‘Crossfire’ Fallout at AJR

In the June/July issue of American Journalism Review, Barbara Matusow covered the contentious topic of criticism of Middle East news coverage. In avoiding any substantive assessment of the content of the criticism, Matusow’s overarching message was simply that journalists are a blameless, beleaguered group, assailed by propagandists and baseless accusations. Her implication was proven baseless when CAMERA prompted the following correction on Matusow’s own report.

Error (American Journalism Review, Barbara Matusow, June/July 2004): To understand the particular tensions in Gaza, for example, and why Israel is contemplating a pullout, it’s necessary to know that this tiny strip of land is home to 1.2 million Palestinians, while 7,500 Israeli settlers occupy 25 percent of the land and control most of the water resources.

(August/September 2004): In “Caught in the Crossfire” (June/July), Barbara Matusow wrote that Israeli settlers occupy 25 percent of the land in the Gaza Strip and control most of the water resources. According to the Institute of Applied Research in Jerusalem, the Palestinians control 95 percent of the water resources in Gaza. Estimates vary widely when it comes to control of the land, however. A June 2004 report on Gaza by the World Bank states that 15 to 20 percent of the land is occupied by settlements.

The correction is in response to a June 24 letter from Andrea Levin, CAMERA Executive Director, to AJR Editor Rem Rieder. Significantly, Matusow’s errors, like the vast majority of errors concerning the Arab-Israel conflict, are damaging to Israel, thus underscoring the importance and validity of CAMERA’s leading role in exposing and fighting anti-Israel media bias. 

CAMERA’s Letter
The August/September issue also contained a number of letters–mostly critical–about Matusow’s article. Among them was the following letter from Andrea Levin, CAMERA’s Executive Director:

Regrettably, Barbara Matusow’s article lacked even passing reference to the many substantive concerns raised by the public. Instead, the author caricatured critics generally as self-serving propagandists assailing blameless journalists.

In characterizing the work of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, the author mentioned a side-note of an in-depth study of National Public Radio. She omitted the central conclusion of the survey, which is prominently stated and illustrated with graphics – NPR’s disproportionate reliance on Arab or pro-Arab speakers.

Though she asked in an interview what I considered to be the single greatest shortcoming of the media in reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict, my answer was also omitted from the piece. For the record, this is what I said: In the decade since the signing of the Oslo agreements, the arrival of Yasser Arafat in Gaza and the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the media have overwhelmingly failed to report the indoctrination of the Palestinian public in beliefs antithetical to peace. Arafat promptly turned every apparatus at his disposal to the teaching of hatred and rejection of Israel as a sister nation. Television, radio, newspapers, schools, mosques, summer camps, soccer tournaments, public rallies all became vehicles for the message that Israel and the Jewish people have no historic, legal or religious rights to any of the land and, in fact, are thieves to be driven out.

The lethal role of hate education in fostering a generation of youth unwilling to compromise and coexist with a non-Muslim nation in a Muslim-dominated region is still unreported.

Matusow’s focus on the frustrations of journalists besieged on all sides by critics is a fair topic for discussion, but to suggest that criticism is off-limits and that every journalist is wrongly faulted is absurd.

NBC Weighs In
A letter from Bill Wheatley, Vice President of NBC News, rejects Matusow’s allegation that his network receives less criticism about its Israel coverage than ABC “because they [NBC and CBS] do so little coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Citing Tyndall Report statistics which show that NBC dedicates the most coverage to the conflict out of the three big networks, Wheatley argues that his network receives less criticism because it is superior to his competitors’. Indeed, CAMERA dispenses criticism only when criticism is due. Bravo to NBC News and correspondent Martin Fletcher, recipients of an Alfred I. duPont Columbia University award, for their superior–and more extensive–coverage of the conflict.

Final Postscript
Letters from two individuals and from four organizations (NBC, CAMERA, CRISIS:ISRAEL, and HonestReporting.com) regarding Matusow’s article appear on AJR‘s Web page. Three of the organizational letters were critical of the AJR article, while one, from CRISIS:ISRAEL, praised Matusow and criticized some Jewish newspapers for supposedly underplaying “important stories which unfavorably portrayed the Sharon government.” And which one of these four organizations got a Web link after their letter-to-the-editor? You guessed it, CRISIS:ISRAEL.

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