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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Journalists Blame Israel for War Coverage

Note: This post was based on an article at YNetNews.com.
There are other accounts at the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz that paint a different picture of the nature of the comments made.
Media Line will be providing a transcript of what was actually said.

In the meantime, it may be that the comments made here are based on incorrect information


That's the headline from an article from YNet News.com. Amazing.
A number of journalists claimed during a convention in Jerusalem Monday evening that Israel and the IDF were mostly to blame for the way the foreign media covered the Lebanon war.
The panel of journalists, largely from the international media, convened to discuss their coverage of the war, at a conference arranged by the Media Line agency's Mideast Press Club.
On the one hand you have claims by the Chairman of the Foreign Press Association, and Bureau Chief of ABC News, Simon McGregor-Wood that "Journalists' access to the battlefield is controlled exclusively by the IDF...We are very disappointed that the IDF didn't give us more opportunities."

Complaints like that are expected.

But on the other hand is Steven Erlanger, the New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief, who claimed to be surprised that Israel's view of the war differed from that of its critics, and seems to be under the impression that Israelis didn't "quite grasp how the war was perceived outside of Israel." [Erlanger apparently was not taking US opinion into account]

Left unclear is why Israel should give weight to her critics' opinions at a time that thousands of rockets are raining down on Israel's cities and setting her forests on fire. McGregor-Wood and Erlanger share a hubris bordering on petulance at not getting their way. Erlanger himself is still stuck on the concept of proportionality in war and seems genuinely surprised that Israel did not further limit her defence of her citizens.

At the same time, during the convention:
Erlanger added that during the war, he "took General Yadlin (who briefed the press on IDF operations) too seriously."

'You are free to say what you like about us'

Erlanger told the panel he turned down an offer by the IDF Spokesperson Unit to gain access to IDF efforts aimed at enabling humanitarian aid to reach Lebanon, saying he was not interested in the story.
Considering how little attention was paid by the media to the casualites in Israel and the effect of 3,000-4000 Kassam rockets falling on her cities, it is not unexpected that Erlanger would have no interest in an angle that might cast Israel in a favorable light. Thus, while some of his colleagues mentioned the strict control Hezbollah enforced on the media, Ernlanger insisted that the only threat his own colleague faced in Lebanon was from Israel's missiles.

Another revealing remark was made by the Associated Press' Chief Jerusalem Correspondent, Ravi Nessman, who admitted that it was impossible to confirm what the death toll was:

"All we can do is report what everyone's telling us."

That is a recipe for confusion and bias--not reporting. It goes back to the 'Katrina Complex'.

In the aftermath of Katrina, during a discussion of the reporting that was done, Keith Woods, former newspaper reporter and editor at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and currently dean of the faculty at the Poynter Institute-- a school for journalists in Florida waxed eloquently on the great job done by the press:
Well, I did like the aggressiveness of the journalists throughout, I liked the fact that for a good part of this reporting the journalists brought themselves to the reporting a sense of passion, a sense of empathy, a sense of understanding that they were not telling an ordinary story any more than the Sept. 11 attacks were an ordinary story. So I like the fact that journalism understood the size of this story from the very beginning and brought to bear the kinds of resources and the kind of passion in the coverage that we saw.
This is a description that could easily sum up the attitude of journalists in Lebanon. In Mr. Woods case, Hugh Hewitt pointed out the "the lurid, the hysterical, the salaciousness of the reporting...they let in all the rumors, and all the innuendo, all the first-person story because they were caught up in this own emotionalism."

This was something Hezbollah recognized, was ready for, and manipulated to a degree that the media is still not willing to admit.

Woods' response sheds light not only on the exaggerated over-the-top reporting at Katrina, but in Lebanon as well:
The kind of reporting that journalists have to do during this time is revisionist. You have to keep telling the story until you get it right.
This is not so different from Nessman's claim that "All we can do is report what everyone's telling us."

Nessman though is less honest. If indeed all the media can do is report what eveyone is telling them, then the question arises why equal time was not given to the casualties in Israel with the reporting done in Lebanon. Likewise, the stories told by Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian stringers are accepted without question without equal time for the Israeli view. The reporting of manufactured stories of Israeli attacks on Red Cross ambulances and Reuters vehicles is a current example of accepting stories whole.

At the conclusion of the convention:
"You are free to say what you like about us, in the same way we are free to say what we like about you," the ABC's Simon Wood told the audience, which largely consisted of US immigrants to Israel.One would have hoped that journalists would report the facts and not just feel "free to say what we like about you," but yes, Mr. Wood--people are free to say what they think of the job of the media, to a far larger audience than ever before.

Glad you noticed.

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