This morning The Australian ran a story reporting an attack by the Red Cross on the Foreign Minister for relying on a hoax in a blog to claim that last month’s Israeli missile strike on one of its ambulances. And this morning in its stablemate, the Herald Sun, Andrew Bolt uses the same unverified information as the basis for his daily column.

“It’s bad enough that friends of Hezbollah terrorists could trick so many journalists with just a tall story and a rusty Lebanese ambulance”, begins Bolt’s 1,400 word attack on the “world media” for believing what he says was a hoax that relied “largely on a fake prop, the word of an exaggerator, and an inconclusive video given to the media by an unnamed Lebanese man”.

“Worse” he continues, “is that some of those journalists seemed so eager to believe this ambulance was indeed wickedly blown up by an Israeli missile … But worst is that even now that this hoax has been exposed, none of the countless writers and commentators who fell for it have admitted to passing on as fact the propaganda of terrorists.”

But apparently it’s OK for Bolt to rely on an unattributed blog called Zombietime to back his sensational claim – the same source, it seems, upon which the Honourable Alexander Downer based his concern about “evidence of dishonesty in the reporting out of Lebanon” during his speech to the National Newspaper Publishers’ Conference on the Gold Coast on Monday.

The website, under the header The Red Cross Ambulance Incident: How the Media Legitimised an Anti-Israel Hoax and Changed the Course of a War, claims to prove that the 23 July attack, in which two ambulances were fired upon and six people injured, never happened, using photographs of an interior of one ambulance that apparently show there was not enough damage for it to have been hit through its roof.

This was good enough for Downer, who told the conference that it put it “beyond serious dispute that this episode has all the makings of a hoax”.

And despite The Australian reporting today that the group manager of the first aid team for the Lebanese Red Cross has insisted that the attack did happen, it is good enough for Andrew Bolt, who believes the unknown website’s claims over those of such disreputable media as The Australian, The Guardian (UK) and The New York Times.

In fact, the media has a new watcher, declares Bolt: “internet surfers who ask the awkward questions that too many journalists seem not to ask themselves. Not, that is, if the answer would help Israel.”

Indeed. But who is watching the News Limited columnists?

Peter Fray

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