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Media Analyses

EYE ON THE MEDIA: Still More Jennings Warp

It’s evidently a personal thing with Peter Jennings – his Israel problem. Other journalists make mistakes, or write an occasional one-sided article or fall into cliched story lines – usually without particular malice or calculation. But ABC’s veteran anchor (and senior editor) of World News Tonight betrays a bias that runs deep and sly.

Coverage of recent violence in the Middle East gives a sense of how he crafts portrayals of the conflict to delete, mute and rationalize even the most indefensible brutality against the Jews and to espouse the views of the Palestinians.

Sometimes deadly attacks on Israelis are simply omitted. Jennings’ broadcast actually excluded entirely the February 14 Palestinian bus attack on young Israelis waiting at a roadside stop. Seven, of whom five were young women soldiers, lost their lives. There was no report the day of the killings and no coverage of the funerals.

This was the entire coverage Jennings gave to the murders of Koby Mandel and Yossi Ishran (May 9th):

At a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, funerals for two Israeli teenagers. They had skipped school and gone for a hike. Their badly beaten bodies had been found in a cave near Bethlehem. The Israeli government says Palestinian terrorists were responsible. Since last September, the six –se– last September rather six Israelis under the age of 18 have been killed and 143 young Palestinians have died.

ABC flashed a video clip of a rocky valley where distant figures were seen, while Jennings’ own commentary offered immediate damage control for the Palestinians. Omitting the shocking details widely reported by other media – the bloodlust of the murderers who bludgeoned their victims to pulp, then smeared the boys’ blood on cave walls – he immediately injected the protective language practised over more than a decade. Israel “says” Palestinians were responsible, he notes, as though the identity of the killers were in dispute. And lest even his own minimal comments point too clearly at the savagery – and diminish sympathy for the Palestinians – Jennings hastened to remind viewers that many more Palestinian young people “have been killed.”

That Palestinian youth have been killed when exhorted by their own leaders to seek martyrdom at the forefront of Arab mobs launching stones, firebombs and gunfire at Israelis is unmentioned. That the tragic deaths of other Palestinian children have resulted from Israeli strikes in retaliation for the unceasing Arab violence and terror initiated against Israelis is also unmentioned.

Nor did the ABC anchor take the occasion of the slaughter of the boys to remind viewers that, in fact, each of the other Israelis “under the age of 18” has similarly been the victim of premeditated murder. A Palestinian woman lured sixteen-year-old Ophir Rahum via e-mail to a supposed tryst, then Arab accomplices shot him fifteen times; a Palestinian sniper turned his gun sights on the head of ten-month-old Shalhevet Pass and pulled the trigger; a Palestinian bomber detonated himself in the midst of school boys waiting for their bus, blowing apart fifteen-year-old Eliran Rosenberg-Zayet and thirteen-year-old Naftali Lanzkorn. None of these children was in a situation even remotely menacing to the Palestinians who murdered them.

The killing of Shalhevet Pass drew widespread media attention because she was, at the time, the conflict’s tiniest victim. But in this case too, ABC passed speedily over the event in two dispassionate sentences.

Not so, though, when an Israeli strike in Gaza accidentally killed a four-month-old Palestinian child. Jennings’ interest turned avid and, with his equally partisan colleague reporting from Israel, Gillian Findlay, the evening news presented an emotional visit to a Gaza hospital. The scene there was termed “a nightmare” and Findlay described “a mother who spent two hours in surgery fighting for her life, and her four-month-old daughter who never had a chance.”

The Netanya suicide bombing and Israeli retaliation on May 18th followed the same egregious pattern. Reversing cause and effect, ABC first presented Israel’s response, its strike with F-16's at Palestinian security sites that killed policemen, and the “frantic search for people inside.” Then came the report of the bombing in Israel 6 hours earlier; and the suggestion of a precise moral equivalence between the actions by use of the same phrasing: “six hours earlier, Israelis were frantic.”

Moreover, although ABC gave some coverage to the terrorist attack on the Jews, the segment’s focus was on the bomber, who was described in sympathetic language as “a young Palestinian carpenter.” Findlay added that, “the suicide bomber was identified by his family as a 21-year-old member of the Islamic militant group Hamas, one of many young Palestinians who’ve been radicalized by the last eight months of violence.”

There it was: the swiftly inserted and mindless defense of Palestinians who kill and maim innocent men, women and children at shopping malls. Not the Palestinian Authority’s systematic anti-Jewish hatemongering and delegitimization of Israel’s existence – but “the last eight months of violence” – has, for ABC, “radicalized” the killers.

Jennings has in the past suffered professional embarrassment as he was compelled to correct on the air multiple false broadcasts critical of Israel. The greater care and caution those reproofs engendered for a time have clearly given way to the fading anchorman’s first instincts. Now again is the time to challenge his distortions and bias.


Originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on June 1, 2001

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