Photo Credit: Facebook, Lori Lowenthal Marcus, composition
Former AP reporter Matti Friedman (upper left), AP director of media relations Paul Colford (upper right), former AP reporter Mark Lavie (lower left), former AP Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Gutnik (lower right)

So we wrote to Colford, asking him to clarify his response about the alleged ban and about the spiking of a specific article by Friedman.

“PLEASE CLARIFY: Was there a ban by AP on interviewing Steinberg or using NGO-Monitor materials during or immediately following Operation Cast Lead with reference to that conflict?” and “PLEASE CLARIFY: Was such a story written by Friedman and then not run by his AP editors?”

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Now it was the AP’s turn not to respond as quickly as desired. After a second nudge, Colford responded. His prior categorical pronouncements were replaced with the modest claim not to know anything about a story Friedman alleged had been killed.

Really, Colford seemed exasperated. How could he know what happened “under an editor who no longer works for AP.”

But if Colford couldn’t know about what had happened under the now-departed editor, then how could he state so unequivocally that there was no ‘ban’ on using” Steinberg or NGO-Monitor at the relevant time? And how could such a claim be the underpinning for his public statement upbraiding Friedman, essentially calling him a liar, if that alleged ban occurred “under an editor who no longer works for AP”?

But that isn’t all.

Colford now backed away from his position that The Jewish Press should simply run, without any questions asked and certainly none answered, his AP rebuttal to Friedman’s article.

“I trust, in fairness, you will link to our statement rebutting Mr. Friedman’s accusations, which have received prominent attention on your site.”

Well, no, not yet. Not until we understand what exactly the AP is claiming was inaccurate about our article.

We next asked Colford to provide us with links to the articles he referred to in his statement that the AP had cited Steinberg “at least half a dozen times” since Operation Cast Lead. “At least half a dozen” is pretty specific, so, presumably, he had a read out of those stories.

We also asked him whether he could “categorically state that there was no ban on interviews with Prof. Gerald Steinberg and/or use of NGO-Monitor materials during and immediately after the 2008-09 Gaza-Israel conflict?”

Finally, as Colford was apparently unwilling to ask anything of a former AP editor, we asked for contact information for Steve Gutkin, the AP Jerusalem bureau chief during the relevant time period.

Colford ignored the request for Gutkin’s contact information. He also ignored the direct request for a categorical denial that there had ever been an AP ban on Steinberg or NGO-Monitor.

As the exchanges took place during several hours on Monday, Dec. 1, we were, at the same time, also seeking to further nail down other points Friedman had made in his articles.

MATTI FRIEDMAN RESPONDS

We caught up with Friedman during the day on Monday and asked: Had we correctly understood Friedman’s claim of a ban limited in time to either during or immediately after Operation Cast Lead, and was it also limited to comments regarding the credibility of either NGOs or of specific statements of NGOs that harshly criticized Israel’s actions during Operation Cast Lead.

Friedman told The Jewish Press, via email, that “I stand by every detail in this essay, and in the last one.” He also reiterated what he wrote in his article, that the ban on using Steinberg was “explicit.”

So, at least we were – according to Friedman – still correct in understanding Friedman’s Atlantic article to mean that Steinberg was off-limits as a source for assessing the credibility of NGOs attacking Israel’s performance during Operation Cast Lead.

AP’s ‘PROOF’ THERE WAS NO BAN ON STEINBERG

What Colford did eventually provide was a printout of articles with AP bylines in which Steinberg had been quoted. In all, there were nine articles (in a subsequent email Colford listed another AP article citing Steinberg. That one, dated 2014 and about the NGO GreenPeace, had nothing to do with Israel.)

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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the JewishPress.com. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com