Sherwood in Jerusalem: a six month overview

Harriet Sherwood

November 25th marked six months since Harriet Sherwood’s arrival in Jerusalem to take up her new role as the Guardian’s foreign correspondent in Israel. This presents an appropriate opportunity to review her performance so far and determine whether she has lived up to her own expectations as set out in three ‘mission statement’ articles she wrote before and after her arrival.

In an article from 2006 Sherwood, whilst filling the role of Foreign Editor at the Guardian, laid out her vision for reporting from Jerusalem, stating that

“The first thing we need to be absolutely sure of is the purpose of our news reporting from the region. Our correspondents are there to give our readers accurate information about Israel-Palestine. We are not there to bat for one side or the other, but to report on the situation on the ground as we find it.”

“We should aim for balance in our overall coverage, not in each individual story; it’s the batting average that counts.”

On June 14th 2010 Sherwood once again wrote about her aspirations; this time from the point of view of a foreign correspondent on the ground:

“…..the Guardian must be bold, distinctive, thoughtful and original as well as, of course, covering the “news”, ie reacting to events. Foreign correspondents – expensive assets – should be encouraged to spend a large proportion of their time in the field, finding things out, talking to people, reporting what they see.

They shouldn’t spend all their time covering the same ground as everyone else; and they shouldn’t be chained to their laptops, essentially rewriting news agency material.”

By September 27th 2010, Sherwood was writing about “the realities of reporting in the field”:

“And the wire services do provide comprehensive, rapidly updated and usually accurate coverage of the main news events on a given day. So a correspondent’s role is surely to go beyond that, to dig out the stories that aren’t immediate “news”, to provide context and analysis, to allow those whose voices are routinely drowned out by the big “players” to be heard.”

In order to be able to quantify Sherwood’s ‘batting average’ there is no way other than to plough through the 138 or so relevant articles she has published since her arrival in Israel both in the Guardian and its sister paper, The Observer.

I categorized them into four groups:

1)       Articles which present Israel in a balanced, realistic and objective manner.

2)      Articles which present Israel in a non-balanced, pejorative and subjective manner.

3)      Articles which present both sides of a story.

4)      Articles with a positive slant, exclusively about Palestinian-related subjects.

Excluding several articles which were not relevant to the analysis due to their subject matter, the results were as follows:

Category 1) – one article

Category 2) – 79 articles

Category 3) – 36 articles

Category 4) – 11 articles

The trend indicated by these numbers is echoed by a look at the places from which Sherwood has reported since her arrival in Israel.

  • Jerusalem
  • Haifa (only in connection to the Rachel Corrie trial)
  • Tel Aviv (in relation to the Turkel Committee investigation and one interview with Mira Awad.)
  • Jaffa (to report on ‘right wing orthodox infiltration’ into Jaffa’s property market)
  • Ashdod (to report on the Mavi Marmara flotilla)
  • Sdom (to report on environmental issues at the Dead Sea)
  • Newe Ilan  (TV studios – to report on ‘Dancing with the Stars’)
  • Ghajar
  • Luban a Sharquiya
  • Gaza City (some five reports)
  • Ramallah (some five reports)
  • Dir el Balah
  • Hebron
  • Qasar al Yahud – near Jericho
  • Johara a Deek
  • Al Araqib
  • Jenin
  • Taybeh
  • Jabalia
  • Al Aroub
  • Nuseirat
  • Beit Lahiya
  • Jabel Mukaber
  • Beit Hanina
  • Rafah
  • Al Walaja

Sherwood’s reports on Palestinian life in the region take largely two forms; either sympathetic reports of Palestinian suffering with little or no context, or ‘lifestyle’ pieces about horse riding, motor racing, hotels, cinema or a beer festival. She has written a few articles which are critical of the Hamas regime in Gaza, but no consequential analysis of the Palestinian Authority, let alone subjects such as the incitement against Jews in PA television programs, schools and mosques or the death penalty for selling land or property to Jews.

Israeli Jews are for the most part portrayed by Sherwood in one of three ways; they are either ‘settlers’, ‘ultra-Orthodox hard-liners’ or members of the military – usually those who have been involved in investigations of their conduct during service.  A recurring theme in her articles is Israeli lack of concern for the environment or animal rights. Israeli Jews portrayed in a sympathetic light are almost exclusively those who engage in anti-Israel activity such as members of ‘Breaking the Silence’ or supporters of boycotts.

On the subject of Gilad Shalit – one of prime concern to all Israelis – Sherwood has written three articles (here, here, and here) about this last summer’s march to Jerusalem organized by his family and made two other cursory mentions to his case in separate articles, but made no real attempt to examine the breach of the Geneva conventions perpetrated by Hamas throughout their holding of him without access to the Red Cross.

By contrast, Sherwood saw fit to dedicate three articles to Saber Kushour (herehere and here), reinforcing her often promoted stance of Israel as a racist and discriminatory society. Even when the eventual outcome of events shows her initial assumptions and implied message about Israeli racism to be wrong, Sherwood rarely goes back to the subject to set the record straight.

During the last six months Sherwood has made one brief mention (July 22nd) of “sporadic attacks” from the Gaza Strip on Israeli territory and on August 2nd managed to report that a rocket had fallen in Ashkelon. She did dedicate an article to the firing of missiles on the Jordanian town of Aqaba. Since Sherwood has been in Israel some 61 mortars (some containing phosphorous), 43 Kassam missiles and two Grad missiles have been fired from Gaza at the Negev region, in addition to several incidents on the border fence. She has not reported from Sderot, Ashkelon or any of the rural Negev communities targeted by Palestinian terrorists.

Sherwood has written about the proposed deportation of children of illegal foreign workers in Israel but has not addressed the subject of refugees from Darfur who have found asylum in Israel, the sanctuary given to Baha’is or several other persecuted groups of people including Palestinian homosexuals.

Also notable is the style of language employed by Sherwood in her reports. Terrorists are inevitably downgraded to “militants” – a clear judgment call which downplays the violent nature of their activities. During her extensive coverage of the ‘Mavi Marmara’ flotilla and others, participants were described as “activists”, including those who were members of the Muslim Brotherhood connected IHH.

When attempting to inject some balance into her reports, the Israeli point of view is usually prefixed by “Israel said”, “Israel claimed” or “according to Israel”; implying that statements made by Israeli sources may lack credibility or accuracy.   A term very frequently used by Sherwood when describing Israeli activity is “illegal under international law”. On no occasion has she actually backed up this claim with concrete legal evidence. Whilst frequently referring to the second Intifada in terms of a milestone for Israeli restrictions upon Palestinian movement, on no occasion has Sherwood provided her readers with an in-depth analysis of the causes of the Intifada or its effect upon the Israeli general public. It is referred to exclusively in terms of the resulting difficulties for Palestinians.

To conclude, Sherwood does not appear so far to be meeting her own standards as professed above. She is definitely “covering the same ground as everyone else” (except perhaps for her unfortunate venture into the world of battery chickens, from  which other correspondents seem to have steered clear, for obvious reasons.).  There has been nothing innovative about her reporting, which simply reinforces the jaded stereotypes about Israel and Israelis which have existed for years.

“Talking to people” and reporting on “the situation on the ground as we find it” requires an open mind, devoid of preconceptions, in order to produce reporting which stands out from that of the herd. So far, Sherwood has done little to search out the people whose “voices are routinely drowned out” in this region; instead she has stuck to the mold cast by her predecessors rather than rise to the challenges abundantly available and in doing so, has compromised her wish to supply both “accurate information” and “context”.

Let’s hope that the next six months will find Harriet Sherwood challenging not only the stereotypical preconceptions of her readers, but those in her own mind too. To do so would definitely improve her overall batting average.

30 replies »

  1. Fascinating research, which backs up the general impression if a biased, anti-Israeli reporter using her time in Israel to keep a very heavy thumb on the scale against Israel.

    “We should aim for balance in our overall coverage, not in each individual story; it’s the batting average that counts.”

    Its the wrong game for Sherwood, but, as the rule goes in the USA, three strikes and you’re out. Her batting average puts her firmly at the bottom of the league, or, if you prefer, at the top of the Israel can do not right brigade that infests the Guardian.

  2. She’s the Guardian correspondent here and her agenda is not set by herself, but by the editorial staff of which she was a member in 2006.

    So while writing all those fine words about neutrality and objectivity, her own instructions to the Guardian rep at the time must have been broadly similar to those she herself has received; hence the pieces she produces differ little from those penned in the past.

    Israelinurse, I commend your diligence in cataloging Sherwood’s articles but honestly, was it really worth spending time on them?

  3. Sherwood is self-confessedly not ignorant of the rules of fair reporting, she just doesn’t implement them where Israel is concerned. Whether she does it to please her employers or to feed her own prejudices, her motive is not relevant, but the resultant malice is.

  4. Re. Dancing with the Stars
    Harriet’s piece might also have wanted to inform readers which other countries in the ME even have a version of the show – let alone an episode featuring a lesbian TV anchor.

  5. Gerald Kreeve, is any CiF “reporter” acquainted with the rules of fair reporting?

    Well done Israelinurse. I have to say I was surprised at the number of articles which gave both sides of the story, although the miniscule slice by comparison about presenting Israel in a balanced, realistic and objective manner doesn’t surprise me one bit. This benighted one wouldn’t know where to begin to do that.

  6. Harriet Sherwood isn’t much to look at. Not yummy at all.

    I bet she doesn’t live in east Jerusalem or any other nabe where Arabs live. The woman is a hypocrite. That’s all.

  7. Let us not forget the scorecard for Harriet’s linguistic abilities:
    Hebrew 0
    Arabic 0
    Farsi 0
    Russian 0
    Amharic 0
    Yiddish 0
    Ladino 0

  8. sounds like she is getting stale in Israel. She needsto be freshened up, perhaps by a stint in Kandahar, Bajaur protectorate, Pakistan, or Chechnya. Everything she writes can be seen on millions of other websites, therefore her current services are not cost effective

  9. @Scott

    She’d have a problem reporting there because it would actually involve doing something other than regurgitating news from the notoriously hostile Israel daily, Haaretz.

  10. Gerald Kreeve

    Sherwood is self-confessedly not ignorant of the rules of fair reporting, she just doesn’t implement them where Israel is concerned. Whether she does it to please her employers or to feed her own prejudices, her motive is not relevant, but the resultant malice is.

    Yes. Reminds me very much of the immortal phrase used by Georgina and Matt in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle claiming that The Guardian was ‘fair and balanced’.

    A horrible thought just occurred to me. Those two clowns may actually believe that The Guardian is ‘fair and balanced’.

  11. If the Guardian doesn’t employ their writers for objectivity,unbiased and fair writing,then what on what terms are these writers employed ?..

    Is it for their good looks or their brains?.

  12. The Guardian has no intention of reporting fairly. It produces narratives it feels its punters want, thus reinforcing their prejudices and desire for more of the same.

    That’s what Sherwood is paid for and she’d just doing her job.

    “Our correspondents are there to give our readers accurate information about Israel-Palestine”

    Accurate perhaps, but cherry-picked and spun into an anti-Israel narrative. It’s quite easy to do.

    What is scandalous is that the BBC reporting is exactly the same and they are not commercial and supposedly bound by their charter to impartiality. Joke.

  13. Geary, quite so. It steers clear of facts because, as its readers editor is on record as say, they are “tricky things.”

    And perhaps the Beeb, if pressed, would agree….

  14. Geary

    Accurate perhaps, but cherry-picked and spun into an anti-Israel narrative. It’s quite easy to do.

    Thanks Geary. That’s very well enunciated and it is a pity that the mainstream UK press do not make that point more often about The Guardian’s reporting. Not only on the I/P conflict but also their ‘presentation’ of the US and indeed, all the Western Liberal Democracies.

    Their misrepresentation and omission is legion.

    It boggles my mind that they continue to get away with it.

  15. Great work,Israelinurse!

    Guardian remind me soviet media,they using even same words.Try to read old soviet papers about Israel,differents with Guardian will be only in dates and autors names.

  16. Sergio Bramsole

    Harriet Sherwood isn’t much to look at. Not yummy at all.

    You have serious problems upstairs, Mr wannabe macho.

  17. Harriet Sherwood definitely wasn’t chosen for her good looks, nor was she chosen for her brains,so what was she chosen for.

  18. harmless

    “Getting the idea” would require some grey matter between her ears.
    Sadly she has only enough of it to be able apologising for islamofascits. Not having the slightest idea about the societies, cultures, history and languages of the Middle East she is restricted to quote and process info acquired from the English edition of the Ha’aretz, some fringe Israeli far-left groups and antisemitic web sources – exactly like your own site who are calling the selfdefense of the Jews dirty actions.
    BTW instead of the Guardian HR department I would consider calling her back and send you here instead. You have exactly the same qualities but I’m sure you are cheaper.

  19. pretzelberg You have serious problems upstairs, Mr wannabe macho”

    Why do you follow me around, hah? You have nothing, nothing at all, that would even remotely interest me.

    Don’t seek me out. Ever!!! How many times must I tell you this? You post my way again and I’ll just ignore you.

    Last but not least, there is nothing “wannabe” about me. But you wouldn’t get it anyway. You’re such a malevolent mediocrity, worse than Berchy in so many ways.