On 1 September, the Jerusalem Post published an article by Edwin Bennatan, criticising an earlier article by Seth Freedman on the Comment is Free website. Seth Freedman’s article implausibly equated Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV – the station which runs kids shows in which large cartoon animals encourage children to become suicide bombers – with the BBC or Sky News. Seth’s article was cretinous, and indicates well why his fanbase consists largely of fanatics and fantasists. That article has now disappeared, and has been replaced with this apology.
Nevertheless, I think that Seth was owed that apology, and that he has behaved entirely properly in asking for one.
This is my understanding of events, as they unfolded. I’ve spoken to a few people, and the accounts I’ve received are not inconsistent with each other. I think, therefore, that the following is the best explanation for the disappearance of the Bennatan piece.
The Jerusalem Post allow comments on articles on their website. Unlike Comment is Free, the Jerusalem Post pre-approves comments manually. They only appear on the site after they have been read by an editor. Therefore, they bear a higher degree of responsibility for what appears on their site than they would, were they merely a passive host of these comments.
One comment that was posted shortly after the Bennatan article declared that he would “kick Seth Freedman in the nuts if I see him”, or words to that effect. The comment gave the name of the poster. Whether or not the threat was seriously meant, it is clearly grossly improper that a newspaper should have approved a direct offer of violence to Seth Freedman on its website.
I understand that Seth Freedman made a complaint, and asked for action to be taken in respect of the comment. The Jerusalem Post then unilaterally took down not only the comment, but the entire post.
Some time later, the Jerusalem Post called Seth Freedman to tell him what they had done. Seth Freedman apparently asked for an apology, and was told that taking down the article was all he would receive. Seth Freedman’s response was that the publication of the comment evidenced the failure of the Jerusalem Post’s moderation system, and that he was due an apology, and a donation in his name to a charity. At that point, the issue was elevated to the Jerusalem Post Editor.
Within 10 minutes, Seth Freedman received a call back from the Jerusalem Post, asking which charity he’d like the money to go to.
This is why Seth Freedman did not behave improperly:
- If a newspaper approves for publication, a threat to attack somebody, that is a serious matter. The proper course for any newspaper which makes such an error is to remove the threat, and apologise.
- Seth Freedman did not ask for the Bennatan article to be removed. That action was taken unilaterally by the Jerusalem Post.
- Seth Freedman did not threaten the Jerusalem Post with lawyers. The decision to apologise and pay a sum to charity was not made ‘at gunpoint’, but seems rather to have been a recognition that they had made an error of judgement.
Returning to the theme of my last post on the subject: this episode illustrates the risks of the blogification of newspapers. I can think of few newspapers whose comments facilities do not bring them shame. The Guardian, in particular, has created a cesspool that promises to continue to blacken the reputation of that newspaper. I understand why newspapers allow comments. They render a site “sticky”, and encourage repeat visits by readers who “engage” with the content, driving up the hit rate and therefore the advertising revenue generated by the pages.
However, the danger for newspapers is that their commentators drag them into peril and embarrassment. This is what has happened to the Jerusalem Post. It won’t be the last newspaper to mess up like this.