For some weeks, upset subscribers and other Haaretz readers have been asking the newspaper for clarifications about the “cropped photograph” being shared on social networks with the caption, “Who hit whom?” Everyone was convinced that Haaretz ran that photograph recently and that someone caught us red-handed.
Since the people who shared the photograph failed to note its publication date, photographer, location or circumstances we were unable to find it in the Haaretz archives. In any case, we could neither confirm nor deny unequivocally that a photograph cropped in this manner appeared here. And since the original posters of the photograph never identified themselves they cannot be contacted so as to provide these details.
For these reasons, I replied to the first person to contact us that to the best of my knowledge no such cropped photograph had ever run in Haaretz, nor in Makor Rishon.
My assumption was that someone had tried to play a trick to show how easy it was to twist reality with a tendentious cropping job. Instead of simply writing “left-wing media” or “right-wing media,” the poster captioned the photographs with the names of the two newspapers, Haaretz and Makor Rishon. Whoever did that apparently did not know what the original photograph looked like. If he had, he would have included it for the sake of comparison.
This week, a long-time subscriber asked us to respond publicly — to deny, or (if we really did run the cropped photograph) explain how it came about and state the editorial board’s position.
After a brief Internet search, I found that somebody had already looked into the claims about the photograph, but - surprise! - prior to the accusations against Haaretz.
In the previous instance, the accusing finger was pointed at “the international media,” and the photograph appeared on a Facebook page called Gan Emuna run by the Bratslav Hasidim. (It received 3,382 "Likes" and was shared 6,538 times.)
The page did not use the full photograph either, nor did it provide any identifying details such as the publication date, the name of the media outlet or the name of the photographer.
The report by journalist Gal Mor is posted on the Hebrew website Horim Be'reshet ("Holes in the Net"). It is headed "Shkarim Vehasbar'a ("Lies and Propaganda") and subtitled, "The viral photo that was never published in the international media.”
After explaining how he reached the conclusion that the photograph was a manipulation, Gal Mor recommends: “Next time, before screaming and sharing, it’s a good idea to look into it a bit or question it so as not to become a tool of others who want only to increase the number of likes on their page.”
The whole matter snowballed from there. Somebody copied the photographs and the libel, which on the original page of the Bratslavers was directed against “the international media,” and used it to draw a false comparison between Haaretz and Makor Rishon.
Gal Mor found the original photo, from November 2005 - seven and a half years ago.
Yael Vikeman, who is in charge of intellectual property rights for the Haaretz photo archive, searched for the photo by date and credit. She found it on the Associated Press website, with its original caption, on the AP website: “Palestinian demonstrators scuffle with Israeli soldiers and border police during a demonstration against the construction of Israel's separation barrier in the outskirts of the West Bank village of Abud, near Ramallah, Friday Nov. 25, 2005 ... (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh).”
According to details attached to the original photograph, Vikeman looked for the photograph in the Haaretz photo archive. I had hoped it would be there, and that it would turn out that we had run it in full, so that the libel would be refuted once and for all, but it wasn’t there.
To be on the safe side, I looked in the print editions of Haaretz (Hebrew and English) from the week of November 25, 2005, but the photograph did not appear in them.
Conclusion: how easy it is to libel, smear and deceive ... and how difficult it is to refute such a libel. After all, as unreasonable as it sounds, it’s still possible that the photograph appeared in one or another Haaretz publications since November 2005, in full or cropped in some way, and despite all our efforts we failed to find it. The burden of proof rests with the accusers.
The author is a senior staff writer and the public editor of Haaretz.