Rules for Mideast Reporting Guarantee News Media Bias
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently wrote a column, published Jan. 13, in which he outlined eight rules for Middle East reporting. They included:
“Rule 1: Never lead your story out of Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq with a cease-fire; it will always be over by the time the next morning’s paper is out.”
“Rule 3: The Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure that they never enjoy it. Everything else is commentary.”
“Rule 8: What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in Arabic, in Hebrew or in any other local language. Anything said in English doesn’t count.”
Friedman’s insights are good, but he missed a number of rules that are more commonly followed by his colleagues. These include:
• Never file stories from an Arab capital. It’s dangerous and you won’t be allowed to report anything the government doesn’t like.
• Don’t bother to learn Hebrew or Arabic. It’s easier to crib the English press, and the Israeli papers already have all the dirt you need.
• Get the dramatic photo. If necessary, add context later.
• One person’s “terrorist” is another person’s “freedom fighter,” so refer to Arabs who murder Israelis as “gunmen” or “militants.”
• Grieving family members are always good for interviews and photos. It doesn’t matter if those grieving are the victims of terror or are related to the terrorists.
• Report any Palestinian spokesperson’s comments as facts, but always cast aspersions on the veracity of Israeli officials.
• More is expected from Israelis than Arabs. Therefore, whatever happens is usually the Israelis’ fault.
• You can always find a Jew from Brooklyn who speaks perfect English to represent the radical Israeli point of view, and a marble-mouthed Israeli with a heavy accent to represent the mainstream.
• If both Jews and Arabs are unhappy, you can say the coverage is fair, even if it’s biased or inaccurate.
• Find sources to quote who agree with your personal views to make your subjective reports appear objective.
• Repeat Arab claims first, verify later only if challenged.
• Israelis accused of abuses are newsworthy “man bites dog” stories, while Arabs who do the same things are the equivalent of “dog bites man” and can be ignored.
• Remember, if you anger the Jews, the worst they’ll do is complain. If you upset the Arabs, the radicals might abduct or kill you.
Those who monitor the news media and want to alter the anti-Israel bias need to be aware of these rules. Criticizing coverage, correcting inaccuracies, and brilliant public relations strategies will not change the overall tenor.
The only hope of improving Israel’s image in the media is to change these rules. Someone much smarter than me will have to figure out how to do it because I don’t believe it is possible and that is why the news media will continue to present Israel in a skewed light.