Holding journalists accountable

It is time to hold international newspapers accountable for the headlines they choose, and to hold journalists accountable for the words they use.

JOURNALISTS AT work at their desks. (photo credit: REUTERS)
JOURNALISTS AT work at their desks.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It’s something we constantly kvetch about in Israel – the international media is preoccupied with Israel, holding Israel to a double standard not applied to any other country. We experience this double standard especially when terrorism intensifies within Israel, or when Israel battles against terrorist groups such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Were it not for media watchdog organizations such as CAMERA and Honest Reporting, that continuously monitor media coverage of Israel, calling out the hypocrisy, it is likely Israel would be portrayed far worse.
But there is more that we, consumers of the media, can do to point out the bias. Be it on Facebook, Twitter, blogs or editorial pieces – we need to be more specific in our messaging. It is not enough to say that the BBC is anti-Israel or that CNN reports only partial truths from Jerusalem. It is not enough to quote distorted headlines or flawed analyses. Journalists writing about Israel have names, and we need to hold them accountable. Members of the media need to know that they have something to lose when they misrepresent the reality in Israel, namely that they run the risk of being named and shamed.
Let me give you some examples.
CNN has no problem labeling the tragedy in France “Paris Terror Attacks,” but when it comes to last Thursday’s attack in Israel (Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv and another three in the West Bank), the headline CNN saw fit for print was “American student among 3 killed in West Bank assault.” No mention of the word “terror,” not even the word “Palestinian” linked with the assailant that carried out the shooting. In the name of political correctness, the word “Muslim” appears not once. This article was written by Oren Lieberman, Jerusalem correspondent for CNN.
On November 22, The Independent (UK) published a piece about global terrorism titled “Terror attacks: From Paris to Mali – a week in the life of a new global conflict,” with no mention of the terrorist attacks that occurred in Israel last week.
When it comes to the terrorist attack in Israel on last Saturday, the only words fit for print were “Four wounded in stabbing attack in Israel,” with no mention of “terror,” and with a distorted subtitle: “The attacks come amid a two-month cycle of violence,” implying moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorists and Israel’s security personnel. The article was written by Samuel Osborne, news reporter for the Independent.
On November 14, The Washington Post published an analysis piece titled: “The Paris terror attacks: What we know so far.” This is the same Washington Post that less than a month earlier published this vague headline: “Israelis kill at least 4 Palestinians after reported knife attacks.”
Now, what might a rushing reader – like most of us – conclude from this careless headline? It was a “reported knife attack” – really? Could the Post perhaps have been a bit more explicit in its headline? Did a “wandering knife” just choose to attack a group of Israelis, for no apparent reason? The article was published by William Booth and Ruth Eglash, the Post’s Jerusalem reporters.
It is time to hold international newspapers accountable for the headlines they choose, and to hold journalists accountable for the words they use – to report on Israel and beyond. Those who put Israel to shame by distorting facts or by misusing language need to know that in this day and age, when most of us get our news updates on social media, readers too have become agents of public opinion – and that we will call on them if they don’t do their job.
The author is director of Israel education at Jerusalem U. Over the past decade he has spoken to thousands of students and adults across the religious and political spectrum at synagogues, college campuses, high schools and national leadership conferences around the world. He grew up in Israel and South Africa, served as a combat soldier in the Sayeret Givati infantry unit, and received his BA from Harvard and his MA from Tel Aviv University.