Palestinian Affairs

BuzzFeed Expose Shows Debunked Arafat Poisoning Story Divided Al Jazeera, Generated Broad International Coverage Anyway

Controversy intensified today regarding the degree to which national and global media outlets had been overly credulous in suggesting earlier this year that the 2004 death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was due to polonium poisoning, after the disclosure earlier this week of a new French forensic report debunked the conspiracy theory. Despite there being zero plausible scenarios under which tests conducted in recent years could have detected polonium poisoning dating to Arafat’s death, an explicitly inconclusive Swiss lab report describing heightened polonium on some of the terrorist’s personal belongings was sufficient to generate broad international coverage suggesting poisoning. Skeptics quickly uncovered evidence that the conspiracy theory was being driven in part by Al Jazeera, as fodder for a multi-year series of sensational broadcasts suggesting that Arafat had been murdered. Buzzfeed yesterday published an expose based on documents leaked from inside the Qatari outlet.

And internal Al Jazeera emails seen by BuzzFeed reflect deep internal concern about the network’s relationship with the former PLO leader’s widow, Suha Arafat, and with the scientific researcher involved in the report. “We should be bringing in another independent investigator. This is going to look biased,” one Al Jazeera journalist wrote. The network Tuesday stood by its reporting, even as it carried the contradictory French report on its website.

Buzzfeed noted that the Swiss report nonetheless generated headlines “in most of the Arabic and English-language press.” Prominent examples include the Associated PressReutersThe New York TimesCNNABC NewsCBS Newsthe BBCthe TelegraphSalon. The Guardian went so far as to demand a new investigation into Arafat’s death, declaring that “the proposition that he was poisoned with polonium-210 will surprise few,” that “suspicion points strongly” at Israel as the party which poisoned him, and that “if peace is ever to be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians, the culture of assassination and killing has to stop.”

[Photo: Al Jazeera English / YouTube ]