|Jordan's press loves rumors
|In mid-June, the headlines for every news outlet in Jordan ran the quote: "U.S. presidential hopeful John Mc Cain will declare Jordan a Palestinian State." The problem: it was an unsubstantiated rumor. MENASSAT's Mohammad Abu Arkoub explores how the Jordanian media got it wrong.
June 15 was a tough day for the Jordanian media establishment. The blog Filkka Israel had just published what it said was a quote from Robert Kagan, a political adviser for U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain, during what was said to be a packed lecture at New York University. If elected president, Kapagan was quoted as saying, "John McCain will declare Jordan a Palestinian State."
The statement sent shock waves through the Jordanian press. Not least because Jordanian and Palestinian national identities were suddenly in confluence. And what of Palestinian refugees in Jordan and the Palestinians' right of return?
Jordanian websites rushed to copy the article directly from Filkka Israel, without checking the story. More than 30 news items published between June 15 and June 20 concentrated on Kagan's speech about Jordan.
The problem was the statement was not true.
On June 17, Marcia Khurma, communications manager at the Jordanian Embassy in Washington D.C., denied the statement was ever made. What's more, Khurma said, Kagan had never even given the lecture at NYU.
Jordanian newspapers, among them al-Ghad, published the denial on June 18. But this didn't stop the Jordanian press from continuing to run article about Kagan's alleged statement.
Fire, anger and articles
By most accounts, what was being written in the Jordanian press at the time was nothing less than tabloid journalism, and the majority of the press vitriol was aimed at stirring up people's emotions.
Analyst Amin Mashakia said in Awan newspaper, "Kagan's statement may be designed to win a presidential election, but statements about establishing a Palestinian state in Jordan effectively destroys the Palestinian cause and its permanent solutions [in their homeland] at the expense of the Jordanian people."
Jamil al-Nimri, a reporter with Al-Ghad, did question the source of Kagan's quote but he nevertheless joined the media chorus when he said, "The matter is worth following up and investigating given that the statement, if attributed to John McCain, is a dangerous way of solving the Palestinian crisis."
A journalist with Jordan's al-Dostour newspaper, Bater Ali Wardam, admitted that he was the victim of a rumor, and chastised Jordanian journalists and broadcast outlets for accepting gossip as fact in the same way he did.
In a column entitled, "Jordan facing McCain: The first defense line is to strengthen the people's trust in the regime," Wardam called for the necessity to strengthen the Jordanian position on the issue of Palestine and warned against accepting the wholesale promotion of American policies in the region.
Daoud Kuttab, the Palestinian general manager of Jordan's al-Balad radio and currently a professor of journalism at Princeton University in the U.S., came down hard on his adopted country's media.
"If the Jordanian press had bothered to investigate, they would have noticed in the objectives of the [Filkka Israel] site that one of their objectives was 'Destroying the kingdom of Jordan peacefully and bringing back its land to its normal situation as a part of greater Palestine.' Which showed no doubt that the administrators of this site have an evil political aim," Kouttab said.
Kuttab said Jordanian media owed the public an apology for reporting on a "fabricated" news item.
In response, Filkka Israel came out with headlines and statements celebrating its success in causing a rift between the Kingdom of Jordan and McCain.
One of the titles read, "Filkka Israel pushes the Jordanian people to the streets to object to the statements of McCain's advisor."
To its credit, The Jordan Times did have its journalists make phone calls to New York University to clarify the matter before publishing their response on the issue. By then, NYU had issued a formal denial about organizing the Kagan lecture.
Abdul Wahhab Zoughaylat, the head of the Jordanian Journalists' Syndicate and the editor-in-chief of al-Rai newspaper, gave this explanation for why the Jordanian press was so quick to latch on to a false news item and flood the news with it.
"The Israeli and American press have, in the past, published erroneous news items to feel the pulse and tendencies of general popular opinion in Jordan," Zouhaylat told MENASSAT.
However, he said this did not pardon the irresponsibility of the press. "Professionally speaking, we should investigate the news. But we sometimes ignore professional duties when it comes to the stability of Jordan. Regardless, I'm against what was published because it is a lie."
Journalist Bassem Sakhaha said there is a battle going on in the media and he warned of the dangers in ignoring professional ethics.
"We are facing a dangerous information flux," Sakhaha told MENASSAT. "Media outlets are everywhere – they're pervasive, and we are likely to get similar misinformation at any time. So not searching for the truth is disastrous. [It has made us] the joke of the international media world."