Shoddy Sherwood and the abandonment of critical thinking

On the first day of the Jewish New Year, Harriet Sherwood was quick off the mark in filing her bid for the highly contested title of ‘Useful Idiot 5772’.

Although there are still twelve months to go and the competition – particularly from her Guardian colleagues – is likely to be fierce, Sherwood may well succeed in holding off the opposition with this masterpiece of the abandonment of critical thinking.

In a ‘copy/paste’ – style offering which faithfully regurgitates selected passages from a so-called report‘ by the Applied Research Centre Jerusalem and the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy, Sherwood seeks to tug the readers’ heart-strings with pathos-laden accounts of how prosperous the inhabitants of PA controlled regions would be were it not for….(drum roll)…..the occupation.

Even if Sherwood did not actually bother to read past the executive summary, her warning bells should have been ringing by paragraph three. There the mask of objective research already slips when the author cannot resist using the phrase “unchanged colonial attitude of Israel” alongside an unreferenced and totally irrelevant quote from Yitzhak Rabin in the pre-Oslo days. By paragraph five, with the use of the phrase “the colonial paradigm of the Israeli occupation”, any self-respecting and conscientious journalist would have been reaching for his or her copy of the professional code of ethics, but not dear Harriet.

“Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.”

“Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should: — Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.”

Did Sherwood test the accuracy of the information in the report?

Obviously not.

Had she done so, she would have been obliged to point out that the entire document is merely yet another tedious exercise in blaming Israel for situations brought about at least in part by Palestinian decisions. In the section on water, for example, she would have brought to her readers’ attention some of the many examples of Palestinian mismanagement including the failure to execute projects granted the relevant permissions over a decade ago, along with the fact that projects in areas A and B do not even require Israeli permission as they come under the PA’s jurisdiction.

In the section on materials, journalistic balance would have required that Sherwood point out that materials such as Nitrogen-based fertilizers, Glycerin and Hydrogen Peroxide can be used to manufacture explosives (as experience in her own country has shown) and that lathes are used by the rocket manufacturers in Gaza to produce Kassam missiles.

Instead, we get the following gem: (emphasis mine)

“Restrictions on the import to both the West Bank and Gaza of goods deemed as “dual use”, such as chemicals and fertilisers which Israel says could be used in the manufacture of weapons, had severely affected manufacturing and agriculture.”

 Relating to the part of the report which addresses freedom of movement for people and goods, a responsible journalist would have pointed out that the current restrictions were implemented only after the terror war launched by the PA against Israeli civilians in October 2000 and would have detailed the reasons for both the partial blockade on Gaza and Operation Cast Lead.

Sherwood, however, not only fails completely to bring the other side of the story through her own initiative, she also neglects to adhere to yet another clause in her professional code of ethics:

“— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.”

Furthermore, Sherwood has – as usual – omitted to include any background material on her sources and in this case presents a highly politicized ‘think tank which is involved in the BDS campaign as though it were some kind of objective body. This too contradicts the journalistic code.

“— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.”

A short Google search should have indicated to Sherwood that the ARCJ’s entire raison d’etre is anything but objective and that its reports must therefore be at best considered politically motivated.

Like love, political ideology is of course famously blind and even more so if its adherent is on a mission to persuade an audience of the merits and justice of a cause which – to put it mildly – requires a certain abandonment of discerning judgment in order to swallow the propaganda employed to further it. On this count too, Sherwood fails to live up to her own profession’s ethical code which demands of journalists that they:

“— Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.”

This article is shoddy work even by Sherwood’s pretty vertically challenged standards, but her inability – or unwillingness – to engage in anything approaching critical thinking means that we can doubtless have every confidence that during the coming year she will manage to outdo even herself. 

9 replies »

  1. Interestingly, the matter of ‘critical thinking’ is popping up on several blogs right now, generally in respect of their value in debunking myths and conspiracies.

    Several people have commented on the lack of teaching such skills in our schools, leaving young adults unable to distinguish between fact and opinion and therefore highly susceptible to the latter.

    It would be tempting to suggest that Harriet also missed out on such classes – but is that even possible when the subject is journalism???

  2. It was additionally completely misleading for Sherwood to style the Applied Research Centre Jerusalem as “an independent thinktank”. It is nothing of the sort – it is a pro-Palestinian organization which, as Israelinurse points out, uses loaded language that clearly shows its bias. Ina map of the WB, for example, it refers to the “segregation wall”, rather than “security fence”, and it runs a page on its site headed “Monitoring Israeli Colonization Activities”:.

    The ARCJ is about as independent as Der Sturmer was in Nazi Germany.

    The organization provides a “case study” that purports to show the impact of the occupation on a company that makes skin products since Israel will not (they claim) permit import of glycerin into the WB. The claim is that “Glycerin is an essential raw material for the company” even though, apparently, it functions quite well without it.

    Of course, if true, Israel may not allow glycerin into the WB that because it is so easy to turn glycerin into tri-nitro-glycerin – also known as TNT – for use in attacks against Israelis. But it is too much to expect Sherwood or the Guardian to connect the dots in this way.

  3. As one who so commented, Penny, naturally I agree with you. I believe that the Guardian’s “journalists” and the echo-chamber below the line long ago lost any contact they might have had with critical thinking – their behaviour smacks of the folie a plusieurs sort of delusion among a group whereby all share up the others’ distorted views of the world.

    Perhaps a much more parsimonious explanation for the behaviour of Sherwood and other Guardian “journalists” is sheer bone-idleness – good research takes time and patience and they just can’t be bothered to put in the work.

  4. The Daily Mail in the 1930s was an overtly anti-Semitic newspaper. If this deliberately provocative article and the comments that follow it are anything to go by absolutely nothing has changed at that newspaper:

    “A hands-free green man…so devout Jews can cross the road without breaking a religious law” by Martin Delgado

    A few of the hundreds of comments at the time of writing:

    1) “Why didn’t they move the synagogue? say about 800 miles east would have done, i assume they don’t have electricity in Poland.”

    2) “More of tax payers money being spent on religions that have nothing to do with us. It’s bad enough we had to pay for synagogues in the first place.”

    3) “they still kill palestinians without buttons as well”–devout-Jews-cross-road.html

    Oh, irony of ironies, an article co-written by Delgado only a few months ago:

    “Burning with hatred… The right-wing extremist who hated immigrants and multi-culturalism”

  5. “that projects in areas A and B do not even require Israeli permission as they come under the PA’s jurisdiction.” —- But, BUT!, BUTTTTT!!!! what about the OCCUPATION??? You don’t understand that the Palestinians are a colonialist-apartheid-racist-genocidal-occupied victim of the Joooos, and that they therefore can’t have any jurisdiction about anything —- except perhaps about what the Guardian reports?!?!

  6. Harriet Sherwood and critical thinking…..This woman has a brain that has no capacity for critical thinking.

    She would either get fired from that Shitty Guardian or her head would explode if she ever attempted critical thinking.