Israel bias and Self-censorship

by David Morris

Political cartoon showing the Israel Lobby's boot suppressing U.S.   mediaStudies show that many Americans incorrectly believe the Palestinians are the illegal settlers on their own land.

I long regarded Frank Rich a champion, whose fearless exposures of moral hypocrisy in our culture and the media rang true. My view changed after this New York Times columnist gave a talk at Cornell University.

Mr. Rich was asked about our media’s reporting in the Middle East and their unwavering presentation of Israel-as-victim. How is it that Americans are so poorly informed that a large fraction believes that the Palestinians are the illegal settlers in the Occupied Territories? Mr. Rich was asked why he, as a media critic, had remained silent on this biased coverage? Mr. Rich replied, “I’m Jewish.”

His candor is refreshing but what does he mean? Is Mr. Rich suggesting that being Jewish precludes criticizing Israel? Is he suggesting that Jewish American reporters, (and more insidiously, publishers) feel compelled to defend Israel? Where is professional responsibility to the American public?

My criticism extends beyond the failings of a single reporter. As studies have shown, many Americans believe that the Palestinians are the illegal settlers on their own land. How can we be so poorly informed? And why hasn’t the news media worked to correct this misconception?

The answer, some say, is that a conspiracy exists among mainstream media to sift and shape news to favor the Israeli government. Media’s fear, according to this belief, is that a truly informed American people would realize that the Israeli agenda and policies clash with US values and strategic interests.

I don’t believe this conspiracy theory. The pro-Israel bias, in my view, is particular to each newspaper, each TV network. Bias manifests itself in a Frank Rich silence, in a reporter’s sensitivity to his editor’s predilections, in a political cartoon first accepted by staff then rejected by an owner/publisher. Taken together, the public is deprived of fact and opinion. “This is the greatest story never told,” as Steve Lendman convincingly demonstrates in his expose of willful bias in the NY Times.

The BBC has taken seriously documented reports of a pro-Israel bias in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The BBC governors commissioned an independent study which concluded that an Israeli viewpoint did, indeed, dominate at the expense of Palestinian concerns. The commission proposed specific remedies to correct future reporting in the Mideast. This effort would never happen in the United States.

The honored role of the media in our democracy is to promote informed, public discussion on issues important to our country. “Informed” is the key word here. Full, objective information must be available to citizens to engage in meaningful debate. Mainstream media, by providing only one-sided reporting, suppresses open discussion of Israeli policies and their effect on our national interests.

We Americans are living with the consequences.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark 11.12.09 at 10:44 am

Good point. My eye-opening happened about five years ago when then press secretary (Ari Fleischer) was asked about an Israeli gunship attack in an apartment complex in Ramalah. Israel was trying to kill a Palestinian leader who wasn’t there at the time. Their Black Hawk gunship dropped out of the sky, fired two missiles killing and wounding 20 women and children. Fleischer’s single-sentence to this cited attack was “I guess that was a bit heavy-handed.”

Nobody but nobody in the press called him on this flippant response to innocent deaths.

2 Carole 11.12.09 at 4:13 pm

Point of interest: A few months after writing that linked article criticising media’s biased coverage of Israel, Tom Fenton “ended” his 34-year career with CBS.

3 Joyce in Rome 11.13.09 at 5:57 am

I often experience a Rashomon effect reading about an event reported in European and New York newspapers. The versions are totally different, as if they are describing separate incidents. I agree – the US media are like lapdogs to the Israel lobby.

4 BT in Cambridge 11.14.09 at 10:03 am

My epiphany occurred a couple of years ago. An Israeli settler driving back to his (illegal) settlement in the West Bank came upon two teenage boys who had set afire two tires in the road. The Israeli took out his AK47 killed one and shot the other in the back, paralyzing him for life. The Israeli courts gave him a 5 month SUSPENDED sentence. Not unlike Alabama in the 1870’s. No outrageous response in the US media–I read about it in a paragraph on page 4 of the Boston Globe.

5 joe 11.16.09 at 8:27 am

Americans are uninformed idiots.

6 Martha 11.19.09 at 3:32 am

As you have done, it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

7 Chris 11.20.09 at 1:40 am

Well said Martha

8 Heidar Nowrouz 07.25.11 at 1:15 am

The impact of US position for decades in vis-a-vis Israeli Palestinian conflict has angered all Muslims in the world to the point that the US has been paying for it for years. I believe that the 9/11 terrorist attacks would not have happened had the US taken a more balanced attitude to resolving that conflict. The US media has been directly complicit in this. The radical fanatics and terrorist groups in the Muslim world have used the US policy in this conflict as a very powerful recruiting tool!

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