This post is mainly a deconstruction of an article that appeared on the twitter feed as a source, and was an editorial. The editorial itself contained a number of factual errors that even five seconds of research could have fixed. This is in no way a criticism of the person who believed this was a decent source, ignorance is to be corrected, not criticized.

The article in particular is located on Al-Jazeera here: http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2010/02/2010225111933403649.html “Israel’s New War Against Islamic Sites”

This is extremely relevant to terrorism and the press because of the idea that incitements promote violence and the press spreads these allegation thereby hurting or helping the creation of demonstrations, riots, and violence.  The primary fault I have with Al-Jazeera is that there is no separation on their English website between editorial and their formal articles.  This is something I discovered when doing the middle east press presentation research, but never had enough time to share.  I don’t know if this is due to Arab culture, media, or tradition, but such an idea is alien to western audience which would like to believe that journalists can be entirely objective.  Of course, that isn’t possible, but the idea of mixing in editorial inside the general article section is rather unknown.  One can find this though in other Arab papers such as Ma’an, Al-Ahram, and the oftentimes slanderous PressTV.

So what makes an editorial such a bad source?  Quite frankly, traditionally, factual errors are allowed in editorial whereas not in standard articles, the level of research is not required to be has high and this causes major problems as demonstrated in that editorial.

The errors start immediately into the editorial:

In a move that appears to be a celebration of the 16th anniversary of the massacre of 29 worshippers by the terrorist Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli government has proclaimed that the Ibrahimi Mosque in Khalil (Hebron) and Masjid Bilal ibn Rabah (mosque) in Bethlehem are “Jewish Heritage sites”.

Immediately, one sees that the author has just claimed that declaring the Cave of the Patriach and Rachel’s Tomb is a celebration of what he claims to be a state sanctioned terrorist rather than the Israeli government was unaware of the date’s significance.  The latest Israeli government isn’t exactly known for competence; never assume to malice what can be explained by incompetency.  Since this is an insinuation, a balanced article, not an editorial would have removed the above.

Next problem:

It is consistent with the Israelis’ long-standing ambition to dispose of all non-Jewish religious symbols and presence in Palestine.

The Revolt: Menachem Begin

No responsible journalist what put this in article without a quote from an Israeli government or politician with high representation declaring this.  To do so is to put motivations to people that aren’t speaking, again, fine in an editorial, not good in an article.

While the Israeli government was announcing the annexation of the Islamic sites, dozens of settlers attempted to storm into Jericho on the pretext that they were visiting an ancient synagogue.

To a journalist this would be an error of omission. As the Jerusalem Post points out http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Editorials/Article.aspx?id=169374 the IDF went in and forcibly removed them and were attacked by the settlers.  By failing to mention this the author has again assigned motivation to the Israeli government without a statement, not allowed in regular articles, but allowed in editorials.

Hence, David Ben Gurion recorded in his memoirs, The Revolt: “The partition of the Homeland [Israel] is illegal. It will never…

This one was simply stupid and inexcusable even in an editorial.  A five second search on Amazon reveals that The Revolt is the autobiography by Menachim Begin, who used to be the terrorist leader of the Irgun and later signed the 1979 peace agreement with Egypt.  Seriously, how the heck did the author get this wrong?  One only has to go to Amazon to find out.

The Israeli moves come at a time of huge embarrassment for the European patrons of the Zionist project…

Again, the editorial assigns motivation without quotes from important contacts, which seems to be a pattern through this editorial.  Putting words in people’s mouths in not acceptable for standard journalism in any respect, but seems to be fine in editorials.

…European Union maintains its proscription of Hamas as a “terrorist organisation”, they are yet to produce any evidence that the organisation has carried out a single military operation outside Occupied Palestine.

Always more problems as an article that slips by because it is an editorial.  Clearly attempted attacks in Jordan http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3243639,00.html, or killing border guards in Egypt http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2010-01/07/content_12767360.htm.  I could also do a thing on the meaning behind calling all of Israel “Occupied Palestine,” but I won’t open that can of worms.  Seriously, did the person who wrote this editorial even try to do proper research and stop assigning motivations to people?  I am sure you’re noticing by now that using this as a source in a paper would be a bad idea, an essay is only as good as the source – and this source is terrible.

Meanwhile, in April 2009 the same authorities took a huge stone from the Khatouniyah Palace and embedded it in the square in front of the Knesset, claiming that this was a stone from the “Second Temple”.

More problems with this, I don’t even know what Khatouniyah Palace is? Neither does Google actually, which only list 13 sites that mention such a thing, and that includes this article – and perhaps 14 after google indexes this post.  It seems to be some reference to Ninenveh and Babylon, which is bizarre.  As Israel is legally in a state of war with Iraq and Syria there is no way that anyone could smuggle out a multi-ton stone.  This must be a rumor from someplace, but definitely not in any reputable news organization.  This event could not be found in any newspaper.  Seems to be just another factual error.

…other items were taken to warehouses run by the Israeli antiquities department in the Rockefeller Museum, ironically the former Palestine Archaeological Museum.  It is believed that the Islamic relics will be given cosmetic treatment and then reappear, miraculously, as “Jewish” relics. We know this because it’s not the first time that this has been done.

This one isn’t an obvious error, unless you know the region fairly well (which I just so happen to know this case due to pure luck visiting the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in San Diego).  The now-named Rockefeller Museum is one of the sites that the Dead Sea Scrolls are preserved and are likely, but can’t confirm to what the author is referring too.  But considering that Jordan and PA has tried to sue Canada http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/284978 over them.  The other bit of fail in this editorial is that both the Jews and Arabs were referred to as Palestinian before 1948, when the museum was called the Palestine Archaeological Museum.  So the author needs a history lesson, that’s no big deal, such mistakes are actually fairly common in editorials.

There are probably other errors, but I wouldn’t know about them in such a short span of time.  But I think this is enough to show why quoting editorials is generally not a good idea in sourcing for essays.  The level of requirements of factual details is much much lower.  Generally, if a mistake is made in an article, corrections come out within a few days.  In comparison, in the corrections section of the New York Times I have never seen a correction regarding the editorial section.  I highly doubt the editorial section of even the NYTimes is so good to not make factual mistakes.  But in the interests of allowing authors to express their opinions, sacrifices to accuracy are made to allow freedom of opinion that editorials do.  That’s fine, just don’t use them for sources.

Bad editorials give credence to terrorism as seen in N.Ireland, Israel-Palestine, Columbia, and Saudi Arabia among lots and lots of examples.  Heck, one can consider the Danish cartoons of Mohammed as editorials and look at the aftermath of that episode was extreme violence.  News organization allow factual errors to published in editorials deliberately in the interest of freedom of speech – but don’t use them as sources.