“Palestinian Swimmer” story doesn’t get off the blocks

“Palestinian Swimmer” story doesn’t get off the blocks

By Phillip Whitten February 6, 2004

Originally published by SwimInfo.com.

“Earlier this month I came across a heart-wrenching story in my local newspaper, The Arizona Republic. It seems that an aspiring young Palestinian swimmer, 17 year-old Raad Aweisat, who had been training at the West Jerusalem YMCA until “Palestinian-Israeli violence broke out more than three years ago,” was now training for the Olympic Games in a chilly, hyper-chlorinated, makeshift pool in the backyard of some of his neighbors.

Why? After the outbreak of the Intifada, the story goes, “the YMCA told Aweisat to either join the Israeli Swimming Federation, or find somewhere else to swim, according to his father.” Nonetheless, young Raad was training (in secret because the pool did not have an Israeli building permit) for the Athens Olympics, where he “will be the first Palestinian swimmer to represent his people at the Olympics,” writes the AP’s Lara Sukhtian.

It’s a great story, with all the classic drama of David versus Goliath. You can’t help but root for the kid, the underdog struggling against overwhelming might and bureaucratic red-tape.

And, indeed, the story proved irresistible to news media around the world. It was picked up and either reprinted or elaborated upon in the Washington Post, London Times, New York Times, Guardian, Minnesota Star Tribune, Newsday and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. MSNBC picked it up, as did CNN and Reuters. It was reported in at least 60 countries in newspapers, radio, T.V. and on the Internet. At least half a dozen friends e-mailed the story to me from various points around the globe.

It is undeniably a great story. It trots out the usual villains – the big, bad Israelis, this time aided by the bureaucratic Christians. And it casts Raad, with his pure, apolitical, Olympic dream as the spunky victim.

The only trouble is: it’s dead wrong. None of the reporters or news media bothered to check out the allegations or interview a single official from the YMCA or Israeli Swimming Federation. If they had, they would have learned that almost every aspect of the story is either false or a misrepresentation of the facts.

We decided to redress that oversight.”

Click here to read the rest of this article for another example of biased, erroneous and irresponsible reporting.

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