger One, some 150 meters away from the Mavi Marmara when the Israeli navy intercepted the Gaza flotilla.
Now, his account of the incident has earned him a prestigious Walkley Award, the Australian equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize. The honor disturbs me for three reasons.
Two of the reasons deal with points of contention McGeough was in a unique position to clarify for history's first draft -- but he instead muddied the waters. The third reason has more to do with the language of his dispatch.
1. McGeough failed to shed light on the flotilla's radical Islamic organizers.
Most prominent among the convoy's organizers was the IHH, a radical Islamic relief fund based in Turkey. As Malam points out, the IHH is linked to Hamas,and "supported jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya." It is also has ties to Turkey's ruling party.
What did McGeough say about the organizers? Not much:
The flotilla drew on funds from NGOs in Turkey, Malaysia, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Sweden.
With the paper's considerable resources, McGeough and his editors could have and should have been aware of the IHH's background before the correspondent even made his travel plans. If indeed they knew, it was irresponsible to not disclose this.
2. The flotilla was not a "humanitarian convoy."
The convoy's humanitarian veneer masked a political agenda to provoke an embarrassing confrontation with Israel. Some of the people aboard the ships were specifically recruited to attack Israeli soldiers. Among the items found aboard were bullet-proof vests, night vision equipment and rifle scopes, saws, knives, gas masks and slingshots.
McGeough missed it.
If the critique ended here, you could reasonably conclude that McGeough was either sloppy,simply had the bad luck of being on the wrong boat while one of 2010's biggest stories unfolded meters away. But then there's my third concern.
3. Inflammatory language suggests sympathy for the flotilla.
This particular snippet rightly outraged the Jewish community, and called into question McGeough's impartiality:
Then, the tightening noose. Sneaking up and around every boat, there were bullet-shaped hulks which soon became impossible to hide as the moonlight made fluorescent tubes of their roiling wakes. First one, then two and maybe four could be seen sneaking in from the rear.
They hunted like hyenas – moving up and ahead on the flanks; pushing in, then peeling away; and finally, lagging before lunging.
Lest we forget, here's the headline, which sets a tone for the rest of the story:
Prayers, Tear Gas, and Terror
If there's terror, it's because there are terrorists. That's McGeough and the SMH's subtle, most damning stab at Israel.
You can't expect journalists to write be-all end-all stories. The descriptive language of his own voice suggests McGeough saw exactly what he wanted to see.
And that's not worthy of the honor conferred by the Walkley Foundation's award.
The three reasons reported by Backspin would surely be enough to demonstrate that nowhere near the necessary research was put into McGeough's effort and one wonders what criteria (if any) were applied in the case of this particular award.
And there's more to this story with questions being asked about McGeough's Good Weekend lift out which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age and the "corrections" subsequently published in both newspapers which blamed others for a glaring error in the text but more of that later.