I wrote a piece last week about what I perceived to be a noteworthy instance of Israeli media bias, and was heavily criticized by (exclusively Jewish) friends and colleagues. While watching Channel Two (mainstream Israeli broadcast network news) for a couple of hours during the first third day of the impending war on Gaza last week, I was struck that roughly 99.996% of the coverage focused on Israeli suffering, whereas roughly 00.004% of the air coverage was dedicated to Palestinian suffering (about 3 seconds of 120 minutes). The disparity seemed odd, so I wrote an article about it.
Of course, Jewish and Israeli friends offered their expectedly ad hominem praises: “I am really disappointed in what you wrote. It seems that more education does not necessarily bring more wisdom. [I am a PhD student].. I appreciate the naive tendency of intellectuals towards balance even when it is not warranted, but ultimately Israel needs your support now, not your irrelevant blogs.” It should be noted that the author deemed appropriate attacking PolicyMic for even publishing something so outrageous.
Another friend was equally gracious: “how nice of you to bring in your input from your front row away of the action in New York or whatever other cozy American city you find yourself in. I'm sure all the time you spent abroad makes you certain you understand the complicated culture that its Israel and the middle east [sic], because hell, if you've been to Shek Jarahk [sic] and Ramallah you must of seen it all right? Wrong. Now I challenge you to stop hiding behind Facebook and your wonderful emotional blogs [PolicyMic] and come get a piece of reality. Reality that the entire southern region of Israel is running to shelter every half hour.”
I was told by another inquisitive reader and acquaintance to “grow up.” Yet another noted that I was “aiding anti-Israeli propaganda, fueling them with lies in a disguise of academic research.” I lacked “professional integrity,” and I ought to immediately “retract” my article because it was allegedly full of lies.
Why so much outrage? Of the various ad-hominem attacks, it was possible to find at least one intellectually coherent response to the article (although perhaps if I grow some more facial hair and grey hair then we might have to include “growing up” as a potential alternative).
As one friend put it best, “mm I wonder what the Palestinian and Arab media is broadcasting? The unbiased truth? I think not.” Said differently, “if you're doing so much to cover the crisis, why don't you add a single sentence about Palestinian media. I'm sure that the photos of Kiryat Malakhi were on their front pages.”
I, for one, am totally outraged that the Gazan Palestinian media does not broadcast live from the cities under rocket fire from southern Israel. Surely they must have a correspondent there, who survived the Israeli aerial bombing of the hotel were he/she was likely staying, who snuck through the 500 meter "no man’s zone" separating Israel from Gaza, then hopped over the fence and made it on foot for another 30 or 40 kilometers to reach Kiryat Malakhi (carrying all of his/her camera equipment in his/her backpack).
Leaving the sarcasm aside, for the moment, it is of course true that the Israelis are not the only ones omitting the inconvenient truths. The Palestinian media, specifically the “Palestinian News and Info Agency,” (WAFA) was equally guilty of doing that this week. As one browsed through their website (in Arabic, Hebrew and English), one was hard pressed to find anything whatsoever about the bus bombing in Tel Aviv on November 19, a deliberate attack on civilians that would almost assuredly result in many innocent deaths (although al-Jazeera had plenty on the attack, for comparison).
If I were to accuse WAFA of the same thing I charged Channel Two with, I would suggest that this is certainly the case of coming to conclusions first (that Israel is the aggressor and Palestinians are the victims) and writing news stories in order to justify the narrative. The Israelis and Palestinian are both guilty in this regard, and my challenge for journalists of all political persuasions is to understanding that there are no monopolies on suffering and victimhood.
But then I realized, when Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi and U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton helped secure the ceasefire — how could I write an article about media bias without including the American and Egyptian press? How could I possibly be “fair and balanced.” I presumably should have included the Italian and Turkish press, and then perhaps the Russian press to even things out? While that might add a few years to the task of writing an op-ed piece for PolicyMic (including, for instance, learning Russian), I would certainly have written a more balanced piece.
In other words, one can always expand the scope of the study, or the article, include more examples, provide more “balance.” This critique is infinitely regressive and can always be used to attack something you don’t like. But it itself is not a response to anything that I actually wrote.
And indeed, I would say that my goal is the article was not be "fair and balanced." I happen to prefer the media slogan of a different kind of news, that of Amira Hass, who argues that the goal of journalism should be to monitor the centers of power.
In this conflict, there is no question that Israel is the center of power that needs to be monitored. Israel has the power to kill far quicker, faster and easier than Hamas. No one disputes this point. Journalism, I believe, should be a tool of the weak to challenge the powerful rather than, as my Jewish and Israeli friends seem convinced, a tool of the powerful to strengthen their power and make it easier to slaughter the powerless.