Why the Newseum Changed Its Mind About Honoring These Dead Cameramen

The Atlantic
Why the Newseum Changed Its Mind About Honoring These Dead Cameramen
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Why the Newseum Changed Its Mind About Honoring These Dead Cameramen

Two days after Washington, D.C.'s Newseum announced its intent to honor Hussam Salama and Mahmoud al-Kumi, who were killed in November while working as cameramen for the Middle East-based Al-Aqsa TV, the well-known temple of journalism has decided — for now — not to recognize Salama and al-Kumi, citing their employer's deep ties to Hamas, a Palestinian organization currently designated by the United States as a terrorist group. Newseum officials revealed their reversal on Sunday evening:

Serious questions have been raised as to whether two of the individuals included on our initial list of journalists who died covering the news this past year were truly journalists or whether they were engaged in terrorist activities. We take the concerns raised about these two men seriously and have decided to re-evaluate their inclusion as journalists on our memorial wall pending further investigation.

The decision came after extensive objections from numerous political organizations, dozens of journalists — beginning with The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper — and the Newseum's own counter-protest, which noted that "The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers all consider these men journalists killed in the line duty." 

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This is not the first time the press credentials of Salama and al-Kumi have come under dispute. New York Times media reporter David Carr received substantial criticism for identifying them as journalists in a November report about their deaths, which Carr blamed on Israeli forces. (Carr later defended the characterization: "the evidence so far suggests that they were journalists, however partisan.")

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The case against Salama and al-Kumi has so far focused on a weekly children's show called Tomorrow's Pioneers, which is broadcast on Al-Aqsa TV. The show is virulently anti-Semitic, regularly encouraging its target audience — young children — to commit violence against Jewish people. In one episode highlighted by Philip Klein at The Washington Examiner, a human-sized rabbit named Assoud promises to exterminate Jews by literally eating them.

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But this argument — that while Salama and al-Kumi never appeared on or contributed to Tomorrow's Pioneers, they clearly worked for the company that produces it — has its own critics, too. On Twitter, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald debated Tablet Magazine's Yair Rosenberg over the the distinction between Al-Aqsa's newsgathering and its propaganda: "Like most media outlets, [Al-Aqsa] has some bad propaganda & some real reporting: they deserve to be judged as individuals." And later: "I think journalists should be judged for their work, not where they do it." In response, Rosenberg wrote, "We just disagree fundamentally there. I wouldn't want to enshrine someone who worked for a racist settler magazine either."

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It remains unclear whether the Newseum will, upon further reflection, decide to honor the two men. But it seems unlikely. "Israel's American allies are particularly adept at demanding that institutions take a clear side," writes Ben Smith at BuzzFeed, "and it's not entirely clear that the Newseum has thought this one through."

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The ceremony at which Salama and al-Kumi would have been recognized was held on Monday morning, beginning with a keynote speech by NBC News reporter Richard Engel, who was captured and later freed by more than a dozen gunmen in Syria in December 2012.

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