Friedman's article expanded upon an essay he wrote in the Tablet in late August. The Atlantic piece states that the Associated Press Jerusalem Bureau was especially protective of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs):
In the aftermath of the three-week Gaza war of 2008-2009, not yet quite understanding the way things work, I spent a week or so writing a story about NGOs like Human Rights Watch, whose work on Israel had just been subject to an unusual public lashing in The New York Times by its own founder, Robert Bernstein. (The Middle East, he wrote, “is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.”)...Editors killed the story.Dr. Steinberg was not surprised by Friedman's revelation that the AP did not allow contact with him about NGOs condemnation of Israel during the post Gaza period:
Around this time, a Jerusalem-based group called NGO Monitor was battling the international organizations condemning Israel after the Gaza conflict, and though the group was very much a pro-Israel outfit and by no means an objective observer, it could have offered some partisan counterpoint in our articles to charges by NGOs that Israel had committed “war crimes.” But the bureau’s explicit orders to reporters were to never quote the group or its director, an American-raised professor named Gerald Steinberg. In my time as an AP writer moving through the local conflict, with its myriad lunatics, bigots, and killers, the only person I ever saw subjected to an interview ban was this professor.
Matti Friedman’s revelations regarding the efforts to censor NGO Monitor and me as its president are not entirely surprising. Based on our experience in publishing detailed research on over 150 NGOs claiming to promote human rights and humanitarian objectives, we are aware of the intense efforts to maintain the NGO ‘halo effect’ and prevent critical debate. While the AP censorship was explicit, we have experienced similar silencing from other media platforms.He added that Friedman outlined the “ethical gray zone of ties between reporters and NGOs” in Israel, where journalists socializing in the same circles as NGO officials seek employment with NGOs, and adapt to a journalistic culture in which NGOs “are to be quoted, not covered.”
This absence of critical analysis of political NGOs reinforces their biases and the lack of professional methodology. Friedman rightly criticizes, “one of the strangest aspects of coverage…namely, that while international organizations are among the most powerful actors in the Israel story, they are almost never reported on.Dr. Steinberg created the conflict resolution curriculum at Bar Ilan and remains a political science professor at the University. He is often called upon to appear as a Middle East expert with the international media. The organization he runs, NGO Monitor, generates and distributes critical analysis and reports on the output of the international Non Governmental Organization (NGO) community. Their reports are used by government policy makers, journalists, philanthropic organizations and the general public.
When NGO Monitor was founded following the 2001 NGO Forum of the UN Durban conference, our primary objective was to open debate and provide accountability where none existed, develop systematic checks and balances, and ‘speak truth to NGO power.’ The importance of this mission has grown since then, as has the political influence of NGOs, as well as their funding and media impact, particularly in the Israeli context.
UPDATE: The Associated Press has responded that the Jerusalem Bureau did quote Prof. Steinberg during Mr. Friedman's tenure. Additional checking turned up three instances where there was a Jerusalem based AP story quoting Dr. Steinberg . The first article in July 2009 Steinberg was interviewed the promise of a U.S. Umbrella to shield Israel from Iranian nuclear weapons. The second one January 20, 2010 quoted Steinberg but picked up the story (and quotes) directly from an NGO-Monitor press release, in the final instance around the time Friedman was leaving Jerusalem (on December 15, 2011) was about Jewish extremists, lone wolf-type terrorists committing violence against Arabs in Israel. Not one of these three stories takes away from Friedman's claim.