September 5, 2008
In the olden days, when night watchmen patrolled the streets of towns, they had a standard chant: "Ten o'clock and all is well!" Sleep soundly; nothing's wrong.
Each week, when I start to write this column I hope to be able to do the equivalent. I could just write one sentence: "This week, the stories are fairly and accurately reported so there's nothing to write about."
Unfortunately, for your reading time, my workload, and the state of the world, each week there is indeed something to write about. Alas, such is true this week.
Increasingly, print media coverage comes from Associated Press and Reuters as newspapers close down costly foreign bureaus. This should be good news since these two wire services are supposed to be fair, objective, and balanced--even bland--in their presentation of events. At times in the past they have been biased against Israel, though not all the time by any means and also aware that it was not right to slant their coverage. Like Adam and Eve, driven from the Garden of Eden, they knew their nakedness and were ashamed.
Nowadays, however, both shame and restraint are gone. Many articles--again not all--are extraordinarily biased. For this to happen requires several things:
· The reporters know they will not be punished for doing so, either by verbal criticism, a slowing of their career rise, or firing.
· Editors know the same.
· High-ranking executives do not fear the complaints of their media subscribers.
· And all have redefined the purpose of journalism from fairness and accuracy to political advocacy.
Of course, they will say that this is all nonsense and they do a very good job, thank you very much. The problem, however, is that it is so ridiculously easy to show this isn't true that it is hard to believe that the evidence will not persuade at least those outside these organizations that the case is proven.
One of the most common patterns, presented repeatedly in my columns on AP, is the presentation of the Palestinian but not the Israeli side.
A second is to give Israelis who oppose their country's policy and support Palestinian positions more space than the Israeli government and mainstream view.
A third is to blame Israel for problems but not the Palestinians, or at least not the Palestinian Authority or Fatah. It is permissible to criticize Hamas.
Among the most frequent abuses is to say what the Palestinians want but not what Israel needs; to stress alleged Israeli failures to meet commitments but not even to mention--even as issues raised--Palestinian failures.
Consider Mark Lavie, "Palestinians reject Israel's offer on interim peace plan," September 1, 2008. It is true that the lead attributes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's rejection of Israel's idea for an interim peace agreement as "insisting on an all-or-nothing approach that virtually ruled out an accord by a January target date." Yet this is more than made up for by the space given for Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to explain his side's position:
"We want an agreement to end the [Israeli] occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."
What does Israel want? We don't know. We could be told: a permanent end to the conflict, incitement, and terrorism along with security guarantees for a starter. One might add border modifications or other things. But I literally cannot remember ever seeing such a passage.
We are told:
"Officials in Olmert's office said Israel has proposed giving the Palestinians all of Gaza, 93 percent of the West Bank along with Israeli land equivalent to 5.5 percent of the West Bank, as well as a land corridor through Israel to link the two territories. The Palestinians have said that offer is unacceptable."
But we are not told what the Palestinians offered Israel.
There is, however, room for two paragraphs of Palestinian complaints:
"....The Palestinians complain bitterly about continued Israeli construction in West Bank settlements, despite an Israeli pledge to halt the building as part of a 2003 peace plan that still serves as the framework for negotiations. Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo called settlement construction "the most critical issue that threatens the whole peace process now."
"The Palestinians accuse Israel of swallowing up West Bank land that they claim for their state. Israel counters that it is not expanding settlements; rather, it is building inside settlement blocs it plans to keep in a final peace accord."
Does Israel have complaints? Do Israelis accuse the Palestinians of doing anything?
The rest is silence.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle- East (Wiley).