It has been suggested that the instinct to share information is matched by the instinct to prevent it from spreading. We would add that there is another instinct, which is to spin the information, shape it, frame it and present it in a way that benefits someone or something in that information chain. In a word, bias.
And an additional corollary is that the more the bias stems from the ideological and political sphere, knowingly and even sub-consciously, the more cunning, guileful, artful and devious that bias will be.
For example, an early tweet from Times of Israel journalist Dov Lieber on the incident last Thursday when Jewish children hiking were stoned, beaten and had possessions stolen near the Arab village of Kutzra near Shiloh, read, “48-year-old palestinian [SIC] shot dead by an Israeli... army said the Palestinians were throwing rocks at ‘hikers,’ and one responded with gunfire.” He was queried about the quotation marks and replied, “At the time it wasn’t clear who was there. Army said hikers. Simple.”
But is it?
Of all the words he chose to bracket in scare quotes, why hikers? He could have selected others, such as shot, or throwing rocks, responded or even dead. Why the use of what’s known as scare quotes?
Scare, or sneer, quotes have become increasingly employed by journalists and bloggers, as Megan Garber wrote a year ago in The Atlantic, “to make clear that [the word bracketed] is not just a term of discussion, but a term of contention... indications of words that are doubted... They signal irony, and uncertainty. They suggest words that don’t quite mean what they claim to.”
If media people insist on inserting themselves into the news, or their own views and values, eliminating objectivity, it may come about that someday, journalists will find their own names bracketed in scare quotes.
An extreme form of bias is to pressure a friendly legislator to attempt to ban a rival publication.
As reported on November 27, MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) was asked whether he was wrong to have attempted to pass the anti-Israel Hayom bill several years ago. His reply was that “today I know that I was wrong in how I led this effort... but the decisions were made on the move; in retrospect, it was wrong to engage this matter through legislation.”
Was the shutting down of Arutz 7 over a decade ago also the result of some MKs being “on the move”?
SATIRE IS a form of media comment which openly permits those participating to drop any sense of neutrality. Is this ethical? Not if the program is presented by a public broadcaster, without balance. If satire is one-sided, bias dominates.
The Kan network airs the Ad Kan! (No Farther) political satire program whose host, Michael Hanegbi, is afforded a special introductory slot to let the world share his wisdom, in addition to being able to shape and limit the other six panelists, who appear to be fairly representative voices.
Early last week, one of Hanegbi’s monologues touched on the very annoying Peleg group demonstrations. Representing a fraction of the general haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, and forcefully reprimanded by leading rabbis, the group has been campaigning against any cooperation with the IDF, even to obtain draft deferments. But this allowed a swipe at all haredim. Here is how his remarks went: • On one thing we can all agree on: the haredim are kakot (turds).
• The haredim really aren’t kakot, they are simply different and took themselves out of democratic society and formed for themselves a society that contributes just to and for itself.
• Okay, they’re a bit crappy, but that’s okay.
Hanegbi zeroed in on a small group and then, pardon the pun, smeared all of the haredim.
Another spin tool is to redo history, the “old news” that few can recall.
We do not have the space to review in depth all the Haaretz coverage of this year’s centenary of the Balfour Declaration, but some of it exuded utter contempt for Zionism. One op-ed bemoaned “the racism of the British government 100 years ago, which disturbingly, continues to reverberate in the conflict to this day” and claimed that “the Cabinet had no intention of giving Judea to the Jews.”
Other articles this year were entitled “The Curse of the Balfour Declaration,” “Balfour Declaration Wasn’t About Israel,” “Balfour Declaration’s Legacy Is Toxic for Both Israelis and Palestinians,” “Balfour’s Original Sin” and “Britain Facilitated Palestine’s Ethnic Cleansing. Today, Britain’s Celebrating It.”
One, “Britain’s Broken Promises to the Palestinians From Balfour Onwards,” uncritically quotes a Gazan Arab saying: “The Jewish people took their rights after Hitler committed massacres against them.”
Returning to the stoning of the children hikers, a fierce Twitter battle erupted between Channel 2’s Amit Segal, son of Makor Rishon editor Haggai Segal who grew up in the Ofra community in the disputed territory of Binyamin, and Haaretz’s owner and publisher, Amos Schocken.
Angered at the way the English-language Haaretz headline reporting that incident was worded – “Palestinian Shot and Killed by Jewish Settler in the West Bank” – Segal tweeted: “journalistic garbage can.”
Schocken responded: “Liar and propagandist disguised as a journalist.”
Schocken explained there was a bug in the application (?) which translates the Hebrew to English, but Segal showed that the Hebrew version was identical and said, “perhaps the problem is not technical but psychological?” Schocken is active on Twitter. On Nov. 23 this year, he promoted an opinion column by Lior Birger, who is studying for her PhD in social work in the field of immigration and refugees. She asserted that in deporting illegal infiltrators to third-party countries, Israel is placing their lives at risk. She wrote that the “increased removal” policy adopted by the government is “another step in the abusive jailing and deportation of asylum seekers in Israel. For many of those deported it is a death sentence.”
Schocken added his own interpretation: “The murderers in suits: Eli Yishai, Gideon Sa’ar, Gilad Erdan, Aryeh Deri, Miri Regev, Ayelet Shaked, Benjamin Netanyahu.” Sa’ar, incidentally, is not a member of the government.
Besides his inciting words, given the rather outspoken nature of the publisher/owner of the newspaper, as documented in previous columns of ours, can there really be freedom of thought in Haaretz’s newsroom? Can a reporter truly feel free to follow up a story or, once entering the building at 9 Schocken Street in south Tel Aviv, must he assume the mindset of the editorial line?
The media in Israel is not very popular. It is regularly characterized as conceited, self-aggrandizing, shallow and not responsive to the public. It is also too often irresponsible.
The biases of our media are a root cause underlying its unpopularity.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).
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