Fessing Up To Media Bias

As the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues, some senior journalists are analyzing media coverage over the last 21 months — and they don’t like what they see.

One of the deans of American journalism, Marvin Kalb, recently analyzed “The Middle East and the Media” on Ben Wattenberg’s PBS show, “Think Tank” (May 11). Kalb, the veteran diplomatic correspondent for CBS News and NBC News and former Harvard professor of history, charged that general media coverage was “tilting pro-Palestinian.” Said Kalb:

“In my judgment, my personal judgment, is that [the coverage] is tilting pro-Palestinian. And let me give you the evidence for that. When several days ago, week or so ago, the President and the Secretary of State began to ask Prime Minister Sharon to pull Israeli forces out of the West Bank, the Bush doctrine stated not only Israel pull out of the West Bank, but the Palestinians and Arab world [were told] you have to do something to proclaim your opposition to terrorism. [Bush] balanced his ticket, but the coverage was not balanced; it was strictly — or strictly is too strong — it was largely [blaming] the Israeli side, ‘Get out of the West Bank.’ And you would find verbs like ‘Israel defies President Bush.’ And it set up a collision between Israel and the United States… But deep down there is not a collision. There is a greater collision, in my opinion, between the United States and the Arab world, than there is between the United States and Israel, but the press covered it as if it was a collision strictly between two democracies.”

Today, Kalb heads the Washington office of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy. In his interview, the influential journalist remarked on the media’s use of the term “occupation”:

“The word ‘occupy’ is used a great deal. The Israeli forces ‘occupy’ the West Bank. The word occupy was not used when the Americans moved into Afghanistan. We didn’t ‘occupy’ Afghanistan. But now the word is being used, for example, on the Israeli side, partly because the Israelis have been in occupation of an area since 1967, so it sort of slips in easily. But I think good journalists ought to think about what they’re saying. Occupation is a tricky term that the Palestinians use all the time and it evokes strong negative feelings and images. But you have to ask yourself what is, in fact, happening.”

Read the full Kalb interview at:
http://www.pbs.org/thinktank/transcript989.html

==== A CRITICAL VIEW FROM ISRAEL====

The editor of Ha’aretz, Hanoch Marmari, spoke last month at an editors’ conference in Brussels and lashed out at the international media’s coverage of the conflict. Marmari pointed to the case of the Abu Ali family; the media reported on the alleged death of their nine children, and it was later revealed that no harm befell them. Says Marmari:

“The last 20 months of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have created a crisis of values for journalism. The coverage and comment have exhibited four fundamental sins: obsessiveness, prejudice, condescension and ignorance. The story of Abu Ali conveniently exemplifies all four. The intensive media coverage of the conflict is often so self-absorbed and so harmful to the region that it is a disgrace to our profession. I wonder whether the disseminators of the Abu Ali story were conscious of the impact they may have had on readers, from the back streets of Jakarta to the universities of Boston, from the Muslim neighborhoods in Marseilles to the Jewish community in Toronto. Were they conscious, one wonders, of the effect of their story on the parties themselves?”

Marmari also attacked the media’s willingness to accept at face value the wild claims of Palestinian spokesmen: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deceptive. Practically, acquiring information from the region is easy, but it is no simple task to assess to what extent that information reflects reality. What the ears hear, particularly in the Middle East, can be seriously misleading, if it isn’t backed up with additional information — or carefully attributed to its source. It can be difficult to distinguish between a solid source providing an accurate account, and someone lying through his teeth in the service of his nation, or pushing an elaborate but baseless conspiracy theory. Exaggeration, disinformation and provocation are the region’s stock-in-trade.”

Excerpts of Marmari’s speech were carried by The Los Angeles Times.

HonestReporting recommends sharing the above critiques with your local editors, as a means of opening a dialogue on the topic of media bias and the Mideast conflict.

====== FESS UP AND COVER UP? ======

The ongoing debate between media activists and the Minneapolis Star Tribune is reaching new heights of drama.

According to the latest communique from Minnesotans Against Terrorism, the Star Tribune admitted “egregious” mistakes in reporting on Jenin and acknowledged that its coverage was “awful” and “embarrassing.”

The activists reported that the Star Tribune’s ombudsman Lou Gelfand wrote a May 12 column to “own up to a mistake” and admit to an “egregious stumble” and an “embarrassing wart.”

Curiously, archives of Gelfand’s columns from the past six months appear on the Star Tribune website. Guess which column was deleted from the archives and then reinstated following public complaint?

The campaign against the Star Tribune’s bias is well documented on http://www.minnesotansagainstterrorism.org/, the group that inspired the current massive campaign of http://www.TerrorPetition.com/.

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.

HonestReporting.com

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