The short answer? No. But understanding why requires taking a closer look at how the media works.
When I visited Israel in 2001, the circumstances were stressful. We were there getting alternative medical therapy for our eleven year-old daughter, who at the time was extremely sick. Originally there for six weeks, we ended up staying two months. Our time there served as the catalyst for my international thriller, DARK WATERS. As my daughter began to get stronger, we explored Tel Aviv, then moved outside to visit Haifa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada, Tiberias and the Dead Sea. Venturing out took a lot of resolve. In 2001, Israel experienced over 40 suicide bombings, including a car bombing in Tiberias involving a vehicle we had parked close to when visiting the marketplace that morning. It was the first time I had ever been afraid to leave the house, go to the movies, eat at a restaurant or ride a city bus.
It was December 6, 2001, after I was home, that I encountered my first experience of unreliable reporting on the Arab-Israel conflict. A Palestinian suicide bomber had blown himself up outside the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv killing twenty-five people. My daughter and I used to sit on the sea wall in front of the disco, listening to the music and watching the sea lap at the beach. It was a place filled with young people out to enjoy the night, to make friends, to dance. The news reporter spoke of how it was thought that the suicide bomber had chosen his target based on the number of Israeli soldiers known to frequent the disco. As though that somehow justified the violence? He then supported his claim by extrapolating that since all Israeli citizens were required to serve in the IDF that everyone in the discotheque could be viewed as an Israeli soldier or soon-to-be soldier. A bit of stretch. The majority of those killed that night were young teenage girls well under the age of eighteen.
Forty years ago, in my first class at the University of Colorado, we learned the basic tenets of ethical journalism: truth and accuracy; independence; fairness and impartiality; humanity; and accountability. A sizable order! And while they still teach the same principles today, they tend to serve more as guidelines than rules. I would also venture to say most journalists feel they follow the tenets. Reporters still fact-check. But often they only present one version of the truth, and therein lies the problem.
The lines get a little blurry when it comes to the last four tenets. It's no secret that most of us perceive there is media bias. The best breakdown I've found detailing this phenomenon comes from a Student News Daily blog article that lays out the various types. There's bias by omission, where the reporter leaves one side out of the equation; bias by selection of sources, where the sources cited support one particular view over another; bias by story selection, where the reporter highlights additional news stories coinciding with his agenda; bias by placement, which lends weight to a the story by where it appears; bias by labeling, where certain sources are tagged or labeled, with other sources are never identified; and bias by spin, when a reporter slants the tone of the piece by making subjective comments. "Creative nonfiction," where a reporter uses story form to impart facts in a colorful, thought-provoking manner, lends itself especially well to bias. A story also tends to end with a moral, providing a natural pathway for reporters to place their own personal spin on the telling.
News reporting is big business these days. The competition is keen and reporters have had to adjust to the times. With the onset of the internet and social media, more papers are going under, while more and more consumers pull their news from specialty sources and blogs and information is quickly disseminated around the globe. As consumers, we have been conditioned to receive our news in sound bites, and reporters are expected to deliver information in smaller, more consumable pieces. Tasked with entertaining their audience, reporters turn to sensationalism to grab attention, exploiting even the less exciting news bites for some type of intrinsic value. And, as in all good business, the news venue caters to the consumer. If feedback says the audience likes a particular-type of story or a particular slant, the reporter does his best to deliver.
On April 3, 2002, we watched on the news as Palestinians took refuge inside the Church of Nativity and the IDF rolled their tank into Manger Square and pointed its cannon at the Door of Humility, where inside 200 monks provided refuge and care to 120 Palestinians. At least, that's the way it was presented. There was no initial mention that the Palestinians were suspected militants fleeing arrest, or that they were suspected of having ties to the terrorist organizations sponsoring the rash of suicide bombings plaguing Israel, or that the IDF operation itself was in response to a bombing during Passover Seder that killed 23 mostly elderly vacationers. Instead, with graphic, emotionally-ladened photographs, the reporter painted a picture that tugged at the heartstrings of millions of Americans and brought us back clambering for more.
In her book, STONEWALLED, Sharyl Attkisson, an ex-CBS reporter, raised the idea that a general cultural change has occurred within journalism whereby reporters too often go along with the powers that be, whether they're corporate, political or other special interests. A good example of this is the media's handling of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's reference to the Holocaust when he cited his opposition to the Iran Deal. Regardless of whether or not he crossed the line in invoking a reference to the Holocaust, it didn't take any time for the news media to pull the focus away from his opposition to the brokered deal. As if choreographed, the media immediately compared his remark to those of Donald Trump's, spinning the story to be about the myriad contenders for the Republican nomination rather than allowing Huckabee's remark to fuel the debate on the important, controversial issue of whether or not the Iran Deal is in the best interests of our country and the world.
And if journalists are swayed by outside interest, I'm sure the same can be said for individuals. Just like Pavlov's dogs, if we are constantly presented with information biased toward a specific point of view, we will likely begin to accept that perspective. For those of us living in the United States, that means we are more apt to be exposed to left-leaning perspectives. An American Trends Panel Survey conducted in 2014 and published in the Washington Post showed that the majority of survey responders leaned to the left of center and that news stations (CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, NPR and the BBC) and newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post and USA Today) leaned even slightly further left than the average responder.
So where does Israel fit in all of this?
Currently the left-leaning media leans away from Israel, and the same might be said for the rest of the world. Writer Zack Beauchamp stated in a recent Vox article that the latest BBC World Service poll showed that "most countries have a pretty dim view of Israel's influence on the world." After doing some digging, I discovered that the poll covered the years from 2012 to 2014 and was composed of answers from 24, 542 people across twenty-two countries. With the world's population currently exceeding seven billion, it appears likely there's a margin for error. Yet, the BBC poll is presented as definitive proof that support for Israel is dwindling.
Is it any wonder, then, that nearly every article I found on the 2012 Gaza-Israel Conflict from major news media sources began with statements similar to this one from an ABC News via World News report published July 31, 2014? The ABC News report first cites heavy shelling by Israel Defense Forces that "left much of Gaza City damaged." Factual, but could be construed as leading readers to empathize with the citizens of Gaza. The next paragraph opens with, "The conflict broke out on July 8, when Israel launched 'Operation Protective Edge' in response to Hamas launching rockets toward Israel." Again, while the sentence acknowledges that Hamas launched rockets first, the order and tone of the presentation left me—and I would imagine most readers—with the initial impression—that Israel started the conflict. The next sentence states, "Since the conflict began, 1,423 Gazans have died and 8,265 have been injured while 59 Israelis have died, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry and IDF, respectively." Again, while I'm sure these are accurate numbers, the manner of presentation leads the reader toward the conclusion that Israel is a mighty force pummeling a weak and defenseless victim.
So is there a fix?
Israel faces a tough challenge. Few Americans can understand the vulnerability Israel feels surrounded by so many Arab countries that have pledged to eradicate its people. Fewer still understand the intricacies that exist in the relationships between the multiple factions of Jews, Christians and the Israeli-Arabs residing there. I didn't, until I spent two months living in Tel Aviv. Then, you have to take into account the media images we see on our televisions, and in our newspapers and magazines. We're shown photographs of cute Palestinian children standing atop bombed out rubble, pictures of IDF soldiers guarding a wall that separates families, or pictures of Israeli settlers holding fast to land they've been ordered by their own government to vacate—because those photos are sensational and evoke emotional response. Applying individual biases, many Americans see a young boy in need of help, or are reminded of the Berlin Wall, or of our own problems struggling to sort out U.S. immigration policy.
The way I see it, Israel has limited choices. First, it can simply wait for the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction. It's bound to happen at some point as the issues we're faced with in the Middle East continue to escalate. Second, Israel can work to improve its image. In social studies classes across America, kids are being taught about "presentism," defined as "an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences." To illustrate, children are shown a picture of a soldier with a gun near the heads of a young boy and his mother, evoking negative feelings toward the soldier. Pan out and show the whole picture, and we see the soldier is actually standing guard over the boy, his mother and a group of villagers as other soldiers pass out food and water. Somehow Israel needs to work with the media panning out on the photographs, putting a new spin on its image and showing more of the positives—perhaps by highlighting areas where Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, live together and thrive.
http://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/en/contents/5-principles-of-journalismChris Goff is the author of DARK WATERS (September 15, 2015; Crooked Lane Books), an international thriller set amid the Israel-Palestine conflict. A former journalist, she is also the author of the critically acclaimed ecologically-themed Bird Watchers mysteries, and has served as board member for the Mystery Writers of America. For more: www.christinegoff.com