A respectful dissent, please, from Gary Rosenblatt’s column, “Don’t Just Blame the Media,” (Nov. 8). Rosenblatt asserts that “for the most part, mainstream American coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been fair.”
Agreeing with Rosenblatt is Alon Pinkas, Israel’s consul general in New York, and Daily News columnist Zev Chafets. Pinkas claims “the American media in general … is doing a good job and is not biased against Israel.” Chafets avers “there are few blatant falsehoods or shadings of the facts.”
Can knowledgeable observers such as these miss the mark? Yes, if they’re looking at the wrong target.
Pinkas’ “American media in general” and Rosenblatt’s “mainstream American coverage” are too broad and ill defined to be discussed meaningfully. But outlets mentioned in the column — The New York Times, Cable News Network, National Public Radio, CBS and ABC (Peter Jennings) — can be analyzed.
While Chafets may be correct that U.S. news media include “few blatant falsehoods” in Arab-Israeli coverage, repeated omissions of fact, lack of context and comparatively sympathetic coverage of one side coupled with dismissive reporting of the other can result in patterns of distortion.
Is NPR coverage fair? After the first two months of the current Palestinian Arab war against Israel, CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) issued a 32-page report, “A Record of Bias: National Public Radio’s Coverage of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Sept. 16-Nov. 26, 2000.” It detailed disproportionate weight and air time for pro-Arab speakers and views, “Arab only” segments, pejorative language, factual errors, distortion, concealment of facts, false moral equivalence and omission of key stories.
The conclusion: “Distorted, erroneous and biased reports were broadcast on virtually a daily basis” to the point of demonstrating pro-Arab “partisanship.”
A follow-up study of June-July 2002 NPR coverage being prepared for publication shows these problems persist.
This won’t be news to Chafets. Of NPR’s seven-part series (crippled by omissions and skewed sources) early this fall on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he observed that “if a restaurant is famous for bad food, making the portions larger doesn’t solve the problem.”
Is The New York Times balanced? From March 1 through March 18 this year, The Times ran nine in-depth, human interest stories on Palestinian reaction to continuing violence, five on Israeli viewpoints, one presenting both sides. It published three editorials condemning Israeli military actions in Palestinian areas, while publishing one supporting continued U.S. strikes against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. One news story during this period neutrally described civilian Afghan casualties of U.S. actions; two articles horrifically described Palestinian civilian suffering from Israeli strikes.
The Times coverage from March 28 through April 11, another period of terrorist massacres and Israeli military responses, exhibited the same flaws. Blatant falsehood is not the issue. A pattern of invidious double standards is.
Is ABC objective? On March 20, Jennings reported that a terrorist attack killed seven people, “most of them Israeli Arabs,” on a Tel Aviv-to-Nazareth bus. In fact, all seven were Jews, and it took numerous calls and letters to the network before Jennings made an on-air correction on May 21. The correction itself distorted facts to minimize ABC’s error.
On March 26, a uniformed Palestinian murdered two members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron. Discounting immediate testimony of a wounded survivor, ABC reported that “Israelis and Palestinians are blaming each other” for the killings.
Five days later, ABC’s coverage of a deadly terrorist bombing in Haifa quickly dropped the Israeli angle — the news lead — to focus on the distress of Palestinians and activities of “human rights activists,” actually anti-Israel European agitators, in Ramallah.
These are not isolated cases or misleading exceptions to the rule but examples of recurring patterns of unfair coverage. Similar patterns can be found at other major and influential American media.
That’s why, especially since the start of the Palestinians’ current terrorism campaign 26 months ago, American supporters of Israel — demanding not favorable coverage but fair coverage — have energized local Jewish community relations councils’ media monitoring, inspired grassroots efforts to improve local coverage in a number of major cities, and continued to join CAMERA in growing numbers.
Rather than try to “calm” the more passionate members of this movement, Rosenblatt might want to reconsider his own equanimity.
Originally appeared in The Jewish Week on November 29, 2002