MEDIA COMMENT: Where’s the meat?

As we know, since our own media repeats this many times a day, the reported casualty count has surpassed the 1,000 mark.

Palestinians stand by the rubble of the home of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians stand by the rubble of the home of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a recent article, entitled “How selective body counts incite more violence,” Professor Alan Dershowitz relates to the casualty count in Gaza. The article, published in this newspaper on July 23, argues that “The media has obsessively counted every dead body in the conflict between Hamas and Israel. They rarely explain why so many more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed: Hamas does not allow Palestinian civilians into their shelters, while using civilian areas from which to fire their rockets; Israel, on the other hand, devotes its resources to building shelters and Iron Dome protection.”
As we know, since our own media repeats this many times a day, the reported casualty count has surpassed the 1,000 mark. It should be noted that the only source of information with respect to body counts comes from Hamas and Hamas-supervised NGOs. Every announcement should have thus been qualified with the phrase “according to local Hamas sources” or “as per NGO estimates.”
Let’s ask some questions which our media does not. If indeed there were 117 bodies recovered over the past weekend in the ruins in Gaza, where were the pictures? Hamas avidly publicizes gruesome pictures, but in this case for some obscure reason did not provide much proof as to the number of victims.
Our reporters take pains to interview “residents” of the Gaza strip to portray to the Israeli public the terrible destruction that the IDF has inflicted. Why don’t they interview some of the foreign reporters and ask them tough questions, such as “have you seen bodies in the rubble?” Or, “Are you free to move around in the Strip or do you go only where your Hamas-appointed stringers point you?” Then there are the disparities in the reported casualty figures. For example, according to Al Jazeera, as of late afternoon on July 24, 627 casualties had been reported. A second website, The International Middle East Media Center, reported as of mid-afternoon on July 28 865 casualties.
However, when one tallies up the list of names of those reportedly killed up to July 24 according to the IMEMC site, the number is 765. The difference between their report and that of Al Jazeera is 138. We did not undertake a full comparison, but for example, IMEMC reports the death of Ahmad Suleiman Abu Saoud, 34, from Khan Younis on July 21, while the same name does not appear on the Al Jazeera list. In another example, IMEMC has 184 casualties from Khan Younis for the period until the end of July 23 while Al Jazeera reports 112 for the same period.
Both websites cite the Gazan health ministry, so who should we believe? Why does our media treat this data as reliable? But this is not the end of the story.
The Israellycool blog analyses the age and sex of those reportedly killed.
Using the Al Jazeera data published until July 23, of 535 casualties, one finds that 78 percent are male and 22% female. 44% of the males are in the 18-28 age group, meaning one may assume that the majority of these were members of Hamas militias. In other words, the number of innocent civilians killed is much smaller than the sum total. Certainly, every person killed is a tragedy, but with an enemy who makes callous use of people and their lives, we here in Israel should be doing the simple job of adding one and one and finding out that in Hamastan they add up to three.
We have been in touch with some senior people within the media establishment, urging them to have their reporters undertake a serious study of the Hamas propaganda. Yet not much has materialized. Our media is either incompetent, lazy or worse, willingly an accomplice to Hamas misinformation.
The body count is only the tip of the iceberg of information either suppressed or manipulated by our media.
Consider a much more minor but still meaningful example: Last Saturday night, extreme Israeli left-wingers held a demonstration against the war.
Of course, this was not the description used. Some media outlets called them peace activists and some related to them simply as members of the Israeli Left. But how many were there? Haaretz reported 7,000, NRG 2,500, Walla 3,000, Ynet 5,000. Channel 10 accepted the 5,000 figure but its reporter defined it as “large.” As usual the tough questions were not asked, for example, who funded this rally? On Channel 1, just before midnight on July 25, advocate Gaby Lasky was identified for viewers as “a legal expert on human rights.” Lasky, in fact, was the former chairperson of Peace Now and a leading Meretz party politician. Why was this information suppressed? However, a woman representing a group called “Warm House for Soldiers” was interviewed by Dov Gilhar on Monday midday on Channel 10 TV. When she began to speak strongly against the unnecessary endangering of Israeli lives due to considerations for the safety of Gaza residents, she was asked if she represented a party and her airtime was cut short.
Kol Yisrael’s Keren Neubach, in addition to continuing to assemble imbalanced discussion panels, uses Twitter, as many journalists do. She tweeted on Monday, July 28, that the diplomatic maneuvering between the United States and Israel over the exact version of the cease-fire offer was “childish.”
On Sunday evening on Channel 1 TV, Liat Raviv, referring to the deaths of soldiers, asked national camp advocate and journalist Israel Harel about this “heavy price.” Harel quickly upbraided her, noting that it was unnecessary to employ such an adjective. In the first place, the task of soldiers is to protect Israel and its citizens.
Soldiers know and are prepared for the ultimate sacrifice.
In a similar discussion the previous week with Oded Shachar, also on Channel 1, Hebrew University’s Dr. Limor Samimian-Darash also lashed out against the media’s treatment of this subject, saying that in the past decade or so, the media discourse is that the public must protect the soldier, at almost any cost (as in the Schalit case) and that this is just the reverse of what the atmosphere should be. But these are voices in the wilderness and just point out how much our public discourse has become mutilated.
The Israeli media demanded that the IDF undertake a thorough reckoning in the wake of some of the disasters of the Second Lebanon war, and rightly so. Sadly though, the same media did not do the same.
During that war the Hezbollah and Pallywood film production industry went into overdrive. Yet their imaginative constructs – which caused serious damage to Israel’s international image –were discovered by bloggers and people abroad, not our media.
Our media swallowed these fabrications hook, line and sinker. Have they learned anything? Seemingly no, for even Professor Alan Dershowitz does not dare question the actual body count.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (