Jerusalem resident Brian Blum had an up-close-and-personal experience with media bias this weekend. HonestReporting asked Brian to share his story in this exclusive for HR subscribers: THE ‘SETTLER’ FROM WESTERN JERUSALEM
For the past three years, I have been writing a decidedly non-political weblog called ‘This Normal Life’. My goal has been to present slices of what passes for ‘normal life’ in today’s troubled Israel.
I have very deliberately avoided presenting any particular political or religious point of view, and have turned down a number of offers for interviews with the international media, always afraid that my neutrality as an author would be compromised.
So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I agreed to be profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle. The reporter actually found me through my blog, and said he was writing a series of articles about the real people behind the headlines living their normal lives in the Middle East. As a former San Franciscan, I would be perfect, he assured me.
With a pickup line like that, how could I say no?
Imagine then my shock when I read the headline of the article about me that appeared in Sunday’s SF Chronicle (July 24): ‘Settler Hopes for Peace to Take Root.’
The last time I checked, we residents of western Jerusalem were not considered ‘settlers’. I wondered: Had the western media, which already dehumanized Israeli residents of the West Bank and Gaza as problematic ‘settlers’ and interlopers, come to consider all of Israel a controversial ‘settlement’?!
As a writer and a reporter, I know what happens in the editing process, and I know that the reporter who interviewed me, Matt Stannard, was not responsible for the headline. Indeed, Stannard sent me an apologetic e-mail shortly after the article came out, expressing how he feels ‘terrible’ and ‘sabotaged’ by whoever made what he said was a last minute overnight change.
Still, it highlights a general problem with ‘balance’ when it comes to media reporting in this part of the world.
TWISTED SENSE OF ‘BALANCE’
When I first started writing ‘This Normal Life’, I approached the Chronicle, my hometown paper, and suggested that they print my blog as a weekly column. The editor I spoke with said the only way they could do that is if they gave equal time and space to a contrasting Palestinian viewpoint.
I argued, to no avail, that my writing was not political; it was just charming little stories about daily life from an expatriate San Franciscan.
So now, when I see a headline describing me as a settler, I have to wonder ? was that the result of a complete lack of awareness by the headline writer as to what the term ‘settler’ connotes? A deliberate attempt to spice up the story ? to say ‘look, here’s a real settler who supports peace, isn’t that special?’
Or was it something even worse ? a not-so-hidden political agenda to radicalize a simple Israeli?
Whatever the intention, the words are loaded and the result tarnishes Stannard’s mostly-accurate portrayal of my life. But then, I had no illusions that the article would avoid a political point of view in the end. Stannard told me up front that he was planning on ‘twinning’ me with a similarly ‘normal’ Palestinian from Ramallah, and indeed, the cover of the Sunday Chronicle has both of us in full color.
A BELATED CORRECTION
After the article appeared, Stannard intervened and ensured that the headline of the article was changed ? several times in fact. Within hours of its original appearance on the web, ‘Settler’ changed to ‘Resident’ before settling (no pun intended) on ‘Man from Berkeley hopes for peace’.
But the newspaper that hundreds of thousands of San Francisco Bay Area readers opened with their morning coffee this Sunday had already gone to print ? with me cast as ‘settler’.
Looks like I’ll be avoiding the press for a little while longer.
Brian Blum is a journalist and entrepreneur. His latest startup Bloggerce offers publishing services to budding bloggers. He lives in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem with his wife and three children.
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