Media Comment: Yes, the press is not objective

In Israel, there has always been a media struggle between Left and Right.

THE PEOPLE behind the camera could be biased. (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE PEOPLE behind the camera could be biased.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The press assures us that it strives for objectivity, balance, facts and fairness. After close to a quarter-century of monitoring, analysis, research and several court cases we, as founders of Israel’s Media Watch, know well that in this country such claims are, well, less than honest.
Unlike the current media craze of “fake news,” we documented hundreds of cases of news items since 1995, as well as news shows and documentaries, where editorial intervention resulted in less-than-truthful news. Information was misrepresented, or was one-sided, or did not seek a rejoinder from the injured side.
In other cases, we detailed how via story location (front page or buried), headline size, background music or dozens of other methods a story could be downplayed or given a push. Standard newspaper practice is to publish a half-dozen op-ed columnists or even bloggers of one stripe and perhaps one of another.
Excuses abound, the most popular of which is “professional considerations,” implying that the public, which is not “professional,” cannot appreciate the deep underlying reasons which justify bias.
What we have not yet seen, although the Igal Sarna case comes close (more on that below), is anything like what recently happened at CNN.
Last week, three CNN employees were forced to resign and their story that had linked US President Donald Trump to Russia was retracted. The network let it be known that “some standard editorial processes were not followed when the article was published.” Blaming a “breakdown in editorial workflow,” CNN further informed the public that “these types of stories” did not go through the usual departments such as fact-checkers, journalism standards experts and legal experts. To be sure, CNN indicated that the retraction did not necessarily mean the facts of the story were wrong. But, rather, “the story wasn’t solid enough to publish as-is.”
We doubt that this could happen in Israel. That is, forced resignations or firings. If anything, the cases of Muhammed Bakri’s film Jenin, Jenin, which falsely accused the IDF of carrying out a massacre in Jenin in 2004, and Motti Lerner’s 1994 play Kasztner, which accused Hanah Szenes of handing two Jewish parachutists over to the Hungarian police, and was to be aired on Channel One, while not strictly hard-news media issues indicate that the opposite is true.
The lack of any responsibility to stick to facts has been justified by our High Court of Justice, which is quite lenient in defining “truth.”
Time and time again, in the name of freedom of the press and freedom of opinion the court permitted lies and untruths to be presented to the public.
In his new book Rediscovering Americanism, Mark Levin harshly criticizes the media’s adoption of progressive ideology, defining this as promises of a “utopia” measured by the end goals of personal freedom and individuality.
He writes: “They reject history’s lessons and instead are absorbed with their own conceit and aggrandizement in the relentless pursuit of a... final outcome... which is an oppression of mind and soul.”
In Israel, there has always been a media struggle between Left and Right. At times, it has been harsh and strident. In several of our previous columns, for example, we have noted the increase in the usage of Nazi-related terminology at Haaretz, a paper which was quite critical of instances when haredim (ultra-Orthodox) employed such invectives against police or the “hilltop youth” against soldiers. In Israel, there is no fairness, especially when reporting is ideologically tainted.
The main headline in the June 28 edition of Haaretz, splashed across all eight columns, was, “Lapid to visit Spain on trip by right-wing NGO Monitor.” The English-language edition’s editor, Noa Landau, could not simply write “NGO Monitor.”
She had to add “right wing.” As far as we know, NGO Monitor is not right-wing. It does, however, highlight the fact that 90% of Israeli civil society NGOs acting in the area of the country’s Arab population and in the administered territories happen to be extreme left-wing and foreign- funded. Haaretz in English will not be objective.
A more subtle example is how, for example, Daniel Gordis, in a June 23 column, described for readers of the Bloomberg Views website the newspaper reactions to author David Grossman’s Booker Prize win: “Even newspapers on the far right celebrated the extraordinary accomplishment.
Israel Hayom
, the controversial Sheldon Adelson-backed paper widely seen as a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu....” Note the use of “far right” and “controversial.”
Somehow, in Israel, leftists are never “extreme” and left-wing extremists are but “activists.” There are no “ultras” or “radicals” in the left-ofcenter camp. Gordis or other columnists will never describe Haaretz as the “German-funded paper whose owners are tainted by the Nazi era.”
Nor will he describe it as a “post-Zionist anti-Jewish Israeli publication.”
Igal Sarna, who lost a libel suit initiated against him by Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, provided another example of our politicized press. His loss was due to violation of what we would consider the most elementary principle of journalism: he was unable to support his claims with facts.
In a July 2 interview published in The Jerusalem Post Magazine, he readily admitted that “I’m a fierce opponent of Netanyahu.” He had written that Netanyahu is “a mushroom that grew out of [assassinated prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin’s blood, since Netanyahu was involved in inciting against him.”
As for his latest run-in with the Netanyahus, he remained unrepentant, admitting that “I’m not well versed in all the details. I couldn’t get to the person who was present there.” A journalist with such low standards should be fired. And he was – back in 2011. He was, however, rehired. Did Yediot Aharonot consider his politics more worthy than his journalistic standards? Our media in Israel is politically biased and overwhelmingly pro-Left.
Here’s how it works in England.
Anchor Jon Snow was accused of mouthing a noxious “anti-Tory rant,” but The Guardian took the opportunity to dispel “the myth of the pinko inside the TV” by asserting that Snow “is serious about impartiality – and sometimes what looks like bias is simply independent thought.” One wonders what the Guardian would have written had Snow gone against Labor with similar views.
The Atlantic
journalist McKay Coppins wrote this week about “a vast alternative left-wing media infrastructure... polemical podcasters and partisan click farms; wild-eyed conspiracists and cynical fabulists... [that] traffic heavily in rumor and wage campaigns of misinformation... a media universe where partisan hysteria is too easily stoked, and fake news can travel at the speed of light.”
That framework exists in Israel as well. Channel 10’s item on a report by an extreme left-wing NGO, Molad – Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, “Attracting Followers,” which asserted the existence of a clandestine campaign of the Education Ministry to promote religious indoctrination of secular school pupils, was shown by investigative reporter Kalman Liebskind and others to be quite baseless.
So, caveat emptor. Media consumer, beware. But also push back. Complain.
It’s your civic duty.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch. (