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Say it, don’t spray it

July 31, 2009 – 11:24 am12 Comments


by Jewin’ the fat.

(Read a longer version here.)

In the spider-web of facts, many a truth is strangled — Paul Eldridge

It’s funny how the media works in Australia. Newsworthiness (which sounds like a made up word, but is describing the distinct power of the story to sell papers) is a fluid concept, and entirely dependent on your geographic, socio-economic, ethno-religious, or football-code preference/affiliation.

So when we begin to unpack the quality of reporting on an issue, we are privy to a variety of components, which all add (or subtract) value from the facts (or fictions) being presented, including the allegiances of the editor, photographer, journalist and reader alike. Anne Barker, Middle East correspondent for the ABC  was in Jerusalem on July 4, covering one of the variety of protests that are held in the city every week.

In this case, ultra-Orthodox men wereout in force, protesting the Municipality decision to open a car park on the Jewish Sabbath, thereby enabling Jews and non-Jews alike to drive, which is against the laws of the day of rest. But coupled with protests against the handling of the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox woman, these protests were not just about a car park, but about the respect of the Jerusalem Municipality for their extremely religious residents.

Barker admits here to her own mistake, saying “I was mindful I would need to dress conservatively and keep out of harm’s way. But I made my mistake when I parked the car and started walking towards the protest, not fully sure which street was which.”

Itis clear from the images we have seen of these protests that these are angry people, demonstrating their right to assemble, with unfortunate consequences for Barker, as she continues:

“I was aware that earlier protests had erupted into violence on previous weekends – Orthodox Jews throwing rocks at police, or setting rubbish bins alight, even throwing dirty nappies or rotting rubbish at anyone they perceive to be desecrating the Shabbat.

I suddenly found myself in the thick of the protest – in the midst of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in their long coats and sable-fur hats. As the protest became noisier and the crowd began yelling, I took my recorder and microphone out of my bag to record the sound. Suddenly the crowd turned on me…”

Now let’s call this what it is – a far from naive foreign correspondent, who by her own admission has covered far more dangerous situations around the world, walks straight into the middle of a protest by an ultra-religious group which, again, as she says, she didn’t even understand.

“I wasn’t even sure why the mob was angry with me. Was it because I was a journalist? Or a woman? Because I wasn’t Jewish in an Orthodox area? Was I not dressed conservatively enough? In fact, I was later told, it was because using a tape-recorder is itself a desecration of the Shabbat even though I’m not Jewish and don’t observe the Sabbath.”

Barker’s conclusion that the crowd should have been “charitable or benevolent”, because they were “supremely religious” is far beyond the scope of this analysis, and is a thoughtless and green deduction. Nonetheless, it stands to reason she is surprised to be surrounded by hundreds of men, spat on, and allegedly hit from behind. She retreats behind the line of Israeli police keeping the protesters at bay.

No matter your opinion of Jews, or religious Jews, or journalists, no body deserves to feel “humiliated and degraded” for just doing their job. And apparently, other people agreed. Within hours of her personal account posting online, the story spread halfway around the world, and an op-ed by Joseph Wakim was posted on ABC Unleashed.

So that pesky ‘newsworthiness’ thing. Huffington Post specialises in picking up news from all over the world, and they deemed this story big enough to include in their wrap up. There is a dedicated Jewish weekly newspaper – The Australian Jewish News – which should have been very interested in the issue. More broadly, Barker, as an Australian citizen, should have been all over the national Australian newspapers as a shining example of the courage and fortitude of the intrepid reporter.

So the question must be raised as to why commercial and mainstream news media simply didn’t pick up on the story. After all, it was only reported on one media website – the rest didn’t want to touch it. Was it the poor professionalism, the crazed nature of the protest, or simply a matter of ‘wrong place, wrong time, stupid journalist’?

Why was this story not deemed newsworthy?

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  • frosh says:

    As a general rule, when a journalist makes themselves the centre of a story, as Ms Barker has done in this case, I’d be even more cautious than usual in evaluating the veracity of the story.

  • Tsafanyoh says:

    As a Middle East correspondent she really needs to do more preparation before going into volatile areas. (Albeit in this case, merely an area of poor oral hygiene.)

    She had the savvy to park her car a distance away from the area.. but then pulls out a tape recorder?? Thats insane! I feel sorry for her, because no-one deserves to be treated like that, but as a Middle East correspondent she should know better.

    I don’t even want to think what would have happened to her had she been in one of Israel’s neighboring countries and had not done all her homework before walking into a situation such as this.

    As sad as it is for me to say, the Middle East is an extremely male dominated area.. (Israel a notable exception).. but as a female Western reporter, I would suggest that she goes into potentially dangerous areas with a male escort who speaks the local language and who preferably is armed. (No not THAT type of ‘escort’!)

    As far as the story’s ‘newsworthiness” goes.. I think the media know that reports on MJ and Megan Fox sell more papers. Sigh..

  • The Hasid says:

    She got SPAT on!
    Rained upon with spit!

    It’s a shandeh*. Really.

    Frosh, do you seriously doubt the veracity of the article? How else is Barker meant to frame it, if not with herself at the centre? It was a first-hand account of being physically assaulted by an angry mob.

    * great shame; scandal

  • jewinthefat says:

    Hasid I do not doubt she was assaulted – in fact, it doesn’t surprise me. Considering the veracity of the protests and the indignation of the crowd, anyone who pissed them off even slightly would have got it in the neck.

    But the question I am asking is why the story WASN’T picked up by Australian or Jewish news sources outside of Israel. The only Australian media outlet to broadcast the incident was the ABC, through the online personal account of Barker, linked in text.

    Perhaps you can give us your thoughts on the question of why the story wasn’t covered? Scandal aside, was the story not covered, because, like Wakim says, Jewish people are meant to be civilised, Westernised, incapable of such disgraceful behaviour (forgetting of course the Cronulla Riots, Waverly/Bondi Beach property destruction)? Or was the coverage quashed because Anne herself realised that there was nothing to it, and had she not turned on her tape recorder (or done her homework prior to her assignment), the issue would never have been raised?

  • The Hasid says:

    Mmm. Think I may have gotten a little carried away with responding to frosh’s comment there!

    It’s a good question, jitf. I don’t know why this story wasn’t picked up. My guess would be that it is a combination of factors suggested in your post and the comments above: the fact that the reporter made a serious error of judgment, and while it doesn’t make her experience any less awful, it may make the story less “juicy”; and also perhaps a fear of being accused of anti-Semitism for writing stories that paint Jews in a negative light. I don’t know.

    What I do find interesting though is the “logic” behind the notion that because Barker should have known better, the story is somehow less newsworthy. I know that the analogy I’m about to put forward isn’t quite the same, but: if woman in a Muslim country ruled by sharia law had an extra-martial sexual relationship and was stoned as ‘punishment’ we would never say, “well, she should have known better than to have sex with someone who wasn’t her husband”. (At least I hope not.) We would condemn it as the injustice that it is, regardless of the fact that she would have known she was committing a crime.

    Similarly, with Barker (and I’m not saying that what she experienced was in any way comparable to being stoned!), shouldn’t we just condemn the behavior of the spitters as reprehensible without any caveats? Why should the ‘context’ somehow attenuate our response?

  • frosh says:


    I’m not arguing that a journalist should never make themselves the centre of the story.

    I’m only stating that in general, I am cautious about accepting the veracity of a story, and more so when the journalist is at the centre of the story. All sorts of motivations (self-promotion etc) come into play.

    As for being drenched with spit, I am not sure about this. Perhaps I am idiosyncratic in my physiology, but I find it rather difficult to summon enough saliva, and then to accurately project it on someone, in order to make any real moistural impact. I doubt a mob of untrained spitters would be able to coordinate enough hits. The whole things reeks of Lee Harvey Oswald.

    In fact, for a bit of our own self promotion (of Galus), and in the interests of science, I am willing to put my own body on the line.

    Let’s assemble a mob of people (religious or otherwise), and let them all try to spit on me. I think it will be more difficult than one might imagine for them to make me “saturated”* or “drenched,”* but perhaps I’ll be proved wrong.

    We can film it and put it on Galus.

    Who wants to volunteer to be part of the mob?

    (Yes, this is a genuine proposal, and I promise not to hold any grudges on successful spitters).

    *These are the terms used in the news reports.

  • frosh says:


    I find the idea that media would not report the story because it doesn’t fit well with the image of Jews to be rather unlikely.

    Firstly, the media loves “Man bites dog” stories.

    Secondly, The Age (and all of Fairfax), ABC, SBS, The New York Times, The Guardian etcetera, etcetera are hardly averse to reporting stories that make Jews look bad.

  • In this instance, I actually think it’s the journalist who is likely to look bad if the story is suitably publicised. While what she went through was disgusting, and while the individuals responsible for spitting on her (irrespective of the accuracy or the quantity!) need their heads examined, I still think that it reflects poorly on Australian journalism and I’m not so surprised that they’ve avoided it.

    She pulled out a tape recorder! Wasn’t somebody able to better advise her? Evidently not, and even though she certainly didn’t deserve the physical abuse, it relects on the incompetence of her entire entourage. It also speaks volumes against the citizens of Mea Shearim, but her own error makes the whole thing suspiciously like Jew-baiting. I would have felt very uncomfortable seeing it on TV.

  • frosh says:

    A couple of things to add to my previous comment…

    Given that a journalist is at the centre of a story, this might be why rival media organisations have not given it that much of a run. I think it has to be really newsworthy for media organisations to run a story that essentially serves to promote the profile of a journalist from a rival organisation.

    For this reason, I doubt you will see the AJN publish the story of our experiment where we get a mob of volunteer spitters to try and drench me with spit. Still waiting on people to sign up by the way.

    Having said all this, the Barker story has got far more coverage here than the story of the Gazan father who this week bludgeoned his daughter to death with an iron chain because he believed her to be speaking on the phone with a man outside of her family.

  • The funny thing about this story is that it isn’t against halacha to be recorded on Shabbat by a non-Jew. She’s just standing there holding a microphone and you continue to do whatever you are doing. There is much more I can find wrong with throwing stones!

  • The Hasid says:

    frosh, I rarely find good cause to use this abbreviation in my day-to-day life, but: OMG.

    LOVE your idea. Inspired. I’m in. Off to practice spitting technique.

  • Efenios says:

    A non-Jew may turn on a tape on Shabbat. She should have called out in Yiddish “I am not Jewish”

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