A worthwhile article from Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review on the internet’s effect on media criticism includes this apt remark by William Powers, media critic for the National Journal:
Media critics all do the job so differently that I honestly don’t think of us as competitors. Some operate more as reporters, some as pundits, some as ideo-warriors, some as gossips, some as pure ranters. It’s like we’re a bunch of musicians reading the same sheet of music, the media, but interpreting it with different instruments and in radically different styles.
As members of that orchestra, it’s about time we at BackSpin define our instrument. Look for something more polished on our “About” page sometime soon, but for the time being here’s the skinny on this relatively new blog: BackSpin is an outgrowth of HonestReporting.com, the leading monitor of anti-Israel bias in world media, with over 60,000 subscribers. HonestReporting releases 1-2 email articles a week and encourages activism to promote fair reporting. BackSpin aims to address topics that don’t make their way into those HR articles, and supplement the articles themselves with additional information that emerges after they’re published.
So our focus is the Mideast conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (not that other one happening a few hundred miles to the East), and our overarching concern will remain the fair portrayal of Israel in world media. We believe there exists a chronic and near-ubiquitous problem of anti-Israel media bias, and that that bias is both morally wrong and deleterious to the welfare of the state of Israel. Since one of the key problems is a lack of presentation of the full context of the conflict, we occasionally present backgrounders that go beyond critiquing particular news articles to explore under-reported aspects of the conflict (like Arafat’s corruption). BackSpin is an additional forum for this background info.
BackSpin is anchored to HonestReporting, but we’ll take advantage of the blog form to sail around a bit. (That’s a musical and nautical metaphor in one posting.) Please comment often, and send us your feedback on this blog’s contents regularly.
Because of an editing error, a story on the front page yesterday misattributed a quote from the speaker on an audiotape purportedly of Saddam Hussein as coming from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. It was the speaker on the tape, not Daschle, who said, “The evil ones now find themselves in crisis, and this is God’s will for them.” The only solution for Iraq was for “the zealous Iraqi sons, who ran its affairs and brought it out of backwardness . . . to return . . . to run its affairs anew,” the speaker on the tape said, referring to the Baath leadership.
Once you stop laughing, you realize this demonstrates how precarious news reporting can be.
An Iraqi blogger posts a letter from an Iraqi property owner to NY Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger about harassment and property seizure at the hands of guards employed by the Times in Baghdad:
My family has a property in the green zone in down town Baghdad on Abi-Nuas street. The New York Times rents the adjacent property. For several weeks now my brother Ali Al Ali has been denied automobile access to our property by security guards. Until two days ago we thought this was a coalition security measure. Now we known these guards are not coalition personal but are instead the private security force employed by your news paper.
The family property has two store fronts. Yesterday (Saturday November 15, 2003) my brother and two hired men were in one of the stores installing shelves. My brother lost his livelihood in the war and needs to open this store to make a living. His efforts were interrupted by several of the security guards employed by your paper. He was knocked roughly to the floor and threatened. Your guards pointed there AK-47 rifles and my brother and his work men and told them they would be shot if they did not leave immediately.
I feel sure if learned the United States Army was responsible an incident such as this you would feel obligated to publish the story and condemn the act.
In this his case I respectfully suggest you have an obligation to do somewhat more.
The author hasn’t had any response from the Times, and asks readers to join him in sending copies of the letter. If you’d like to do so, the email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The latest report from the Palestinian Authority Finance Ministry indicates that Yassir Arafat personally received nearly 10% of the total PA budget for September. That’s 10% of $90 million, or $300,000 a day.
Let’s see how Arafat stacks up against NBA super-rookie LeBron James in daily earnings:
Yassir Arafat, Palestinian Authority – $300,000/day
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers and Nike – $46,000/day
Arafat’s outearning LeBron 6 to 1 (and we suspect he’s not paying income tax).
The Nobel Laureate “revolutionary leader” of the Palestinian people doesn’t have a $90 million sneaker deal, but he does have financiers who are finally starting to wonder.
An enterprising group of Australian media monitors has released a very thorough study that exposes the anti-Israel bias of The Age, Melbourne’s largest daily paper.
HonestReporting is hosting the report on our site: click here to see it (in .pdf format), but be aware that it takes awhile to download.
This is a model in local activism – a very convincing, well documented case that is now being presented to the editors of The Age. Critiques of individual articles are often brushed off as limited in scope, but this is a long-term study whose conclusions can’t be denied. We’ll keep you updated when we hear the editors’ response.
Each of the following two lines began Nov. 15 Reuters articles. Note which one gets scare quotes, distancing the news agency from the statement from the very start of the article:
From Many Britons Think Bush is Stupid :
More than one in three Britons think George W. Bush is stupid and a majority branded the U.S. president a threat to world peace, opinion poll results published have shown .
From Israel Denounces Blasts at Istanbul Synogogues :
Israel denounced blasts at Istanbul synagogues that killed at least 20 people on Saturday as “terrorist attacks” and said it was confident Turkey would find those responsible.
Alan Jacobs on scare quotes:
Scare quotes have two functions, the first of which is quite straightforward: They allow their users very easily to express incredulity about, and often contempt for, the views of their political opponents. But they also allow those users to avoid the hard work of thinking up their own descriptions of events or people or ideas. And they’re parasitic: They suck all their nourishment from the host words, contributing nothing of their own.
Comments to: email@example.com
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that an important meeting of international Palestinian Authority donors has been postponed because of the latest corruption charges raised by the BBC and 60 Minutes and a “damning International Monetary Fund report published in September.” The meeting was supposed to take place on Wednesday in Rome.
This organization – the “Ad Hoc Liaison Committee” – is the main funding channel for international support for the PA, authorizing over $2 billion transferred from world taxpayers in recent years.
Pressure applied by media monitors certainly played a part in the BBC and CBS revelations, so this is a great example of how media activists can directly affect the political scene, and for the better.
In the HR communique of Nov. 12, we indicated that both AP and Reuters omitted attacks in Israel when compiling lists of recent terror attacks around the world.
Reuters released an updated list today, to accompany reports on the terrible attacks in Istanbul. CNN is running the Reuters list.
Still no Israel.
But once again, if Jews were killed outside of Israel, that merits entry to the list. An explanation from the London wire agency is in order.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
As any observer knows by now, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict swings back and forth like a pendulum:
Palestinian terrorist groups and the PA talk peace; the IDF lowers its guard. The terrorists then launch a series of deadly attacks on Israeli civilians; the IDF applies pressure on the terrorists, re-entering Palestinian cities. PA leaders then call for “new talks” and the terrorist leaders (feeling the heat) become willing to enter an internal Palestinian “ceasefire.”
The pendulum has been swinging back and forth for some time now, with Israel and the US’s fundamental demand to uproot the terrorist infrastructure still unfulfilled (that’s what would end its perpetual motion). Yesterday marked a swing back to the “peace talk” side, when Arafat made some conciliatory remarks before the Palestinian parliament, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad began talking “hudna” again.
At this stage, the media generally enter a historical amnesia period and begin describing Israeli hesitancy to lower its anti-terror guard as unfairly “rebuffing” Palestinian gestures toward peace (Reuters said Arafat “extended an olive branch” yesterday). But given this well-established pattern, (and new revelations about PA funding of terror), that characterization by the media is simply unfair. Be on the lookout for it in your local coverage, and respond with the historical context that tends to disappear when the pendulum swings this-a-way.