Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The DEBKA Challenge

I challenge all of you to write in and tell me about mistakes from DEBKA. I would be surprised if you found any -- other than slightly inaccurate estimates of people killed in terrorist attacks (which inaccuracies can be found in any newspaper btw). As for the liberal media, every time they neglect to call a terrorist a terrorist they are committing a far graver error than one that you could find on DEBKA. In addition to their timely, well researched reports, Debka writes concise, readable articles that don't focus on someone's individual problems. For these reasons and more I maintain that DEBKA is the best newspaper around and challenge any reader of this blog to find and show me the error of its ways.


jacob said...

I assume this challenge was extended to me.

My problem with Debka (it may have changed recently) began during the prelude to the Iraq War. I used to read Debka for the same reasons most people do: to get in depth and insightful stories that the other Israeli papers dont cover. The problem was that every few days Debka would post "Exclusives" announcing when the war would start. While most papers would say something like "war is imminent" Debka would say "Exlcusive Debka sources report that Bush has signed off on the Defense separtment's plan to begin the war at the end of November." The article would then proceed with an excellent analysis. the only problem was that the facts upon which the analysis waas based were not true. This happened all the time. Since then, I stopped reading Debka.

Since I havent been reading Debka for a while I cant really give many recent examples but here is one:

Who are the Debkafile sources? This stroy was not corroborated or picked up by any other source. Arent you the least bit curious how Debka can get access to direct quotes from private meetings that no other source can get? Let me quote you from another Debka article :
"The Saudi royal court is exceptionally secretive. Very few outsiders, or even locals, are privy to its internal intrigues. Western intelligence and diplomatic watchers are more often than not in the dark."
How is Debka privy to information that even our intellignce agencies cant get?

Lastly, while I dont claim that instapundit is the final source on anything, I will note that they dont think Debka is all that reliable either:

Hope all is well.

Zev said...

Well I think Jacob wins the challenge. I would like to offer a personal anecdote though, if I may.

I had found an article last year on DEBKA which wrote in much detail of a MI6 mission whihc was very hush hush in which hundreds of British agents were working with the Palestinian security forces. I spoke with a senior diplomat about this (while not mentioning the DEBKA article) and he told me that they had some guy from British Intel. helping the disperate factions of the Palestinian police talk to one another. It appears that DEBKA intentionaly played up a minor story to make it sound like a grand invation. It was not helpful to my work, needless to say.

josh young said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
josh young said...

fascinating. so what are you and zev up to these days?

miriam said...

"For these reasons and more I maintain that DEBKA is the best newspaper around"

i have no opinion on the substance of this post. (ok, i have an opinion, but it is not very well informed because, well, i just don't care enough, which brings me to my actual point...)
you migh try being a bit more careful with your language. believe it or not, there are newsworthy stories in the world having nothing to to with the small country in which you (and all our hearts, blah blah blah) reside. so maybe debka is, in your opinion, the best newspaper around for israel stuff, but the best newspaper at all? the error of your ways in general (and in specific, if we believe the other readers who question debka's journalism) is that you seem to be a one-issue consumer of news.

related: as for your assumptions:
"As for the liberal media, every time they neglect to call a terrorist a terrorist they are committing a far graver error "

there are different kinds of
"errors." you may think that certain word choices are "errors," but they are not the same sort of "mistake" as getting a number wrong. which brings back jacob's initial distinction between accuracy and bias. once again, if you think about this in the general context of journalism rather than the context of "someone's individual problem" (in this case perhaps your own, or my won, or whosevers...), you might reach a somewhat more qualified conlusion.

happy thrusday.
and if you feel like i was harsh, i will make fun of myself a bit by reminding the world that i am thoroughly unemployed - hoorah!

jacob said...

I just want to take issue with miriam's critique of Yehuda's contention that Debka is the best paper around. The US and Israel have by far the freest press and "best" journalistic options. Thus, if Yehuda believes that Debka is the best Isralei newspaper, it isnt so ridicuolus to believe that it is the best around. (Please dont write telling me how great the BBC or British papers are)
Further, why must the definition of "best" in the context of newspapers include coverage of a broad range? Simply because a paper doesnt cover the AIDS epidemic in Congo (spare me the heteronormative eurocentric nonsense) does not diminish its quality. A paper should focus on "important" matters. This is not an objective determination. The Aids epidemic in congo simply does not effect that many people outside of the congo. Even if it did, Debka only claims to cover certain news stories. So long as it accomplishes its mission well (I think it doesnt) it is a good paper.

Yehuda said...

I am sorry I have not responded to my provocative post, but I was vacationing in Haifa.

Jacob: First of all, Debka has improved tremendously in the last year. When it reports rumors, it reports them as rumors. If I recall correctly, Debka was not the only newspaper incorrectly predicting when the war would start (or when the Gaza pullout will start). Also, I think it is only because they try to list their sources that they sound so dubious. Other newspapers often do not list their sources at all, or sometimes refer to "Palesinian sources" in such a vague way that one gets the impression that they are interviewing some random person they found on the street in East Jerusalem.

Zev: Every newspaper has to take a gamble as to what is minor and what is not. Sometimes they are wrong. Recall, for example, what happened in Jenin a few years ago. A relatively minor operation was billed by most major newspapers as a "massacre". American newspapers are the worst for exaggeration. Think about the Michael Jackson case, or the OJ Simpson trial. These are minor court cases that the news media bills as major events. Debka did not report anything about this American media idiocy.

Miriam: As for the "distinction between accuracy and bias", it seems alot like the distinction between facts and values.

Sam said...

Hilarious! I very little to say about DEBKA because I very, very rarely read it, and then only in English. I did enjoy their article about how Islamic Jihad may have been planning to assassinate Steven Spielberg in Malta (perhaps in response to the Sami al-Arian case!). I prefer the BBC and the New York Times.

But Yehuda, I feel obliged to respond to your Michael Jackson slight. You might not remember, but Michael Jackson was the biggest pop star of the 1980's and one of the biggest recording artists ever. According to the AMG, "Thriller" sold 40 million copies in its initial chart run! Your parents probably own a copy. People still dance to his hit singles all over the world. He is fabulously wealthy—at least, he was once—and grotesquely weird. It makes for great TV.

jacob said...

If you want a source of info that is relatively scandal free (not the BBC or NYT - that's for sure), accurate (not Debka or NYT), covers a broad range of topics (not Israeli papers), is not very biased (noone can claim that any of the papers mentioned above are not biased) then you must read the WSJ.

Should you need examples of why other papers are bad, let me know which ones you want to know about.

Yehuda said...

I have two problems with the Wall Street Journal.

1. They charge you for everything, including the website.

2. They have no pictures.

jacob said...

There are some free features on the website and you can get some of the editorials and opinions on

The Debka pictures are not all that great either. (Noone is going to beat the NYPost) BTW, do you read Debka english or Hebrew? is it a translation or do they have different material on the site? I ask because it may be that my comments on Debka in general are really limited to the english site and you might be reading the Hebrew site.

Yehuda said...

I read the English site mostly, but I often look at the Hebrew site. One is not exactly a translation of the other. The main difference that I can see is that the English site tends to put the sources in a more prominent place (e.g., the title or the first line of the article) whereas the Hebrew Debka will not emphasize their sources, but it will say which articles are only Debka articles. The order of the articles is usually a little different as well and there are some articles that only appear on one of the sites. The Hebrew site tends to be slightly more middle-East oriented and will omit articles that they think Israelis can get elsewhere. In general, I would say that the Hebrew edition is more gossipy and less like a newspaper, but that it does have some interesting (often dubiously supported) analysis that cannot be found elsewhere.

Dan said...

As I don't really have time to read anything on a consistent basis, I can't comment on which source is "best." I can tell you that the Journal certainly has its fair share of bias, and every once in a while I see people who prefer the FT over the Journal for that reason alone.

At times, I guess my only choice re: newspapers comes down to which is more entertaining - the Onion or the NYPost.

Sam said...

Unlike the rest of you, I am unconcerned with bias. On the contrary, the (particularly American?) conceit of unbiased news leads to a great deal of muddle-headed false equivalences and poor reasoning. We are not sure which of these two alternatives is correct, therefore both are equally true ... Spare me please!

I'll read the Times, the BBC, the NYRB, the Guardian, the Economist, etc. and you can have your newspapers, radio, and TV. If you want to read newspapers that use the word "terrorist" a lot, great. Or, if you would rather read a lot of insinuation and dodgy technical data masquerading as news at, say, DEBKA, fine.

Yehuda said...

I never said that Debka was unbiased, I only said it was accurate.