‘Nightline’ Stonewalls on Balance Issue

An April 22 “Nightline” segment by Richard Gizbert conforms to a pattern which features interviewees sharing one point of view–opposition to Israel and/or its policies and sympathy to Arab concerns. In the following letter, CAMERA presses “Nightline” to produce the date of just one broadcast within the last year which was tilted towards Israel. Though ABC officials have in the past alleged that the program’s record is “even on the whole,” the network has yet to respond to CAMERA’s simple challenge.

April 30, 2004

By fax:
Ms. Kerry Smith Marash
ABC News
(212) 456-2908

Dear Ms. Marash:

It seems that “Nightline”‘s pattern of one-sided broadcasts concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict continues. On Dec. 10, 2003, I wrote to you with concerns about “Nightline”‘s overall balance of Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. I was responding to the Dec. 2 segment about 27 pilots objecting to Israel’s targeted killings, in which seven interviewees all shared the same critical view about the Israeli practice. Not one speaker was included to balance their position. That one-sided broadcast came on the tails of your Nov. 13 letter to CAMERA, in which you stated without evidence that “Nightline and ABC News devote a significant amount of time to both Israeli and Palestinian issues, and we consider our record even on the whole.” Your letter, of course, was meant to defend an Oct. 9 broadcast featuring the Palestinian suicide bomber as victim as well as a report on the Israeli security barrier, in which opponents’ coverage overwhelmingly exceeded supporters’.

Thus, the April 22 “Nightline” segment with Richard Gizbert conforms to a pattern which features interviewees sharing one point of view–opposition to Israel and/or its policies and sympathy to Arab concerns. Gizbert’s April 22 topic is the Arab response to the Bush-Sharon summit, and his speakers are only Arab: a Beirut resident, Michael Young and Rami Khouri of the Beirut Daily Star, and Arab teachers. While it is legitimate for news outlets to focus occasionally on one sides’ perspectives on a contentious topic, it is not appropriate or balanced for a program to consistently showcase one side’s point of view–as “Nightline” has done. It should be noted that when “Nightline” covers the Arab perspective, the interviewees are largely not critical of their own leaders or policies, but point to Israel as the problem. Likewise, when on occasion “Nightline” has looked at Israeli perspectives, such as the Dec. 2 program on dissenting Israeli pilots, the interviewees are critical of Israel. The result is that interviewees, both Arab or Israeli, are overwhelmingly critical of Israel and the Palestinians and other Arab neighbors are treated with kid gloves.

Unfortunately, the problem is compounded in the April 22 segment as Gizbert himself abandons impartiality and adopts Arab terminology and perspective. He states:

. . . President Bush quickly sided with [Sharon], on the pullout from Gaza,

the annexation of Palestinian land on the West Bank, and the refusal of the right of Palestinians to ever return to what is now Israel.

“Palestinian land”? The status of these territories is yet to be determined, so why does Gizbert label them “Palestinian” in accordance with the Palestinian view, but not the Israeli and other perspectives? Those who believe that Israel has a claim to the territory rely on the fact that the last legal sovereignty over the territories was that of the League of Nations Palestine Mandate, which stipulated the right of the Jewish people to settle in the whole of the Mandated territory. According to Article 6 of the Mandate, “close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use” was to be encouraged. (Article 25 allowed the League Council to temporarily postpone the Jewish right to settle in what is now Jordan, if conditions were not amenable.) Article 80 of the U.N. Charter preserved this Jewish right to settlement by specifying that: “nothing in the [United Nations] Charter shall be construed … to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or peoples or the terms of existing international instruments.” In other words, a valid legal position exists in which the West Bank is considered an unallocated part of Mandate Palestine.

In the excerpt reproduced above, Gizbert also weighs in on the so-called Palestinian “right of return,” another matter of dispute. Based on a distortion of United Nations Resolution 242, Palestinians argue that they have a “right of return.” Although the so-called “right” is simply a Palestinian claim, it is reported by Gizbert as if it were fact. The resolution states that:

refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date. . . . [R]epatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation [should be facilitated]. [Emphasis added]

Because this only recommends that refugees be permitted to return, it can hardly be characterized as creating a “right.” Moreover, the requirement that returnees first accept living “at peace with their neighbors” meant that Palestinian returnees would have to accept Israel’s right to exist, something that very few of them, even today, seem truly willing to do. Further, it did not even hint at any return rights for descendants of refugees. Notably, all the Arab states voted against Resolution 194, precisely because it did not establish a “right of return.”

While Gizbert adopts dubious Palestinian language when it comes to the “right of return” and “Palestinian land,” he shuns Israel’s language. Thus, he states: “Refugee camps honor the memory of Hamas leaders recently assassinated by the Sharon government, men Israel calls terrorists.” Not only does Israel call them terrorists, but so does the United States government and the European Union, and for good reason. What is a more accurate designation for the leaders of an organization which has claimed credit for the deliberate killing of hundreds of innocent civilians, targeting them in buses, restaurants, and shopping malls?

Gizbert also does viewers a disservice when he allows unsubstantiated allegations to stand in for news. For example, speaking about the Sabra and Shatilla victims, he states: “At least 700 Palestinians were murdered. Some estimates run well into the thousands.” Is there any basis in fact whatsoever to estimate “thousands”? If not, why report it? Others might postulate that most of those killed were terrorists, but that baseless estimation was not deemed newsworthy so why include bogus numbers about fatalities? Moreover, based on what definitive information has Gizbert concluded that “at least” 700 Palestinians were murdered? While there are some estimates in the 700 range, including those of Israeli intelligence sources, a report by Assad Ge rmanos, the Lebanese army’s chief prosecutor, put the figure at 460 (“Israel’s Lebanon War,” by Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, Simon and Schuster, 1984, p. 282).

In addition, Gizbert also distorts the Lebanon war, painting it as a war between Israel and Yasser Arafat in Beirut and ignoring that it was a civil war sparked by the Palestinians’ establishment of a “state within a state.” Speaking about the rehabilitation of parts of Beirut, he reports:

Just beyond the fresh facade are plenty of pock-marked reminders of when Beirut, not Baghdad, was the war zone of the Middle East. And every night, Beirut families like the Osmans relive the horrors of war from a distance, as images of Iraq flash across their television screens.

Later, he goes on, “But there is another issue, another conflict that’s never far from the surface here.” Michael Young identifies that issue as the “Palestinian issue,” and Rami Khouri speaks about the “Israelis in Palestine” and “neo-colonial policy.”

Gizbert then seals the connection between Israel and Lebanon’s tumultuous past, ignoring the Palestinians’ own role in the country’s violence:

The conflict involving Lebanon, its Palestinians and Ariel Sharon, goes back more than 20 years and it’s personal. Sharon was the general in charge of the invasion on Lebanon. The Israelis wanted Yasser Arafat and the PLO out of Beirut. And they bombed and shelled the city, until Arafat fled to Tunisia. The Israelis didn’t do the actual killing but Sharon is blamed by Palestinians for an infamous war crime, the massacre at the refugee campus. Sharon allowed the Palestinian rivals, Lebanese-Christian gunmen, into the camps, where they went on a killing spree. At least 700 Palestinians were murdered. Some estimates run well into the thousands. . .

Left out of Gizbert’s account concerning the Lebanese war are the two most critical factors–the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the Palestinians’ bloody regime within Lebanon. From his account, viewers would have no clue that Palestinian Muslim and Christian forces battling one another in western and eastern Beirut, respectively, likely accounted for “the pock-marked reminders” of when Beirut was a war zone. Instead, the Israelis are implicitly blamed for having terrorized and damaged the city. And, contrary to Gizbert’s suggestion, Israel did not indiscriminately shell Beirut, but targeted PLO sites.

In short, Gizbert’s tendentious report is skewed due to the language he uses as well as the information he chooses to include and omit. Furthermore, “Nightline” has aired yet another report about the Arab-Israeli conflict in which only those critical of Israel and sympathetic to the Arabs were heard.

In the last several months, one-sided “Nightline” broadcasts tilted against Israel include those on Oct. 9, Dec. 2, and April 22. We ask that you provide us with just one example of a “Nightline” broadcast within the last year which was tilted towards Israel and in which speakers were uniformly critical of the Arabs. If “Nightline”‘s record is “even on the whole,” as you claim, it shouldn’t be difficult to send us the date of such a broadcast. We look forward to hearing from you.


Tamar Sternthal

cc: Michael Eisner, David Westin, Tom Bettag

Comments are closed.