Bibi Coverage: One Speech, Multiple StoriesMay 25, 2011 14:53 by Simon Plosker
Israeli PM Netanyahu’s address to Congress has provoked a variety of reactions. While Netanyahu delivered one speech, how the media consuming public heard it was entirely dependent on the focus or interpretation and possibly even the bias of the particular media outlet or journalist writing the story. And the story itself becomes dependent on the lens through which it is delivered.
For some media outlets, the focus was on what Netanyahu was prepared to concede in pursuit of peace with the Palestinians and the painful concessions necessary. For others the interpretation was of a hardline address presented in terms of Netanyahu’s apparent “rejectionism” and unwillingness to compromise.
We have included a link to the full text of the speech as well as video footage below so you can make up your own mind. But for those of us who don’t have the time or inclination to go directly to the source, our brief look at some of the media coverage of the Netanyahu speech illustrates how we are at the mercy of one or two journalists and editors or the particular editorial or political line of a media outlet when it comes to coverage of Israel (and other stories of course).
We take a brief look at how some of the mainstream media presented the speech, which provides an interesting and revealing examination of how different media chose to interpret or “spin” Netanyahu’s words to suit their own worldviews.
AP: Bizarre and Mendacious
The Associated Press ran with the headline: “Netanyahu: Israel ready for painful compromises” and opened with:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a cheering U.S. Congress on Tuesday he was willing to make “painful compromises” for peace with the Palestinians, but he offered little concrete to entice Palestinians back to the bargaining table.
The AP’s follow up article by Josef Federman, “FACT CHECK: Netanyahu speech ignores rival claims“, however, turned out to be the most bizarre and downright mendacious. Despite the fact that there is an Israeli consensus over issues such as opposition to the Palestinian right of return and the fact that Netanyahu faced criticism from some on the Israeli political right for making concessions over settlements in his speech, Federman claims that the “address reflected the world view of Israel’s nationalistic right wing“.
Federman then goes on to take a selection of quotes from the Netanyahu speech, without context, presenting them as factually inaccurate or even false by countering them with “THE FACTS”.
NETANYAHU: “You don’t need to send American troops to Israel. We defend ourselves.”
THE FACTS: Israel is a leading recipient of American foreign aid, including more than $1 billion in military assistance each year.
In fact, Netanyahu acknowledged in his speech the generosity of US military aid in financial terms precisely delineating how such assistance ensures that American troops are unnecessary to defend Israel. Federman claims to be writing truths that Netanyahu never mentioned or purposely omitted. Yet, Netanyahu’s next sentences following the one highlighted by Federman reveal just who is omitting real facts:
You’ve been very generous in giving us tools to do the job of defending Israel on our own. Thank you all, and thank you President Obama, for your steadfast commitment to Israel’s security. I know economic times are tough. I deeply appreciate this.
How can Federman claim that his editorializing is “the facts” while maintaining any semblance of journalistic integrity? And when was the last time the AP and Federman took apart any Palestinian speech or statement? After all, only recently, an op-ed in the New York Times by PA President Abbas was exposed as full of holes.
BBC: Promoting the Palestinian Narrative
The BBC buried a pitiful 2.5 min video of the speech along with three short paragraphs in its US & Canada news section. Instead, unlike all the other media outlets above, the BBC preferred to focus on Palestinian reaction to the speech rather than the contents of the speech itself, devoting all of its Middle East news section coverage to emphasizing the Palestinian narrative above the points that Netanyahu presented.
In addition, the BBC continues to use a map of Israel’s borders, which falsely shows Gaza as being “occupied”, a situation that has not been the case since Israel’s 2005 disengagement.
In other coverage, the New York Times framed the story through the headline: “Netanyahu Gives No Ground in Congress Speech“. Interestingly, the paper chose its focus of the story as the issue of Palestinian refugees and Netanyahu’s opposition to the “right of return”. According to the NY Times:
In so doing, he made clear that he was giving no ground on the major stumbling blocks to a peace agreement.
Both the NY Times and LA Times stressed that the speech offered nothing new from previously stated positions. Indeed the LA Times pointedly buried the following paragraph at the very end of its article:
Netanyahu also acknowledged for the first time last week that Israel would need to give up some smaller Jewish settlements in the West Bank, though it will keep larger ones, in any final peace deal.
While this important piece of information appeared as something of an afterthought for the LA Times, Reuters headlined its coverage: “Netanyahu says will give up some land for peace” and led with the opening paragraph:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said explicitly for the first time on Tuesday he was prepared to give up some settlements for peace, but he laid out familiar demands unlikely to draw the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
In a balanced piece of reporting, the Washington Post said that the speech “promised “painful” Israeli concessions in exchange for peace but also outlined a tough negotiating stance that was immediately rejected by key Palestinian officials.”
While others may have declared Netanyahu to be completely uncompromising, the Washington Post was more nuanced:
Netanyahu appeared to signal room for compromise on a key point of contention: the future of Jerusalem. While the prime minister reiterated calls for the city to remain the country’s “undivided capital,” he added new rhetoric, saying that “with creativity and goodwill, a solution can be found.”
The British press, never known for its sympathy towards Israeli concerns chose, by and large, to focus on negatives. Unsurprisingly, The Guardian called the speech “hardline“, stating that Netanyahu “remained largely uncompromising” and referred to his “at times belligerent tone“.
The Financial Times went even further presenting the speech with the headline “Netanyahu rejects Palestinian talks” leading with the statement that Netanyahu “has delivered a fiery speech to the US Congress, ruling out any talks with the new Palestinian unity government.”
Even The Times (subscription only), one of the more sympathetic UK media outlets towards Israel, presented the speech as Netanyahu’s “uncompromising vision of a Middle East peace plan“, stating:
The Israeli Prime Minister told the US Congress he was willing to make “painful compromises” for peace before outlining the many he would not: no return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders; no right of return for Palestinian refugees and no quarter for the Palestinian demand to have East Jerusalem as their capital.
Compare the negative stresses on the above with the Daily Telegraph, which headlined its coverage: “Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel willing to make ‘painful compromises’ for peace“, stating:
In a speech to US Congress, Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is prepared to give up land to achieve a lasting peace with Palestine.
The paper’s analysis also put the main emphasis of the story as:
Mr Netanyahu for the first time conceded that he recognised “in a genuine peace we will be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland”, referring to the occupied West Bank.
Sky News also presented the speech in more positive terms, running with the headline: “Israeli PM Promises Peace Bid Compromise“.
As the above overview shows, Benjamin Netanyahu delivered one speech. The media, however, produced multiple versions and interpretations of what they heard.