How the media is manipulative
Nelson et al. wrote in describing media roles in social and civil upheaval: “By framing social and political issues in specific ways, news organizations declare the underlying causes and likely consequences of a problem and establish criteria for evaluating potential remedies for the problem” (Nelson, Clawson, Oxley. “Media Framing of a Civil Liberties Conflict and its Effect on Tolerance” in American Political Science Review, Vol. 91, No.3, p.567-568). This media power can certainly be used for both good ends and bad. In the case of the Middle East, the shaping of public opinion by framing the issues in a certain direction has made a significant impact especially in the West. In a Los Angeles Times column published October 13, Rabbi Michael Lerner commented on where the responsibility lies for this continuing bloodshed:
"The preponderance of responsibility lies with Israel and with an international media that continue to obscure the basic realities facing the Palestinian people, and continue to treat the death of Israeli soldiers enforcing a brutal occupation as somehow more outrageous and barbarous than the killing of many times as many Palestinian teenagers who were resisting the occupation."
One can understand the early enthusiasm for supporting Israel in the media. Following the atrocities of World War II, the press in Western countries (especially England, Canada, and the US) was more than eager to support what many thought was good for the Jews (and perhaps for the West which always had its issues with minorities): establishment of a homeland in Palestine. Many Zionists with influence in the media deliberately played up this aspect at the expense of all other discussions of solving issues of racism and minority rights. For example, during WWII Zionists were not interested in helping Jews emigrate to England or the US but in helping them go to Palestine and putting pressure on the newly created United Nations and the Western Powers to facilitate the creation of a Jewish state. This interest seemed to dominate among Zionists before, during and after the war. The majority of European Jews were not Zionists and most when pressed to leave Europe wished to immigrate to the US and other developed countries or to direct reparations to the victims themselves rather than to the Zionist Organizations (see Norman Finkelstein, "The Holocaust Industry”). The media was eager to play its part. The New York Times for example which had a reporter in Palestine after WWII failed to report on the situation of the native Palestinians and concentrated most of its reporting on the policies and actions of the Yishuv, the British, and the feudal and newly established Arab countries.
Media coverage was rather skewed even in Palestine under British rule starting in the early 1920s. Of course Arabic and Hebrew newspapers (the ones published by the yishuv and other Zionists) had widely divergent emphasis. What is distressing is that a survey of reports on "disturbances" in the 1920 among English language newspapers in Palestine finds patterns that are very reminiscent of reports by certain US Media: give numbers to the non-Jewish victims, give names and ages and occupation of Jewish victims.
Once Israel was established, the media in the West celebrated the "miraculous rebirth" and completely ignored the catastrophic consequences to the Palestinians. For the 54 years since the Nakba ("the catastrophe" of the expulsion of the Palestinians), media in the West rarely discussed the plight of the Palestinians. Hardly any mention was made of the massacres in 33 villages and towns or of the ethnic cleansing committed (Qumsiyeh, Sharing the Land of Canaan.). Even when saying something in passing, Western media referred to "Arab refugees displaced during the war" and kept the focus on the larger "Arab-Israeli" issue instead of what was happening on the ground in Palestine/Israel. Discussion was never opened on Israel's colonization program and its systematic destruction of what was left of Arab Palestine to transform it into a Jewish state. Instead, prominence was paid to "Arab infiltrators", statements by Kings, Prime Ministers, and Presidents, and issues of politico-economic nature (oil, the Suez Canal etc.).
Here, we describe:
- The nature of the distorted picture and shabby journalism being presented
- How such coverage evolved
- What can media professionals do to ensure truly professional and balanced coverage?
According to a study released June 25, 2001 by the Anti-Defamation League in New York, the "US newspaper coverage of the Middle East is largely pro-Israel" (Jerusalem Post, June 25, 2001 http://www.jpost.com/Editions/2001/06/25/LatestNews/LatestNews.29022.html . But ADL fails to mention the tremendous resources put by ADL together with hundreds of other organizations to influence media coverage. The tools used ranged from simply asking members to write in focused campaigns against a particular article or journalist to actual boycotts and pressures from owners and advertisers with money. In Connecticut for example, a letter sent to the Hartford Courant demanding the removal of a columnist (Amy Pagnozzi) was signed by many Jewish leaders including many Rabbis. Amy no longer works at the Courant and I will not spend much time to analyze this case since it had more complicating factors. But there were other cases. Charley Reese of the Orlando Sentinel received so much antagonism although he managed to withstand it (he recently retired). But Henry Norr of the San Francisco Chronicle was fired although the reasons given are not the real reasons. I think his participation in the anti-War movement (on his own) and his article on Intel building its plant on confiscated Palestinian property likely did it.
Pressure on individuals is only part of the picture. The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post both were targeted with a focused boycott (one week each) by Jewish subscribers sympathetic to the state of Israel. This is intended to send a signal especially to the other and smaller papers that "you better watch out." A local Connecticut editor admitted that they are afraid of being "targeted" and this does effect their coverage.
The syndicated columnist Charley Reese wrote in his final column upon retirement from the Orlando Sentinel:
"Another question people ask is why I changed my position on the Israeli-Palestinian question. The answer is quite simple. Initially I believed the Israeli version of the country's history. A new generation of Israeli historians, however, began to publish works that proved the official Zionist version was made up of lies and half-truths. The Palestinians had indeed been done a grave injustice. After that revelation, I contacted Palestinians who live in this area, and they very generously gave me their time and insights. It is not pleasant to realize you've been so wrong, not only about Israel's history, but about Palestinians as human beings. You won't find any better people.
I've always believed a journalist has a duty to keep tracking the truth even when it tracks into unpopular territory. I've tried to do that. With what success will depend frankly on how you see the truth. I've noticed over the years there seems to be fewer and fewer people who know how to disagree agreeably. " (Tracking the truth even when it goes into unpopular territory, July 29, 2001
These insightful remarks come from one of the few commentators who did not tow the party line of Zionism.
There are very few really independent organizations monitoring coverage of the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR, http://www.fair.org) is one such group. In the beginning of the Palestinian uprising, FAIR issued a statement chastising the mainstream media for their biased reporting which basically ignored the occupation and made it look like Palestinians are "attacking" Israelis. 95 of the 99 stories in the three major networks news (ABC, CBS, NBC) failed to mention the occupation or that these events are occurring in occupied areas (FAIR's report November 3, 2000 covering the period from he Start of the Intifadah Sept 28, 2000 to Nov. 2, 2000). The report added:
“During Iraq's seven-month occupation of Kuwait in 1990-91, TV journalists had little difficulty recognizing this principle. On ABC, Peter Jennings forthrightly referred to the country as "Iraqi-occupied Kuwait." "Tell us about the resistance to the Iraqi occupation," Jennings asked in an interview with a Kuwaiti living under Iraqi rule (World News Tonight, 9/6/90).
On CBS, Dan Rather reported that Westerners who had left the emirate "are bringing back stories of an occupied but still unconquered nation" (CBS Evening News, 9/11/90), while his correspondent in the Persian Gulf reported on Kuwaitis who "have vowed to return to resist the Iraqi occupation" and reports of "attacks and ambushes on Iraqi soldiers by a fledgling Kuwaiti resistance" (CBS This Morning, 8/23/90).
Yet in the Israeli-occupied territories, CBS correspondents today talk of "Israeli soldiers under daily attack"; "Israel...again feeling isolated and under siege"; and, in one case where Israeli occupation troops abandoned a fortified position in the West Bank, "Israelis have surrendered territory to Palestinian violence" (CBS Evening News, 10/4/00, 10/8/00, 10/7/00).
....Many media outlets regularly refer to violence in the occupied areas as being “in Israel” which is completely false since the occupied areas are not part of Israel. As FAIR reported: “When Israel's internationally uncontested status as an occupying power on Palestinian lands is omitted from the media's coverage, Palestinian rock-throwing is made to look like random aggression, and Israel's use of lethal weaponry can be portrayed as a legitimate response to provocation.”(FAIR alert 11/3/2000).“
Here is another example of "coverage" from CNN as posted on their web page with my notes in brackets.
March 29, 2001
Web posted at: 4:18 a.m. EST (0918 GMT)
NETZARIM, Israel--(Netzarim is not in Israel but a settlement in occupied Gaza Strip, illegal under international law) Two Palestinians are dead following overnight violence in several locations in Israel (notice passive voice and use of "dead").
The killings came after Israel warned of further military action against Palestinian targets in
retaliation for suicide bombings that killed two Israelis (as if Israel only kills in retaliation while Palestinians kill for other reasons).
Israeli helicopter gun ships and tanks attacked targets (!!!!!) associated with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah and Gaza Wednesday, killing a member of Yasser Arafat's elite bodyguard. (No mention of homes nearby destroyed and a woman civilian killed in the shelling).
Fighting between Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinians on the Gaza strip lead to the shooting death of one 13-year-old Palestinian boy, Palestinian Red Crescent officials said Thursday. (Where is the Gaza strip? If we accept Israel's terminology of its occupation forces as Israel defense forces" then why not accept the Palestinians stating that their people are resisting occupation and thus are resistance. How is fighting "lead to the shooting death of one 13 year old"? Who shot him and why? What was his name?).
Another Palestinian was injured in the same incident. (How, by whom, name etc.?).
Earlier Thursday, IDF soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man dressed in a "Force 17" uniform who, Israeli Army officials say, was attempting to attack the Jewish settlement of Netzarim overnight. (How does Israel know a motive of a person who is dead? What do the Palestinians say about this person? Why this detail about his uniform but not his personal life? Why not report on "dresses" of Israelis?).
The IDF says the Palestinian was carrying a Kalashnikov rifle and opened fire on an IDF position, the IDF returned fire and killed him. "Force 17" is the name for the Palestinian Authority elite military unit, some of whom make up the personal security unit for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.(..... and on and on as if what Israeli governments say is facts)
CNN and a number of media outlets in the US dutifully parrot the use of the term terrorism when describing Palestinian attacks (regardless of their intended target) while never using the term for Israeli attacks. An example was the report on the attack by Islamic Jihad fighters on a soldiers and security forces guarding Jewish settlers in Hebron (a city of 130,000 Palestinians with 450 Israeli settlers and over 5000 Israeli occupation soldiers). CNN did not hesitate to say this was a "terror attack." In contrast, we find this in the Israeli paper Haaretz:
"According to an initial investigation by the army, in contrast to a version of events given by the foreign ministry, the Islamic Jihad fire was not directed at worshippers but at the security forces escorting them. All of the dead were from the IDF, Border Police or emergency security team of the settlers of Kiryat Arba and Hebron, who came to help evacuate the wounded. "
IDF retakes Hebron after 12 killed in Jihad attack, Saturday, Haaretz, November 16, 2002
By contrast when Sharon's forces dropped a one-ton bomb in a civilian neighborhood killing several Children in Gaza, CNN never used words like terror or terrorism or Israeli terrorist attack.
The US media thus simply ignored Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and in doing so is complicit in keeping the American public unaware that this illegal and brutal occupation is going on funded by our tax dollars. Similarly, the litany of human rights violations, assassinations, civilian targeting, and other acts of occupation brutality that fuel the Palestinian anger are also ignored. A difference in the portrayal of Palestinian and Israeli deaths encourages the dehumanization of Palestinians. The media is somewhat casual about the killing of Palestinian civilians as compared to the media response to the killing of Israelis. In a report published in FAIR's magazine (Extra, Nov/Dec 2001), this group analyzed Middle East coverage by National Public Radio, their study revealed this:
During the six-month period studied (1/1/2001 to 6/30/2001), NPR reported the deaths of 62 Israelis and 51 Palestinians. While on the surface that may not appear to be hugely lopsided, during the same time period 77 Israelis and 148 Palestinians were killed in the conflict. That means there was an 81 percent likelihood that an Israeli death would be reported on NPR, but only 34 percent likelihood that a Palestinian death would be.
Of the 30 Palestinian civilians under the age of 18 that were killed, six were reported on NPR--only 20 percent. By contrast, the network reported on 17 of the 19 Israeli minors who were killed, or 89 percent. While 61 percent of the young people killed in the region during the period studied were Palestinian, only 26 percent of those reported by NPR were. Apparently being a minor makes your death more newsworthy to NPR if you are Israeli, but less newsworthy if you are Palestinian.
An Israeli civilian victim was more likely to have his or her death reported on NPR (84 percent were covered) than a member of the Israeli security forces (69 percent). But Palestinians were far more likely to have their deaths reported if they were security personnel (72 percent) than if they were civilians (22 percent). Of the 112 Palestinian civilians killed in the Occupied Territories during the period studied, just 26 were reported on NPR. Of the 28 Israeli civilians killed in the Territories--mostly settlers--21 were reported on NPR.
Brian Whitaker wrote in the Guardian newspaper (April 9, 2001):
A familiar tale from the Middle East: "Palestinians launched three bombs overnight against the Eile Sinai settlement in the far north of the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops responded with tank shells, destroying a Palestinian border post and hitting two houses."
This report, which happens to have come from the BBC, is familiar not only for the events it describes but also for the way it describes them: the Palestinians attack and the Israelis "respond". Military actions by the Israelis are always a "response" to something, even when they strike first. If they haven't actually been attacked, it's a "response" to a security threat.
Portraying the conflict as a series of Palestinian actions and Israeli responses is dangerous, for several reasons. Firstly, it lends support to the Israeli argument that if only the Palestinians would stop their violence everything would be fine. That might be true for many Israelis, but not for the Palestinians. Secondly, it builds up - through constant repetition - into a misleading picture of the overall conflict. The violence is not a series of discrete actions and reactions but a cycle (or spiral) in which actions on both sides feed off those on the other.
Thirdly, while Israeli actions are reported as a self-justifying "response", actions by the Palestinians are rarely allowed either a proper context or an understandable motive. ...The Israeli occupation lies at the root of the conflict - and yet, more often than not, journalists fail to remind their readers of it.
The Guardian's electronic newspaper archive contains all the British national dailies, plus the London Evening Standard. A search of this reveals 1,669 stories published during the last 12 months that mentioned the West Bank. Of these, 49 contained the phrase "occupied West Bank". A further 513 included the word "occupied" or "occupation" elsewhere in the text. That leaves 1,107 stories - 66% of the total -, which managed to talk about the West Bank without mentioning one of the key facts (the US media is much more biased).
Some journalists - particularly Americans - seem reluctant to treat occupation as an established fact and instead treat it as an opinion, which should be attributed to someone. Last October, for example, CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief told viewers that Palestinians were angry at "what they regard as the Israeli occupation".
Others resort to euphemisms: the West Bank is "disputed" or "administrated by Israel". Some adopt the practice of Israeli officials by shortening "the Occupied Territories" to "the Territories".
Journalists are also rather timid on the question of Jewish settlers, usually portraying them as a target of violence but more rarely as one of the major causes (which they plainly are). Some of the recent stories about the killing of a 10-month-old Jewish baby, Shalhevet Pass, in Hebron made clear that the settlers there are a tiny and particularly fanatical bunch - though many did not.
One report described Hebron as a "divided city", when in fact 99.8% of the inhabitants are Arabs. (Israelis, on the other hand - with two-thirds of the population Jewish and one-third Arab - constantly describe Jerusalem, as "undivided".)
Over the last 12 months, 394 stories in the archive mentioned Jewish settlers. Of these, seven included the phrase "extremist settler" and eight "extremist Jewish settler". The word "extremist" did occur in 44 of the stories, though not necessarily applied to settlers. Some stories juxtaposed settlers characterized simply as "Jewish" with Palestinians characterized as "extremist".
The illegality of the settlements under international law also often escapes mention. The phrase "illegal settlement", used in an Israeli-Palestinian context, appeared only eight times during the last 12 months - and three of those were in readers' letters to the editor.
During the early stages of the Intifada newspapers were accused of "dehumanizing" Palestinians by publishing numbers but not names of those killed. This was contrasted with the wealth of personal information, helpfully provided by the Israeli authorities, about Jewish casualties.
....A recent report in the Times, following in the tradition of CNN, said that "Palestinians regard" Gilo as an illegal settlement. Indeed they do, but then so does international law. (http://guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,470783,00.html)
Palestine Media Watch (http://www.pmwatch.org) did some analysis on editorials in major newspapers for their coverage. Results are revealing. The New York Times for example published 19 editorials on the conflict between October 13, 2000 and June 5, 2001. The number of times certain topics were covered in these 19 editorials is telling. UN Resolutions (none), Human Rights Organizations’ Reports/Findings (none), Israel’s Illegal Military Occupation of West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s Failure to Implement or Respect Signed Agreements (none), Justice / just peace / international law (1 mention), Specific Incident of Palestinian Deaths/Victims (2 times), Specific Incident of Israeli Deaths/Victims (six times), Palestinian Retaliation to Israeli Violence (zero times), Israeli Retaliation to Palestinian Violence (15 times), Praise for, or Positive Description of, Palestinian Leadership (2 mentions), Praise for, or Positive Description of, Israeli Leadership (14 mentions), Blaming Palestinians for Violence’ (28 times), Blaming Israelis for ‘Violence’ (zero mentions), Accusing Israelis of Terrorism/Militancy (zero mentions), Accusing Palestinians of Terrorism/Militancy (17mentions). During the same time period, we should recall that over 5 times more Palestinians were killed than Israelis. 85% of the Palestinian killed were civilians and over one third are children. The Israeli writer Israel Shamir, wrote satirically in an article posted on the internet: “We, Israelis, enjoy full immunity, and have no doubt, if and when our government decides to turn the Palestinians into canned meat, the New York Times will celebrate its nutritional values.”
Here is an interesting slip of an admission that the Jewish Community Relation Council and other groups with Zionist agenda's have undue influence in the media:
Jan Bauman wrote:
Last night I forwarded to a few members of the JCRC, including Judy Penso a moving commentary from the Guardian of London written by a Christian clergyman whose father was Jewish. Judy Penso replied and in a very interesting comment (in green) said: "Your letters are known to the community and papers know not to publish them."
Begin forwarded message:
From: Jan Bauman
Date: February 20, 2006 4:48:10 PM PST
To: "Judy Penso" email@example.com
Subject: Re: Israel's policies are feeding the cancer of anti-semitism
First of all I am not anti-Semitic any more than are the many Israelis and American Jews who stand in opposition to many of Israel's brutal policies of occupation, policies that, most unfortunately, lead to a Hamas victory. Perhaps Israel should have thought of the consequences when back in the 1970s they supported Hamas as a buffer against the secular PLO. The evidence of that earlier support is easily found with a Google search. By the way, were there no occupation there would be no Hamas.
As a Jew, I betray my upbringing when I fail to criticize those who I believe do harm to the Jewish and humanitarian values with which I was raised.
Now here is a question? Does the JCRC so control the press in this area that they dare not publish my letters or the letters of other Jews who oppose the occupation. From what you wrote, I would guess so.
On Feb 20, 2006, at 1:53 PM, Judy Penso wrote:
I don't know why I don't recieve from articles about Hamas and its mission to destroy Israel. Hamas also has an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood along with its mission to unseat any democracy in the Middle East.. Your intentions are clear, and no article that they are not anti-Semitic will convince me or anyone else. Your letters are known to the community and papers know not to publish them. Again your intentions are clear and are clearly anti-Semitic.
From: Jan Bauman firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Sun 2/19/2006 8:58 PM
Subject: Israel's policies are feeding the cancer of anti-semitism
A moving commentary by a courageous man.
Israel's policies are feeding the cancer of anti-semitism
It is a lie that to reject Zionism as it is practised today is to be the inheritor of Hitler's racism