New Tool in Fighting Media Bias Is ‘Bad News’

Without mentioning Israel at all, how can you make people understand anti-Israel media bias in a matter of minutes and at no cost? Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, a retired internationally renowned environmental expert and business consultant-cum-purveyor of bad news, believes he has the answer.

It is completely novel, it reframes the discussion, and it makes the Netherlands look very bad.

The idea and format are simple. Gerstenfeld, chairman of the steering committee for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, posts four negative news items on his blog, called “Bad News from the Netherlands,” five days a week. He provides a short English summary of the Dutch articles and their links, all drawn from major mainstream Dutch media outlets, and dealing with negative aspects of culture, economy, military, government, medical care and any other element of Dutch life. He includes little or no commentary of his own. (His blog is a private endeavor, and not a project of the JCPA.)

The top of his blog clearly states:

This project sets out to demonstrate that media coverage can degrade a country’s image by using selective news without context. It uses the Netherlands as an example. It is a reaction to the frequent misrepresentations of Israel in many ways in major media, including those of the Netherlands.

From the time he started the blog in October 2007 until his July 2008 interview with On Campus, Gerstenfeld accumulated some 700 items of bad news about the Netherlands.

‘Bad News’ Benefits

How can bashing the Dutch be good for Israel?

In a number of ways, the Vienna-born Gerstenfeld maintains, pointing to the project’s “multi-faceted” nature. For starters, “it exposes a substantial part of the foreign correspondents in Israel because there are only two differences between Bad News From the Netherlands and what they do. One, I honestly say I distort the news while they distort and don’t say so. Secondly, I don’t give good news,” whereas many correspondents do intersperse some good news along with the disproportionately negative and distorted coverage, which has the effect of blurring what they’re really doing.

A quick scan of the home page, which has two days worth of coverage (everything else is archived), “can change your opinion about a sizeable country in two minutes,” says Gerstenfeld. “A person who reads this even knowing that I use a distorted method gets the impression . . . that the country barely functions.”

“Imagine what distinguished journalists do to Israel when they report negative items, some invented, some with false comments, for years,” he adds.

And, Gerstenfeld maintains, it serves as an eye-opener about media coverage. He recounts that a Dutch policeman who attended a “Bad News from the Netherlands” seminar he gave in the summer of 2007 responded: “The news items are all known to me, as they are printed in the major newspapers. But the fact that you put them together will cause me to look at Dutch news in a radically different way.” The summer seminar later became a catalyst for his blog.

Foot in the Door

Gerstenfeld also credits his blog as providing an opening for him into the media. Since he founded “Bad News,” he has been interviewed as many as 20 times for radio and television, and 40 blogs in eight languages have picked up on his work.

“According to all the senior news people I’ve spoken with, this was something that was not there before and for that reason it draws attention in a different way than the regular media discussion about Israel,” Gerstenfeld notes.

That foot in the door has allowed him to publish a critical analysis of Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk in a major Dutch paper. Luyendijk was a longtime Jerusalem correspondent for another large paper in the Netherlands, and also authored a best-selling book on the conflict. “I exposed in a major Dutch daily how he just blurs and deletes murderous characteristics which permeate Palestinian society,” Gerstenfeld relates. “You can read the 80 pages of his book on the conflict and not know that the platform of Hamas calls for the killing of Jews.”

The retired businessman said he had expected a rebuttal from Luyendijk in the paper and when none came, a friend speculated about the silence, saying: “If you are being shaved by the barber, it’s better to sit still.”

Gerstenfeld notes that as the “Bad News” founder he can appear on the media “not as a classic Israeli who defends Israel but as someone who attacks the Netherlands and the Dutch media.” The advantage, he says, is “I can allow myself an aggressiveness on the criminality which permeates Palestinian society in a way that no defender of Israel can ever do.” A defender of Israel, he maintains, is from the start “put into a difficult position by the interviewer and it’s really hard to get out of it.”

His starting point, in contrast, is that “large parts of journalism are corrupt; it’s not what is Israel doing wrong.”

Gerstenfeld declines to reveal how many hits his blog receives (though an earlier media report said 300 per day), emphasizing that “it’s not an informational blog. It is a caricature.” Regarding gauging the site’s influence, he insists, “you cannot expect at this stage to measure any impact of a zero-cost project. But it’s absolutely true that when I wrote my article against Luvendijk, I could not have taken him apart without going through the bad news process.”

Wanted: ‘Bad News’ Promoter

Gerstenfeld aspires for coverage in the biggest news outlets, such as Time or Newsweek, or a leading television network.

In the meantime, the “Bad News” concept has caught on in some quarters, prompting spin-off blogs dealing with Bad News from Belgium, Britain, Canada, Finland, Los Angeles, France, Mexico, Norway, Germany and Sweden.

The purveyor of bad news is on the lookout for a promoter of Bad News. That person’s role would be to help gain more media attention promoting Bad News blogs around the world and to introduce the concept to journalism professors as a teaching tool.

Out of the Box

On a broader scale, the Bad News project’s impact can be felt in the morale boost of Israel’s supporters, says Gerstenfeld. “We see this in the enormous number of talkbacks when we publicize it in the Israeli media.”

In addition, another benefit is that it has helped connect him with new contacts abroad “who then become your contacts for other issues,” Gerstenfeld asserts.

Moreover, he hopes that it will serve as a “trigger to start thinking about other projects that you’d call out of the box.” And, always the boardroom strategist, Gersenfeld emphasizes these projects should be low cost with high returns, just like his prototype.
This article appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of CAMERA On Campus. Students can sign up for the free magazine by clicking here.

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