Middle east pack journalism: Everybody agrees

All too often, Western journalists parrot Palestinian talking points.

A journalist at a demonstration in Ramallah (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
A journalist at a demonstration in Ramallah
One of the journalist’s favorite responses to being criticized for bias is: “As long as we anger each side equally, we’re doing something right.” It’s a favorite among journalists covering the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. “We’re on the right track because both sides complain.” And sure enough, there’s ample literature “on both sides” complaining that the press favors “the other side.” After all, as one New York Times correspondent puts it, it’s all about “dueling narratives” in a “land of few facts.”
In reality, however, this “both sides complain” meme has operated as a fig leaf concealing just how far off the rails the mainstream news media have gone when it comes to reporting from the Middle East. In fact, journalists have, over the past two decades, actually produced an inversion of reality: not only do “facts” reported by Israelis get turned into an Israeli “narrative,” but Palestinian narratives get reported as facts.
For example, journalists, basing themselves on casualty figures provided by Hamas-run institutions, using footage at the hospital shot under Hamas’ watchful eye, repeat the jihadi (and UN, and NGO) narrative that “the vast... overwhelming majority of victims are civilians.”
Some of this comes from pure intimidation. In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, Hamas intimidation of journalists became so extensive that the Foreign Press Office, normally much quicker to denounce Israeli intimidation than Palestinian, issued a protest against Hamas’ behavior.
In response, the New York Times correspondent tweeted: “Every reporter I’ve met who was in Gaza during war says this Israeli/now FPA narrative of Hamas harassment is nonsense.”
In 119 characters, she dismissed ample empirical evidence and credible testimony of Hamas intimidation as an “Israeli narrative,” now also adhered to by the FPA, and instead gave us the Palestinian narrative as news.
In other words, the real nonsense comes across as the reporter’s voice, and the accurate assessment comes across as Israeli narrative nonsense.
So consistently did the media pass on this narrative that Hamas actually based its war strategy on their cooperation. As Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gloated in 2014, Palestinian sources “constituted the river from which the global media quenched its thirst for information about what was happening.”
Okay. Under the gun, journalists say what the bullies want them to say. But what about the rest of the time? What about when they’re not in Gaza, but in Washington or New York or London? Don’t they then give us reliable information? Don’t they then behave like real journalists? Apparently not.
In November 2015, the Palestinian Authority issued a formal set of principles for journalists to observe when covering the conflict:
• The problem is the illegal occupation, which includes east Jerusalem.
• The solution is a two-state solution in which Israel evacuates all of the land beyond the Green Line.
• The major obstacle to peace is Israeli settlements, which must be eliminated.
• The Palestinians are for and Israel is against the two-state solution.
• The Palestinians have fulfilled all their obligations including recognition of Israel.
In December of 2016, Palestinian allies presented a resolution to the UN General Assembly that literally implemented this Palestinian manifesto. It passed thanks to the refusal of the US to veto it. Five days later, US secretary of state John Kerry gave a very long policy speech which elaborated approvingly on every aspect of this approach, both narrative and strategic.
There are, of course, serious problems with this approach, which Israelis were quick to point out.
• The reason for the failure of negotiations was Palestinian refusal to make concessions, and they want to use the international community (UN, international courts) to pressure Israel into non-reciprocated concessions.
• The settlements in the West Bank are not the main roadblock to peace; the Palestinians consider all of Israel occupied land, and Tel Aviv and Haifa to be settlements.
• The Palestinians have never given up their plans to destroy Israel; their agreement to a “two-state solution” is tactical, not sincere.
• The Palestinians are using the media to advance their war plans.
The job of the media is, of course, to investigate the claims of both sides, assess the evidence that supports or contradicts these inevitably partisan assertions and give us as accurate a picture of the issues as possible.
CNN and BBC both gave a great deal of attention to these two diplomatic events, the resolution and the speech. They invited dozens of guests and dedicated more time to them than any other topic, by far, during the week of December 23-28. Second Draft, where we record both CNN International and BBC Global in order to critique their “first draft” of history, has made a study of their coverage, in which we examine not only what they and their invited guests told you, but also relevant and accurate information they did not find worthy of mention. The result is a 20-minute video called Everybody Agrees , that documents how these TV news producers, as a pack, repeated Palestinian talking points as news and did not let their viewers see any information that contradicted those talking points.
In short, they did not cover the conflict, they contributed to it.
I invite you to view our indictment, our sources and our transcripts of the BBC and CNN. Judge for yourselves.
It’s bad enough they report one side’s war propaganda as news, but when that war propaganda is also that of your own society’s enemies, it’s not just “lethal journalism,” it’s own-goal war journalism. I, personally, do not think Western democracies can afford so dysfunctional a fourth estate.