MINNEAPOLIS, MN, – After weeks of controversy over its Middle East coverage, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has acknowledged that its handling of May news reports about a Jenin “massacre” was, in the words of Star Tribune editors, “awful,” an “editorial disaster,” an “egregious stumble,” and an “embarrassing wart.”

The newspaper has been under fire for weeks by Minnesotans Against Terrorism for systematically deleting references to terrorism directed at Israeli civilians and doctoring national wire service copy to distort its news reports about Israel.

Responding to questions raised by Minnesotans Against Terrorism, Star Tribune editors publicly admitted in a May 12 column that the newspaper was wrong when on May 3 it re-wrote wire service stories combined from the New York Times and Associated Press (AP) in a manner which radically distorted the meaning of a Human Rights Watch report on casualties in the Jenin refugee camp.

Both the New York Times and AP stories told readers in their very first paragraph that Human Rights Watch found “no evidence” of the alleged Jenin “massacre.” But when the story was re-published in the Star Tribune, its editors fundamentally altered the story, deleting the New York Times headline — “Rights Group Doubts Mass Deaths in Jenin… ” – – and moving Human Rights Watch’s dismissal of the claimed Jenin “massacre” from the first to the 21st paragraph of the Star Tribune story.

This particular doctoring of wire copy by the Star Tribune led Wall Street Journal Online to say “the Star Tribune committed an act of bias so blatant that (its reader representative Lou) Gelfand was forced, this past Sunday, to ‘own up to a mistake.'”

In his May 12 column revealing what he called the Star Tribune’s “egregious stumble” and “embarrassing wart”, Gelfand quoted Star Tribune assistant managing editor Roger Buoen saying that these distortions were ” absolutely not” good journalism. “The top of (the Star Tribune) story did not reflect a key finding of the report by the Human Rights Watch,” confessed Buoen. “The report’s finding that there was no evidence that Israeli troops carried out a massacre at Jenin was far too deep in the story. It should have been reported in the first sentence of the article.”

Minnesotans Against Terrorism, which had been in discussions with Star Tribune managing editor Pam Fine about the Jenin “massacre” hoax and other incidents of distorted news coverage, welcomed the Minneapolis newspaper’s acknowledgement of its errors.

“We’re very gratified that the Star Tribune’s managing editor candidly acknowledged that the paper’s coverage of the Jenin story was ‘awful,'” says Marc Grossfield, a co-founder of the group. “She has said that there have been ‘editorial disasters’ in their reporting on the Middle East, and that steps are being taken to make sure these mistakes don’t continue to occur.”

“The people most betrayed by the Star Tribune’s bias are the newspaper’s readers,” adds Grossfield. “Incredibly, when the Star Tribune received word from trusted news sources — the New York Times and the Associated Press — that the “Massacre in Jenin” story had been investigated and proven false, rather than a front page pronouncement of “No Massacre”, the Star Tribune instead buried that news.”

“If a lie makes the front page headline of the Minneapolis paper, then so too should the truth,” concludes Grossfield. Fortunately, we have other sources from which we can get unbiased and accurate news on the Middle East. But for those alternatives to the Star Tribune, Minnesotans might still believe the hoax that a massacre occurred in Jenin.”

One promising sign of reform at the Star Tribune, says Mark Rotenberg, co-founder of Minnesotans Against Terrorism, is the newspaper’s increased use of the word “terrorism” to describe the targeted killing of Israeli civilians. Rotenberg noted that since Minnesotans Against Terrorism’s April 2 advertisement decrying the newspaper’s refusal to call these killings “terrorism,” Star Tribune readers finally have begun seeing dozens of references to “terrorism” incidents and “terrorist” groups operating against Israel.

“Clearly, Minnesotans Against Terrorism has had an impact in improving the fairness of the Star Tribune’s coverage,” observes Rotenberg. We look forward to working constructively with the Star Tribune’s new Editor and Managing Editor to continue improvement in the news coverage of terrorism against Israelis. However, we will also continue to scrutinize the newspaper to be sure they don’t slide back into their shameful past practice of censoring and distorting wire copy. The public interest is not served when Star Tribune editors indulge in a private agenda that skews their coverage of the Middle East.”

Rotenberg noted that Star Tribune Vice President Ben Taylor acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times on April 28 that his newspaper’s decision to censor the words “terrorism” and “terrorists” in an April 3 New York Times wire story was a mistake by an editor who “misinterpreted” the newspaper’s policy. “We were very embarrassed,” the Star Tribune’s Taylor told the Los Angeles Times.

Last April 2, Minnesotans Against Terrorism took out a full-page advertisement signed by Gov. Jesse Ventura, U.S. Senators Paul Wellstone and Mark Dayton, and more than 350 other Minnesota leaders of multiple faiths condemning the Star Tribune’s refusal to identify groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade as terrorist organizations, and their targeted killing of civilians as terrorism. Minnesotans Against Terrorism’s critique of the Star Tribune — including its mid-April revelation that the paper systematically cleansed New York Times wire copy of all references to the word “terrorism” on the very day that the Star Tribune managing editor assured readers that it “will continue to publish the word terrorist when… it appears in wire stories” — generated national and international attention. More than 40 articles, and as many TV and radio stories, have covered Minnesotans Against Terrorism’s efforts, including Fox TV News with Brit Hume, the Wall Street Journal, the O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC-TV, the Washington Times, the Washington Post the Jerusalem Post, the Denver Post and the Chicago Tribune. “We are proud to be part of an emerging national dialogue about fairness and accuracy in news coverage of terrorism against Israelis,” observed Grossfield.

The non-profit Minnesotans Against Terrorism was founded by attorney Mark Rotenberg and marketing executive Marc Grossfield, two Minnesotans who were eyewitnesses to a terrorist suicide bombing in Jerusalem. In addition to calling attention to the Star Tribune’s biased news coverage, the group has expanded its activities to include sponsoring speeches by counter-terrorism experts, coordinating rallies, and other educational activities that focus attention on the terrorist threat faced by Israelis and Americans alike.