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October 24 2021 5:07 AM ˚

When investigative reporting turns into spin-doctoring

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
(Photo: Jordan News)
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Jordan is a rock; it always has been and always will be. When we are faced with malice and adversity, we stand behind our flag shoulder to shoulder, fending for our country. We’ve done this over and over again; it has become like second nature.اضافة اعلان

Nothing can break us and no power on the face of the earth can shake our convictions or our loyalty to our leadership. Try as you may to rock this boat, you will find the true Jordanian mettle waiting for you; unbreakable, unshakable, and humble yet strong.

Let us dive in and talk about the latest shake up. Frankly-speaking, the Pandora Papers are about wealth per se. There is nothing whatsoever in those documents about foreign aid, or anything outside the topic of wealth for that matter.

And this is precisely the ethical and professional problem with the reports focusing on Jordan: when so-called “investigative reporting” takes a detour from professional journalism into the world of spin-doctoring. 

My issue is with the “spin” that several reports, stemming from the Pandora Papers, have added to their headlines and lead paragraphs: An unsubstantiated link between His Majesty King Abdullah’s properties and foreign aid provided to Jordan by donor countries and organizations.
What does this have to do with that? And most importantly, where is the proof? Nothing! It is all just a spin!

In public relations, and according to Wikipedia, a “spin” is a “biased interpretation of an event,” or a form of “campaigning to influence public opinion.” What we have seen over the past couple of days has nothing to do with “investigative reporting.” Instead, we have been offered third-rate tabloid-style writing with a heavy dose of editorializing.

Reporters behind the Pandora Papers have also been seen boasting, and with an obvious vendetta, about their feats on social media — as if they had no journalistic ethics nor any standards to adhere to. That is not the kind of journalism we were taught 20 years ago by the likes of the New York Times and the Financial Times (way before social media ended up corrupting the world by lowering the standards of everything). Back then, a reporter was never a propagandist.

The most recent report harping on the foreign aid angle (by Newsweek), tried to disguise the “spin” as “analysis,” quoting a professor who does not seem to have much of an idea about the ethical principles of academic research — things like verification and substantiation — which are also the bedrocks of good journalism.

Not a single American or Canadian media outlet, publishing a version of those so-called papers, have offered a shred or a whiff of proof that the King’s properties had anything to do with foreign aid. 

In fact, the Washington Post’s report, one of the most sensationalist pieces about Jordan, shoots itself in the foot on at least two counts, by including feedback from American officials saying there is no wrongdoing when it comes to aid provided by the US.

But like in any spin-doctored piece, the Washington Post buried the lead on such revelations, which can be found in paragraphs 13 and 71.

Here’s paragraph 13: “Jordan received $1.5 billion from the United States alone last year, making it the third-largest recipient of American foreign assistance, trailing only Israel and Afghanistan. US officials said that this funding is tracked assiduously and they have seen no evidence that any money was diverted from its intended purpose.”

This said, the reporter decides to spice things up in paragraph 71: “Current and former US officials expressed doubt that any substantial portion of American aid to Jordan had been diverted, citing stringent reporting requirements as well as the potentially adverse consequences for Jordan if it were caught cheating its largest source of international support.”
Let us pause and reread this carefully-curated wording: “any substantial portion,” which is another instance of blatant editorializing.

In the world of spin-doctoring, planting doubt and moving people’s minds and emotions towards certain conclusions, by using the power of suggestion is one of a few techniques to turn falsehoods into likelihoods. That is good enough for any spin-doctor. It is enough to trigger a cynic’s negative view on the world, and the average reader’s wild imagination, knowing quite well most readers have little insight into how professional journalism works versus what constitutes sheer propaganda.

This particular report also tries to shake the public’s faith in his Majesty’s identity as the Muslim custodian of “key shrines in Jerusalem,” by engaging in obvious character assassination.

Again, this has nothing to do with the tenets of good investigative reporting. The cynical characterizations included in the report are not “facts.” They epitomize pure editorializing and represent nothing more than the point of view of the writer. Not to lecture anyone on the difference between the various genres of journalism, but investigative reports are not opinion pieces, where a writer (not a reporter) is free to share his tainted view of the world.

What the Pandora Papers really want to achieve, when it comes to the reports pertaining to Jordan, is to shake the renewed regional and international support of Jordan’s custodianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque, by undercutting the country’s legitimacy with mere falsehoods.

With the new Biden administration, Jordan has seen a noticeable boost in its ties with the United States, with the domino effect of more development-based aid on its way from USAID and the World Bank, backed by political support from Congress and the Democrats, as a sign of trust.

Under former president Trump, Jordan was severely alienated, and talk about the two-state solution was at an all-time low. However, with President Biden came a new vision for the region, one that supports the idea of two states that allow Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in dignity.

This has also ushered in a new paradigm that seems to act like an existential threat to those who have a certain idea on what the Israel should look like. The concept that Palestinians deserve dignity just like any other group of humans, is new to the conversation in America, and comes on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But this change of paradigm has been heavily contested by evangelical and pro-Israel groups. Twitter is rife with template rhetoric, by mostly right-wing activists, who have been seen using expressions like “anti-Semitism” every time an American official suggests Palestinians are indeed human.

One of the most powerful moments in recognizing the Palestinians as members of the human race, and not as subpar creatures who deserve to be canceled by Israeli racism, comes from Senator Bernie Sanders’ famous New York Times opinion piece suggesting “Palestinian lives matter.”
Jordan, too, believes Palestinians lives matter.

Giving voice to the Palestinians is exactly why several reporters have decided to shake the international community’s faith in Jordan. Because without Jordanian custodianship, the Palestinians would have no staunch supporter on the international arena, fighting for their right to simply exist, and dare I say, in dignity.

To those working relentlessly to sow doubt in hopes of driving a wedge in our ranks, I say this: Sorry, but we are here to stay.

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