(TFC) – Accuracy is the benchmark of journalism. It’s the most important measure. At The Fifth Column, while we often break national and international news stories first, we live by the idea that we don’t want to be the fastest source, we want to be the most accurate. It’s impossible for a journalist to personally check every detail in every article. They often rely on the research of widely-accepted sources to provide data. What happens when this information is questioned? At TFC, it launches an investigation.
Recently, data provided by IfAmericaKnew.org was questioned. Specifically, the death toll numbers related to Palestinian children killed by Israelis. The death toll numbers are highly-cited by independent and corporate media alike. There are over 16,500 backlinks to the site.
Testing the accuracy of the data requires two things. The first is to verify the stated information. Were those counted in the death tolls actually killed? Were they killed by Israelis? Were they children? The second is to test the implication. Children are perceived as innocent. Were those killed innocent?
It should be noted, this journalist believes in the right to resist occupation by a foreign power. It should also be noted that engaging in armed resistance makes a person a combatant. For the sake of establishing a line, those killed while throwing rocks were deemed non-combatants. Those killed while throwing molotov cocktails were deemed combatants.
A team combed through years’ worth of data confirming deaths by name and cross-checking those listed with available records. They also dug into the circumstances surrounding the deaths. The findings have caused our outlet to remove the site from our list of trusted sources. While we cannot find an instance in which the data materially impacted an article published by our network, it has been used for context at TFC and background information demonstrating death tolls.
Ages listed by the source were often incorrect. Sometimes it was irrelevant, whether a child was 10 or 9 when killed by Israeli airstrike doesn’t impact inclusion in the list. However in many cases, the deceased was over 18 years old and included as a child. In some cases, those attributed to Israel forces were never reasonably shown to be killed by Israeli forces, such as an incident in which a child was, in our determination, most likely killed by celebratory gunfire from a Palestinian wedding. In other cases, the child was clearly a combatant, some having actually killed opposing forces immediately prior to their death. In other cases, circumstances lead to deaths that were unavoidable in the fog of war. In still other cases, the deceased was acting as an unlawful combatant and had just killed civilians. In 2015, 16% of those listed as children were adults. In 2016, 25% were adults.
The investigation of the data has led us to a basic conclusion: in the last three years’ worth of data major factual inaccuracies exist in the information presented by IfAmericaKnew.org and its sister site, IsraelPalestineTimeline.org. Sometimes the inaccuracies are minor. Sometimes they seem to be judgment calls. At other times, they seem intentionally doctored. The case of Mohammad Nasser Tarayra is particularly disturbing as the deceased was not a child and was acting as an unlawful combatant. A relative also wound up on the list despite being 18 and being killed while conducting an attack.
In an overwhelming majority of the cases for the last three years (2017 to 2015), those killed were combatants or adults. Some were lawful combatants, some were not. The investigation certainly highlights the rampant violence those living in the area must deal with. In 2014, the Israeli attack on Gaza took place causing a massive amount of civilian loss of life. In a separate fact-checking investigation in 2014, the overwhelming majority of the reports were accurate. It should be noted, according to IfAmericaKnew.org, the site switched methods of compiling information that same year.
In time, we will release a formatted version of the findings, allowing the reader to review each case and determine on their own whether the deaths represent the factual and implied statements.