Are we in media denial?

Does the Israeli media send out subconscious messages about what it 'should' feel like to be Israeli?

By ANNE KEEHN
November 17, 2005 12:39
4 minute read.
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media book88 and298. (photo credit: )

 
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The Suppression of Guilt: The Israeli Media & the Reoccupation of the West Bank By Daniel Dor Pluto Press 128pp., $19.95 Daniel Dor, who currently teaches in the Department of Communication at Tel Aviv University, used to be a journalist. He was senior editor at Yediot Aharonot and the right-leaning Ma'ariv. But he claims his book, The Suppression of Guilt; The Israeli Media & the Reoccupation of the West Bank , is decidedly non-partisan. Rather, it is a critical study of Israel's leading newspapers and news channels during the previous intifada. Far from being reactionary, the book walks a razor-thin middle ground that is fraught with complexity: an acknowledgement of Jewish victim-hood as well as of Israeli atrocities. In only 106 pages, Dor accomplishes a nearly impossible task. With a sober, academic approach, he cuts through the emotional fuzz that distorts the news, and lays bare the collective fears at the root of the Israeli media's biases and self-censorship. Specifically, he deals with the issue of guilt. What Noam Chomsky (who is generously quoted in this book) did for the media in the US, Dor does for Israel. He analyzes the country's collective consciousness, seeking out the inherent subconscious messages. Dor starts from the assumption that objective journalism is impossible. This frees him to analyze the media's biases - where do they come from? For whom do they exist? If societies are like families, Dor argues, the media represent the "symbolic mediation" between individuals and their social groups. The media do more than just report the news; they make subtle "assertions about what it should feel like to be Israeli" - making them a form of peer pressure. Dor's background as a journalist is apparent in disarmingly sober phrases that would sound belligerent from a more reactionary writer: "Obsessed as they are with the discourse of guilt, the Israeli media effectively prevents Israeli society from developing a discourse of responsibility. "In reality, the Palestinians are under Israeli occupation and not the other way around....What all the media project... is a pungent sense of insult (added to the injury of terror), a sense that the entire world directly blames us, the people, for things we are not guilty of." Dor's dissection of the media is at times ruthless. Ma'ariv is a "partisan newspaper in the simplest sense of the word." Ha'aretz is the flagship newspaper of the "confused left." And Yediot Aharonot has an "urge to provide Israelis with a defense mechanism against guilt." But Dor's critiques are also tinged with compassion. As an Israeli and former journalist who continues to live through the conflict, he has an insider's perspective. This gives his opinions weight. Dor analyzes the placement of stories in the media. He points out examples of headlines contradicting reports. He deconstructs the visual cues and messages in the layout of the news. He points out what should be blindingly obvious to all but often is not - that critical news is generally in the inside or back pages in newspapers, or at the end of news shows. He also points out that Palestinian-sympathizing writers like Amira Hass are utilized as token anomalies. In this concise book, Dor takes your hand and shows you that you haven't been seeing the forest for the trees. The crux of this book is in the title itself: the suppression of guilt in the Israeli media. Dor doesn't judge this form of collective denial. He doesn't excuse it either. "Guilt [is] a threatening sensation," he writes. "And the source of the threat, the blaming entity, can be detected on almost every page, in almost every edition." These are not media obsessed with propaganda. But they do reflect a society ravaged by the complexities of war. Reading this book is like a good session on a therapist's couch, with Dor patiently exposing the media's - and the news consumers' - defense mechanisms.

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