America needs unbiased Middle East reporting for the 2016 election

The American electorate has been ill served by politically skewed foreign news coverage that markets political advocacy as news.

By
August 2, 2016 21:32
4 minute read.
The headquarters of the New York Times is pictured on 8th Avenue in New York

The headquarters of the New York Times is pictured on 8th Avenue in New York. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Unbiased Middle East news coverage has become as rare as hen’s teeth.

This is especially important now that American leadership has declined and its word garners less respect from friends and enemies. Of more concern, both American presidential candidates are profoundly flawed. One believes she can play by a different set of rules, convinced that the dangerous Iran agreement puts a permanent “cap” on the Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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The other, blurting out ignorance, playing on people’s fears, seems not to have the humility and willingness to give an ear to everyone’s concerns, or to have a prayer of bridging the gaps between parties with ingrained antagonisms.

And then there is the mainstream media. The term has become an epithet to the Right, and the Left is only too happy to ignore its bias. The American electorate has been ill served by politically skewed foreign news coverage that markets political advocacy as news.

During the 2014 Gaza war exposés by Richard Behar, formerly of BBC and CNN, and former AP editor Matti Friedman showed how mainstream news was compromised, peddling advocacy as balanced reporting.

Some of the evidence they presented included suppression of stories critical of the Palestinians; a New York Times reporter participating in boycott activism; and suppression of reporting regarding Palestinian rejection of Israel’s 2008 peace offer.

As Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post tweeted, “A dissection of the culture of ‘distaste for Israel’ among Western press... All too true, in my experience.”

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I remember asking Akiva Eldar of Haaretz if he was troubled that the news articles in his paper were editorialized.

He told me that if I didn’t like it, I could read another paper.

Whatever happened to proudly unbiased news coverage instead of advocacy journalism? In the age of social media, the public thinks nothing of delegitimizing those with contrary views, or gathering their news only from like-minded echo chambers.

This is especially true of American Jews. A New York Times reader over the past few years would be totally unaware that opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA , or the “Iran agreement”) could be anything but bloodthirsty war hawks.

So kudos go out to the new public editor of the Times, Liz Spayd. Just one month into her new job she confronted the elephant in the Times’ newsroom, posting an article titled, “Why Readers See the Times as Liberal.”

“Imagine a country where the greatest, most powerful newsroom in the free world was viewed not as a voice that speaks to all but as one that has taken sides.

Or has that already happened?” To all but the must obtuse, it has been an open secret for years that the views of the editorial pages of the Times have spilled over into the news coverage.

Whether in its choice of a politicized headline, a cropped photo leaving out the full story, or choosing to not report or bury in the inner pages a newsworthy story, it is an open secret that the “paper of record” approaches many stories from a progressive perspective.

Fine writers like David Sanger do show much more objectivity. However what has stuck with me was a conversation with a former editor of the Times and a current writer, who told me that if you come into the news or editorial room with anything close to a favorable opinion of Israel, you are immediately marginalized.

When Spayd asked the Times news journalists about the perceived bias, she was met unsurprisingly with “rolled eyes.” When she asked Dean Baquet, the executive news editor of the Times, about bias, he said for the most part there is not a “liberal cast.”

Earth to Baquet, we have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

In social media, on cable television, and worst of all newspapers of record, a fraud is being perpetuated upon the public. Often only readers with exceptional knowledge of a particular subject can see how the facts are being manipulated.

As an example, I was reading a news column in the Times: “Delays threaten to undo Iranian deals for purchase of 200 jetliners.” The article found no space to express the number one reason Congress is wary of selling commercial planes to Iran, namely the use of those jetliners to supply the Syrian regime with weapons.

So my plea: get your news from multiple sources with different perspectives, sources that earn your trust, and encourage your friends, family and colleagues to do the same.

The author is the director MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org), read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.

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