Middle East studies in the News
Tel Aviv is the Capital of Israel, and Other Media "Facts" [incl. Joseph Massad]
Snapshots (Blog of CAMERA)
The following Op-Ed imagines how the prevalence of anti-Israel media falsehoods can contribute to a cartoonishly hostile narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Each of the footnoted assertions above appeared in a major media source. And each is patently false. (See footnotes below.)
Mistakes, of course, are inevitable, not least in the deadline-driven world of journalism. And a number of the errors that re-appear in the hypothetical Op-Ed were commendably corrected.
But the frequency, persistence and viral quality of falsehoods that cast Israel in a negative light is unusual, and leaves the sense that there is more than deadline pressures at play here. Indeed, a closer look at the errors above shows that, in many cases, professional journalism takes a back seat to ideology and hostility when it comes to Israel.
Consider Bob Simon's claim on 60 Minutes that Israel's security barrier "completely surrounds Bethlehem." 60 Minutes had been working on the segment for months before it aired, leaving plenty of time for basic research and fact checking. There was no one-day or one-week deadline to get in the way of journalistic dilligence. Much more telling, though, is CBS News's behavior after it was informed of its clear-cut falsehood. Instead of quickly investigating and straightforwardly correcting the misinformation, CBS responded to CAMERA's correction request with excuses, stonewalling, and a subsequent reiteration of the error by CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager, who insisted before a a crowd at his home church that "Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall." At that lecture, which occured about one year after the problematic segment was first broadcast, Fager insisted that CBS was a victim of bullying by those calling on the organization to correct the error. This is not how a professional news organization behaves after committing an innocent mistake.
Likewise, why were BBC's Jon Donnison and The Washington Post's Max Fisher so reluctant to walk back their claims that Jihad Mashrawi's son was killed by Israel? Why did they seem so attached to the discredited anti-Israel narrative? Even the radical advocacy group Electronic Intifada eventually came clean, sharing with readers that the Palestinian Al Mezan Center for Human Rights determined the boy was most likely killed by Palestinians. When professional journalists are less forthright than an extremist anti-Israel organization, they cannot be said to have committed an innocent mistake.
And what would impel a serious journalist to defend Hamas's use of residential areas to fire rockets with a patently false claim, as BBC's Paul Danahar did when he insisted there is no open space in Gaza from which Hamas can fire rockets at Israel? This is not a misspelling, nor a misremembered statistic. It is a reinvention of reality.
The bad-faith behind some of the falsehoods is self-evident. Joseph Massad, who claimed that Tel Aviv is the only Western city without Muslim or Arab inhabitants, is not only a Columbia Universtiy professor but also a (rather hysterical) anti-Zionist activist. Ha'aertz's Gideon Levy, who falsely claimed that Amnesty International counted only 92 fighters among the Palestinian fatalities during Operation Cast Lead, is little different than Massad.
Finally, it is worth pointing out that errors are only the tip of the iceberg. The media shapes people's views on the Middle East conflict in much more subtle ways, too. For example, CAMERA's monograph Indicting Israel points out that, during 6-months of New York Times coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, "Israeli views were downplayed while Palestinian perspectives, especially criticism of Israel, are amplified and even promoted." In other words, it is not only errors that lead to misunderstanding of the Middle East. The same ideology that produces those errors also affects what is reported, how it is reported, whose voices are heard most loudly, and what concerns are downplayed.
American support for Israel is at an all-time high. But considering how some reporters and outlets cover the conflict, it is not hard to imagine what shaped the opinions of the minority that does not sympathize with Israel.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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