Last Tuesday night (12/2) Tikvah hosted Jeff Jacoby, columnist of the Boston Globe, to talk about "Why the Media Gets the Middle East Wrong." It was a fascinating talk with about 45 people in attendance. Jacoby began the evening by reading news stories from various American newspapers and pointed out how when it comes to the Middle East, publications like to leave certain facts out. For example, when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Palestinians to stop firing rockets into Israel and for Israel not to respond with excessive, a respected newpaper reported the story as saying: "Ban Ki-moon tells Israel to stop using excessive force on Palestinians" without making any mention of the rest of his statement. There was another case with Newsweek Magazine when on the cover the face of a female suicide bomber was placed next to a picture of a female victim of the bombing. Their two stories were profiled equally and their faces were the same size. This sort of imagery creates a sense of moral equivalence between the murderer and the murdered. There are countless other similar examples.
Jacoby then went into why such a bias exists. Logically, it doesn't make sense that such a tiny region with such a relatively small conflict (compared to ones in Darfur and Congo with MUCH more violence) gets so much coverage, and negative coverage at that. The reasons are as follows: First, access to Israel is much easier for international journalists than it is to many other places. Tel Aviv is very hospital to reporters and there is a thriving free press in Israel. Reporters are much more likely to spend months posted in a beautiful hotel by the beach in Tel Aviv than they are to stay in Sudan or Congo. The next reason is fear. In the Islamic fundamentalist countries around Israel, journalists are threatened and intimidated by the government for writing anything critical. In Israel, it is more than OK to criticize the government -- Israelis do it more than enough! Another reason is the media's general leaning towards the left side of the political spectrum. While the Left and Right in this country are supportive of Israel, it is a trend of late for the Left to be more critical of Israel. Because most major media outlets in this country are left-leaning, this tendency to be critical of Israel is apparent. Lastly, there is often reporting based on nonfactual information. When a reporter goes to the Middle East and doesn't know the local language, they depend on translators and guides to give them the story of what's going on. The translators/guides in Palestinian territories often work for the government and take journalists to staged scenes of children throwing rocks that are not genuine at all. Reporters don't have any other options so they run with the fake story and photographs and people in the rest of the world take them to be true. Following his talk, Jacoby took questions from people in the audience, some journalists themselves and some just interested students.
Overall it was a great evening and a wonderful way to end the semester. Thanks to all of you who showed up! We look forward to seeing you for more events after the break.