Monday, December 01, 2014

Media Bias? It's an Old Story

In a report on Matti Friedman's latest on the media anti-Israel campaign (here), I caught this observation,

The Arab Israeli reporter Khaled abu Toameh has been writing and speaking about the problem for at least a decade. It was also the subject of Stephanie Gutmann’s The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy (Encounter, 2005).

As for myself, I'd locate the current problem, - which has been around since the early 1920s with the British press magnate Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, who visited Mandate Palestine in 1922, accompanied by a journalist, Mr. J.M.N. Jeffries who wrote the anti-Zionist tract, Palestine: The Reality, and especially starting with the NYTimes' Joseph Levy in 1929 (see this book), with the use of hyperbole and cooperation with NGOs, etc., - around the First Lebanese War and with the responses of David Bar-Ilan, Zev Chafets' Double Vision and especially AFSI's documentary/pamphlet as reported in the NYTimes:

''NBC in Lebanon,'' subtitled ''A Study in Media Misrepresentation,'' is a polemic; it stacks the deck, and sometimes it nearly collapses under its own sarcasm. At the same time, it raises significant questions about television journalism. It attempts to prove, and to a large extent does prove, that coverage by the ''NBC Nightly News'' of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982 was faulty. The one-hour documentary will be seen on National Jewish Television, carried by several cable systems, at 1 P.M. tomorrow.

The burden of the documentary, produced by a group called Americans for a Safe Israel, is that NBC consistently favored the Palestine Liberation Organization and discriminated against Israel. From June 4 to Aug. 31, 1982, we are told, the ''NBC Nightly News'' devoted 600 minutes of air time to Lebanon, with less than 30 minutes of this reflecting the ''Israeli viewpoint,'' or the ''factual background of the war.''"

And, does the following from that review sound ominously familiar?

Consider, for example, the reports on civilian casualties during the early part of the invasion. On June 10, Roger Mudd, the ''NBC Nightly News'' co-anchor, said that 10,000 civilians had died. He attributed the figure to the Red Crescent, the Lebanese Red Cross. A few nights later, Tom Brokaw reported that Israel had been silent on the number of civilian deaths. Shortly after that, Jessica Savitch said the fighting had left 600,000 civilians without food or supplies.

In fact, Israel, relying, it claimed, on actual body counts, had said that 460 civilians had died, and that the fighting had left 20,000 people homeless. The Israeli figure on the number of deaths may have been too low; truth can be a casualty in wartime. However, the unreported Israeli figure seems to have been more accurate than the figure put out by the Red Crescent. Newspaper accounts called it a wild exaggeration.

Meanwhile, ''NBC in Lebanon'' notes that Yasir Arafat's brother was the head of the Palestinian Red Crescent [= NGO - YM]. It also notes the unlikelihood of 600,000 people being left without food or supplies; fewer than that many people lived in the area of the fighting.

NBC's alleged failures on the reporting of figures may be attributed to carelessness, or to the exigencies of putting together a nightly news broadcast. The documentary, however, raises a more serious charge when it accuses NBC correspondents of ignoring the reality of Beirut. We see NBC film clips of ruined buildings; we hear correspondents saying they were not military positions. The implication is that Israeli artillery fire was always indiscriminate.

However, other journalists reported that the P.L.O. frequently used civilians as cover. David K. Shipler, The New York Times correspondent in Beirut then, reported that ''P.L.O. weapons and ammunition were placed strategically in densely populated civilian areas in the hope that this would either deter Israeli attack, or extract a price from Israel in world opinion for the killing of civilians.''

And indeed, world opinion, moved at least in part by the television images, did not favor the Israelis. As early as June 16, in an NBC commentary, John Chancellor spoke about a ''feeling Israel was turning into a warrior state, using far more force than is necessary to solve its problems.''

He also mentioned the ''problem with Israeli credibility.''

Unfortunately, the bias is an old story.  And every few years, someone points it oit as if it's ... news.


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