Until now, media bias against Israel has been exposed by pro-Israel NGO’s like Honest Reporting and Camera. But now, respected journalists have decided to break the silence and started to expose news manipulation and bias against Israel by major outlets such as the Associated Press and The New York Times.
Last month, veteran Arab Israeli reporter Khaled Abu Toameh accused NBC News of blackmailing its employees in Israel. At the time, Toameh tweeted a somewhat cryptic message:
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Later, Toameh made clear what he meant with this message. On his Facebook page, he wrote the following:
There’s a serious problem when a major US network tells its employees they won’t get compensation for decades of work unless they promise not to say or write anything about their former working place. In other words, they are saying: You must not reveal any of our secrets or tell the world about double standards and hypocrisy of the foreign media. Not only is this unethical and filthy, but it’s also a form of blackmail. I wonder if NBC NEWS would treat its employees in the US in the same way. And what is NBC NEWS afraid of?
Toameh, who writes for The Jerusalem Post and other outlets, has always been a lone wolf in his battle for real journalism in media coverage of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He told us during a meeting some years ago that the international media have done a great injustice to Israel. He said he was not pro-Israel but pro truth. Toameh accused the foreign media in Israel of a double standard and of manipulating the news about Israel.
Recently, Toameh’s revelations have received confirmation from other journalists about other media. Among them is former AP editor Matti Friedman.
Since the end of the third Gaza war, Friedman has published two important articles about the way the foreign media report on Israel. Friedman worked as a reporter and editor at the Jerusalem office of the Associated Press in Israel. He delivered compelling evidence that the foreign media is distorting the news, and that it refuses to apply journalistic standards in its covering of the news coming out of Israel.
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Following are the chief revelations from his essay titled ‘An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth’ and from his latest article titled ‘How the media makes the Israel story’. We advise you to read the full text of both articles.
Extract from ‘An Insider’s guide to the most important story on earth’.
There has been much discussion recently of Hamas attempts to intimidate reporters. Any veteran of the press corps here knows the intimidation is real, and I saw it in action myself as an editor on the AP news desk. During the 2008-2009 Gaza fighting I personally erased a key detail—that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and being counted as civilians in the death toll—because of a threat to our reporter in Gaza. (The policy was then, and remains, not to inform readers that the story is censored unless the censorship is Israeli. Earlier this month, the AP’s Jerusalem news editor reported and submitted a story on Hamas intimidation; the story was shunted into deep freeze by his superiors and has not been published.)
But if critics imagine that journalists are clamoring to cover Hamas and are stymied by thugs and threats, it is generally not so. There are many low-risk ways to report Hamas actions, if the will is there: under bylines from Israel, under no byline, by citing Israeli sources. Reporters are resourceful when they want to be.
The fact is that Hamas intimidation is largely beside the point because the actions of Palestinians are beside the point: Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story. In addition, reporters are under deadline and often at risk, and many don’t speak the language and have only the most tenuous grip on what is going on. They are dependent on Palestinian colleagues and fixers who either fear Hamas, support Hamas, or both. Reporters don’t need Hamas enforcers to shoo them away from facts that muddy the simple story they have been sent to tell.
It is not coincidence that the few journalists who have documented Hamas fighters and rocket launches in civilian areas this summer were generally not, as you might expect, from the large news organizations with big and permanent Gaza operations. They were mostly scrappy, peripheral, and newly arrived players—a Finn, an Indian crew, a few others. These poor souls didn’t get the memo.
What Else Isn’t Important?
The fact that Israelis quite recently elected moderate governments that sought reconciliation with the Palestinians, and which were undermined by the Palestinians, is considered unimportant and rarely mentioned. These lacunae are often not oversights but a matter of policy. In early 2009, for example, two colleagues of mine obtained information that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made a significant peace offer to the Palestinian Authority several months earlier, and that the Palestinians had deemed it insufficient. This had not been reported yet and it was—or should have been—one of the biggest stories of the year. The reporters obtained confirmation from both sides and one even saw a map, but the top editors at the bureau decided that they would not publish the story.
Some staffers were furious, but it didn’t help. Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and increasingly extreme. Reporting the Olmert offer—like delving too deeply into the subject of Hamas—would make that narrative look like nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it, and did, for more than a year and a half.
This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.
Here are some quotations from Friedman’s latest article on this topic:
In the aftermath of the three-week Gaza war of 2008-2009, not yet quite understanding the way things work, I spent a week or so writing a story about NGOs like Human Rights Watch, whose work on Israel had just been subject to an unusual public lashing in The New York Times by its own founder, Robert Bernstein. (The Middle East, he wrote, “is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records. Yet in recent years Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.”) My article was gentle, all things considered, beginning like this:
JERUSALEM (AP) _ The prickly relationship between Israel and its critics in human rights organizations has escalated into an unprecedented war of words as the fallout from Israel’s Gaza offensive persists ten months after the fighting ended.
Editors killed the story.
Around this time, a Jerusalem-based group called NGO Monitor was battling the international organizations condemning Israel after the Gaza conflict, and though the group was very much a pro-Israel outfit and by no means an objective observer, it could have offered some partisan counterpoint in our articles to charges by NGOs that Israel had committed “war crimes.” But the bureau’s explicit orders to reporters were to never quote the group or its director, an American-raised professor named Gerald Steinberg.* In my time as an AP writer moving through the local conflict, with its myriad lunatics, bigots, and killers, the only person I ever saw subjected to an interview ban was this professor.
When the UN released its controversial Goldstone report on the Gaza fighting, we at the bureau trumpeted its findings in dozens of articles, though there was discussion even at the time of the report’s failure to prove its central charge: that Israel had killed civilians on purpose. (The director of Israel’s premier human-rights group, B’Tselem, who was critical of the Israeli operation, told me at the time that this claim was “a reach given the facts,” an evaluation that was eventually seconded by the report’s author. “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” Richard Goldstone wrote in The Washington Post in April 2011.) We understood that our job was not to look critically at the UN report, or any such document, but to publicize it.
Decisions like these are hard to fathom if you believe the foreign press corps’ role is to explain a complicated story to people far away. But they make sense if you understand that journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories often don’t see their role that way. The radio and print journalist Mark Lavie, who has reported from the region since 1972, was a colleague of mine at the AP, where he was an editor in the Jerusalem bureau and then in Cairo until his retirement last year. (It was Lavie who first learned of the Israeli peace offer of late 2008, and was ordered by his superiors to ignore the story.) An Indiana-born Israeli of moderate politics, he had a long run in journalism that included several wars and the first Palestinian intifada, and found little reason to complain about the functioning of the media. But things changed in earnest in 2000, with the collapse of peace efforts and the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Israel accepted President Bill Clinton’s peace framework that fall and the Palestinians rejected it, as Clinton made clear. Nevertheless, Lavie recently told me, the bureau’s editorial line was still that the conflict was Israel’s fault, and the Palestinians and the Arab world were blameless.
Recently, Jackson Diehl, who is covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for the Washington Post, confirmed that what Friedman wrote is true. Diehl tweeted the following:
Another well respected journalist who investigated media covering of the Palestinian Israeli conflict is Richard Behar. Behar, who worked for CNN, BCC, and now for Forbes, wrote a long article in late August about the way The New York Times and other mainstream media covered the Third Gaza War.
Here are some quotes from his article titled ’The Media Intifada: Bad Math, Ugly Truths About New York Times In Israel-Hamas War’.
*** In late 2012, during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, I examined the Facebook page of Fares Akram—the most important Gaza-based reporter for the New York Times. His profile photo was not of himself, but of PLO leader Arafat. A second photo, still in his album, waxes poetically about Arafat in the context of “heights by great men.”
*** Abeer Ayyoub, another Palestinian resident of Gaza and former Timesreporter there (until 2013), was boycotting all products made in Israel before and after her Times gig. Her Facebook posts and stories for other publications in 2014 are hostile to Israel.
NEW YORK TIMES REPORTERS IN GAZA
So what is going on at the New York Times? Why is the “paper of record” leaving out so much of consequence, and failing to cover in any adequate way—indeed, seems to be avoiding like the plague—the aspect of the story to which it is closest, the media role in the war? We can’t read the minds of the reporters the Times has in Gaza, but we can what they’ve put in the social media for all to see.
New York Times reporter Fares Akram was recently described by the Jerusalem bureau chief Rudoren as “brave, committed, talented…indefatigable.” I published that screenshot (taken by me in November 2012) of his Facebook homepage, with Arafat as his profile photo, for several reasons. First, I think it’s reasonable to ask what would happen if a current Times reporter had used as his profile picture, not his own face, but the face of Menachem Begin, who—decades before becoming Israel’s Prime Minister—was the leader of an underground Jewish group that ordered the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 Brits, Jews and Arabs? I think there would be an uproar in the media world, way beyond Facebook. The reporter might even be dismissed, or dispatched to another region.
Without getting deep into Arafat’s long and illustrious career as a terror leader, let’s just focus on a statement he made in 2002 that’s highly relevant for today’s Gaza conflict. Asked on official Palestinian TV what message he would like to send to “the Palestinian people in general, and the Palestinian children in particular,” he spoke of the value of dead children to the cause: “This child, who is grasping the stone, facing the tank, is it not the greatest message to the world when that hero becomes a Shahid [martyr]? We are proud of them.”
In September of last year, Akram posted a photo of a king-sized painting of Arafat being lifted onto an airplane. The caption he placed with it is a line from Longfellow: “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
Let’s move to Abeer Ayyoub, who (NYT correspondent Judy) Rudoren also praised (in November 2012, during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza) as her “wonderful fixer/journalist.” At that time, Ayyoub was getting reporting credit on stories written by Rudoren, even as she (like Akram) served as a consultant at the Israel-viperous
Human Rights Watch.
Ayyoub no longer reports for the Times, but earlier this year she stated publicly that she has been boycotting all Israeli products for three years, which would cover her period at the Times.
FIT TO BOYCOTT: Abeer Ayyoub was reporting for the New York Times from Gaza at the same time she was working for Israel-hostile Human Rights Watch—and boycotting all Israeli products. [Facebook screenshot, November 2012]
In a Facebook post on July 29th, Ayyoub parroted the Hamas line. She said she was asked in an interview “why Palestinians in Gaza are not feeling angry about Hamas using the building materials for their tunnels and not for building houses and schools.” Her response was straight-up Hamas propaganda. “My answer was: why people in Israel [sic] won’t feel angry about Israeli government spending more money on enhancing its army instead of raising the level of education and health there? More importantly, why the U.S. wouldn’t save the money it supports the Israeli army with for sheltering its [America’s] thousands of homeless there in the U.S.” It went on like this. She never really answered the question, but it was plain: Hamas diverting cement from kindergartens to terror tunnels was fine with her.
It gets worse.
In a particularly vile Facebook post on August 3rd, she attacked “so-called journalists” who “posted stuff and gave interviews that they left because they were threatened by Hamas to be kicked outta [sic] country if they don’t report what Hamas wants.” While excoriating those brave journalists, she defended Hamas. But she went beyond that. Using the term “we,” she actually implied that she was complicit in the cover-up of Hamas launching sites:
“…since the war began, Hamas has totally, and even more than enuf, facilitated the entrance of foreign journalists, no visa, no security clearance, nothing! they got the security support, decent hotels, friendly people. and, when it comes to the concern, WE THE LOCALS, tell the foreign journalists what can’t be reported, such as the places where rockets are fired from. Hamas never made a formal statement saying these thing shouldn’t be reported HOWEVER IT TOTALLY HAS THE RIGHT TO.” [Boldface added]
In a Facebook post in Arabic on April 6th, Ayyoub thanked Hamas for the great job it was doing educating the kids of Gaza.
Why was this Hamas apologist and defender ever representing the New York Times in Gaza?
Back in January of 2013, after I published a story that was critical of the Times and other major outlets for having ignored then-Egypt president Morsi calling Jews “apes and pigs,” I spoke with the paper’s foreign editor, Joseph Kahn. He told me that the Times didn’t feel it needed a permanent full-time reporter in Gaza. But I disagree. Given the importance of the conflict and the Times’ obsession with it at the expense of other global conflicts where far more civilians are dying, I don’t see how anyone can argue that such a position isn’t warranted. Especially right now.
It has long been said at the New York Times that if both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide complain about their coverage, then that’s proof they are doing a good job. In fact, a year or so ago, a former Times reporter commented on Rudoren’s Facebook page that this was what she herself was told when she arrived at the paper. Indeed, when the Times responds to criticism about its anti-Israel bias, it’s spokesperson Eileen Murphy likes to call attention to the enormous criticism they get from both sides. The truth is that upsetting both sides of a conflict does not mean you’re doing your job. It can often mean you’re just lazy. There are facts, there is history, and there is reporting that can get to the bottom of much.
Toameh, Friedman, and Behar confirm what I heard from Dutch journalists long ago. One of them was Hans Moll, who worked at the paper called the NRC (the Dutch equivalent of The New York Times.) Moll used to send me e-mail messages about the way his fellow journalists at NRC manipulated the news about Israel. When he questioned their manipulations, he often got hostile reactions and was treated as a pariah by his colleagues. After he retired, he wrote a book about his experiences.
Another Dutch journalist who tried to do something about the one-sided and biased reporting about Israel in the Netherlands was Henk Mueller, who used to be the internet editor of the Volkskrant, one of the largest Dutch newspapers. Mueller used to publish a lot of opinion articles that gave a more complete picture of the situation in Israel and about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In the end, this cost him his job. He was sidelined and, after a long sick leave, was offered the job of letter editor.
All this explains for the most part why public opinion in the West has become anti-Israel. Most people have not visited Israel and only learn about the country from the media. Until now, only NGO’s like Honest Reporting and Camera used to expose the manipulations and the bias of foreign media in Israel. Now that respected journalists have decided to break their silence, others should follow their example. It is the only way to put an end to a situation that has become a stain on journalism as a whole and is endangering the future of the state of Israel.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.