CAMERA encourages its members to organize local letter-writing teams to consistently monitor and respond to the unfair reporting in their local paper. Below are some general guidelines for how to monitor a newspaper, how to communicate with editors and what to do when editors are unresponsive to substantive objections to their coverage.
Here are some things to keep track of and to contact the editor about:
*Analyze the headlines
-Are they distorted consistently? Do they focus, for example, on Israel's response to terror, rather than on the acts of terror that provoked that response?
-If Israelis are murdered, do they headline it using passive verbs and without identifying the perpetrator as Palestinian or Arab, e.g. "3 Die in Tel Aviv" rather than "Palestinians Kill Mother, 2 Toddlers"? Do they follow the same pattern when Palestinians are killed, or do they use the active voice and identify Israelis, e.g. "Israelis Kill 9 Palestinians"?
-Do they promote false moral equivalence with headlines such as "4 Palestinians, 3 Israelis Killed," instead of "Palestinians Kill 3 Israelis in Home Invasion; Israeli Response Kills 4 Hamas Terrorists"?
-Are they overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Palestinians and/or routinely show the Israelis only as a military presence?
-After a terrorist attack, does the newspaper publish a photo of the terror victims, their family and/or gripping scenes from the bombing? Or does the paper instead publish photos of family members of the terrorist and/or his family? If they use photos of the terrorist and/or his family, do they at least balance it with a photo of an actual terror victim or his family member?
-If there was an Arab attack against Israel and a response from Israel, are photos only of the damage to Palestinian areas?
-Are there many more photos of Palestinian children than Israeli children?
-Is the imbalance a pattern or infrequent?
*Monitor the op-eds
-If the paper runs anti-Israel op-eds, are they balanced over time with pro-Israel ones? In other words, if they have a columnist who routinely takes an anti-Israel position, do they have another columnist who routinely takes a pro-Israel position? If not, do they regularly publish guest op-eds to provide that missing point of view? [Even if there is balance, this wouldn't excuse, for example, an op-ed that contained inflammatory fabrications or unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing. ]
-Are op-eds, editorials, letters and/or obituaries allowed to contain outright errors, fabrications or unsubstantiated propaganda? Are corrections made when the newspaper is notified of the error?
*Analyze the articles
-Do they present the news in a balanced, objective and accurate manner?
If not, is the reporting slanted on a regular basis or just every once in a while?
- Do articles appear to be driven usually by Palestinian complaints (the daily talking points generated by the Palestinians) or are the article topics of actual relevance to the ongoing conflict? Are the roots of the ongoing violence (e.g. anti-Jewish incitement/indoctrination ) explored? Is compliance with signed agreements by both sides explored? Does the newspaper highlight only what concessions Israel has not yet implemented, while ignoring all the significant concessions they have already implemented? Do they do this while also ignoring the Palestinian Authority's failure to implement key pledges, such as arresting and disarming terrorists who reside in Palestinian territories?
- Is the coverage only about the conflict or are there articles about the societies? Solid coverage about a country should include not only information about its foreign relations with its neighbors, but also about what it feels like to live in the country. What are the daily concerns (unrelated to the conflict) of many people living there? What are the people proud of about their country? What are examples of freedom and democratic values or the lack thereof?
- Do they label terrorists as terrorists or label them with euphemisms, such as activist, protester, operative or militant? Do they employ a double standard regarding terror terminology? Do they use similar terminology with terrorists in Europe, Iraq and Israel or do they use different terminology for those who murder Israelis in Israel?
-Do they publish human interest stories about both Israelis and Palestinians, or do they provide many more human interest stories about Palestinians?
-Are both sides heard from in the articles? And, if they do include Israeli perspectives, is the mainstream or government position heard from, or is there an emphasis on fringe Israeli perspectives? Are the Israelis allowed to rebut specific allegations made against them in the article or are they asked about unrelated insignificant issues?
-Are the terrorists who are killed and/or their families inappropriately given more descriptive, human interest coverage than the terrorists' victims and their families?
-Are death tallies presented with appropriate context, that most of the Palestinians killed were combatants, while most Israelis killed were civilians or noncombatants killed in terrorist attacks?
- Is there appropriate context and key information provided?
Sometimes the biggest problem is what is omitted...the key causes of the ongoing conflict: the constant drumbeat of incitement and anti-Semitism...the delegitimizing and rejection of Israel throughout the Arab world.
The distortion of the news caused by this lack of context, by the failure to cover key topics, should actually be a large part of any discussion with editors.
* Long-term consistent monitoring vs. individual examples
Your team can contact the editor about individual instances of unfair or inaccurate reporting, but it's also important to keep track of the coverage in a consistent way, so you can present the editor with a long term look at their practices. That way you will be able to document whether the paper is consistently unfair or inaccurate in their Israel coverage, or whether they just slant their coverage every once in a great while . If it's the former (consistently), and you have documented at least 2 months of coverage, the editor cannot reply with "We may have an occasional article that is problematic, but overall, our coverage is quite fair and accurate." The editor may sincerely believe that his newspaper is fair, but you will be able to educate him, using objective measures, that his newspaper has indeed been consistently slanted in its presentation of the news about Israel.
*How to educate editors about lack of context
- Talk with the editor about examples of incitement. www.memri.org and www.pmw.org.il are good resources. For example, when the Palestinians named soccer teams and a soccer tournament after terrorists, including the terrorist responsible for the Passover massacre at the Park Hotel, that would have been a good fact to pass on to an editor. This is a clear example of how the Palestinians glorify terrorists, thereby teaching their children to support terrorism, to dream of becoming a terrorist, and to see murdering Israelis as commendable. If the information didn't appear in your paper (it was covered by the AP), it would have provided you an opportunity to call the editor to tell him about the report, to ask his opinion of this Palestinian practice of glorifying terrorists, to generate conversation about incitement and to ask why such a report didn't appear in his paper. It would be a good opportunity to encourage coverage of this topic and to educate the editor at the same time.
- Are there any special accomplishments of Israel or the Palestinian Authority that are relevant to the American public or will particularly resonate with them? For example, regularly visit www.israel21c.org and you will read about Israeli scientific, medical, security and high tech innovations that Americans can benefit from. They will also have information about Israel's humanitarian work around the world. Share the news about a particularly interesting innovation or mission. If the newspaper has its own reporter in Israel, urge the editor to assign a reporter to write about the topic. If they don't have their own reporters there, ask the editor to find a wire story (AP, Reuters) about it. If there is no wire article about it, ask the editor to suggest such an article to whatever wire service they use.
* Organize an Email Letter-Writing Team to respond to inaccuracies, distortions or unfair reporting
- When there is an inaccurate or unfair article, an opinion item that contains an inaccuracy or a letter-to-the-editor that is problematic, your letter-writing team should be activated to respond by email. Everyone on the team should have an up-to-date email list of the team. Members should be sure to send the whole team any changes to their email address.
- Whoever notices a problem in the newspaper should send an email to the team, specifying the date, page number and headline of the item in question.
You can leave the monitoring as a general task for the whole group or you can assign specific people to monitor specific days. For example, if you have at least 31 people in your group, each person can be assigned a specific day of each month. Or, you can assign a person to monitor the coverage based on the day of the week (e.g. Stephen monitors the paper every Monday).
- Anyone who writes a letter or makes a phonecall should send an email about it to the team. A copy of the letter or a description of the phonecall should be sent to the whole team. This is helpful, particularly when an article contains numerous distortions or errors. For example, if there are 3 problems with an article, if you know Bob wrote a letter about problem 1 (because he sent you a blind copy of his letter), you can write a letter to the editor about problem 2. Rachel sees these two letters and writes about problem 3. That way it's possible that all 3 letters will be published, rather than just one of them. If there is only one main problem with an article, it's fine to all write about the same issue. But it's important that no one copies anyone else's letter and that all letters be unique.
- Be sure all team members have reviewed CAMERA's "Letter-Writing Tips" on how to write an effective letter that will get published.
If the Editor Does Not Seem to Care About Fair Reporting:
If, after you have documented a consistent pattern of slanted reporting, and have met with the editors to discuss these problems, there are no significant improvements and you sense no genuine effort by the editors to examine the issues raised, then it is time to move on to Phase Two.
It is time to educate advertisers about the paper's shoddy reporting, and to seek their help as allies in contacting the paper's management about the unfair reporting. This involves a long but vital process of building relationships with advertisers.
-Initiate a letter-writing campaign to point out to advertisers that associating their business name with an unfair newspaper loathed by many in the community may do more harm than good to their business reputation.
-Do not threaten advertisers with boycott, but do share your concerns and ask for their help. While there is generally a separation between the news and advertising department, practically speaking an editor will usually hear when an advertiser is unhappy or concerned about public complaints, and the editor may pay more attention to the issues as a result.
- Ask for a meeting with the owner or a senior executive of the advertiser, and explain your serious concerns over the newspaper's failure to adhere to accepted journalistic standards, such as those embodied in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Explain that an ethical advertiser should not do business with a newspaper that violates professional ethical codes. Be prepared to document the violations.
*Educate your community
-submit op-eds about the unfair coverage to a rival newspaper and/or to the local Jewish newspaper or other publications likely to care about the fair treatment of Israel
-encourage the local Jewish journal to assign its own reporter to write articles about the newspaper's pattern of unfair coverage of Israel and the Palestinians
-speak about the pattern of unfair coverage to groups likely to care about Israel, such as Hadassah, synagogue or church Israel committees, synagogue sisterhood/brotherhoods, etc. Ask them to get involved in writing to the newspaper and advertisers whenever they notice unfair coverage. Urge them to join your local letter-writing group.
Once your own community has been sufficiently educated about the problems, move on to the wider community, and build alliances with other pro-Israel groups, such as evangelical Christians.
Please contact CAMERA if you would like more guidance or advice on how to start a local letter-writing team.