May 28, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: The European bias

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:39 am by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: The European bias
The media consumer is left with yet another bias: morality and the question of who decides what is or is not moral.
In the mid-1980s, journalism studies academics began to push the idea that non-biased reporting is untenable and therefore, bias as a measuring tool of a media outlet’s output should be rejected. This was promoted by R. A. Hackett, a professor at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University School of Communication. Robert P. Vallone and coworkers of Stanford University’s School of Journalism, in a highly cited paper which studied media performance during the First Lebanon War, suggested another mechanism was at work, one of social perception, and their paradigm was termed the “hostile media phenomenon.”

The idea postulated was that in viewing the same media reports, opposing groups will register more negative references to their side than positive ones, and each would claim that the coverage would sway nonpartisans in a hostile direction. Within both partisan groups, furthermore, greater knowledge of the crisis was associated with stronger perceptions of media bias.

Their research did admit though that this is not the whole story. They recognized that journalists do indeed possess personal, cultural and political biases, which they insert into their reporting, interviewing and moderating of panels.

They did not acknowledge that such bias significantly skews the coverage, replacing the quest for truth with the quest for influence.

Barbie Zelizer, another well-known media academic who is professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, has now published What Journalism Could Be, a collection of her articles over the past two-anda- half decades. She expresses a wish in the volume that we get beyond “depressed lamentations” and instead focus on journalism’s relevance. For her, the essence of journalism is “creating an imagined engagement with events beyond the public’s reach,” adding (p.6) that “imaginative thinking consists of moral considerations.”

But, again, the media consumer is left with yet another bias: morality and the question of who decides what is or is not moral.

These obstacles were very much in view with regard to the central news issues of the past few weeks: the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Iran agreement, the media’s coverage of the dedication of the US embassy in Jerusalem location and the events at the Gaza border.

What Walter Williams, who taught at America’s first journalism school at the University of Missouri, called a “creed,” which he promoted in his 1911 book The Practice of Journalism, was the view that journalists should be “stoutly independent,” “self-controlled,” “patient” and “indignant of injustice.”

This, though, is not the case, especially in Europe. Much too often, to quote Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at London’s City University, former Daily Mirror editor and contributor to The Guardian, one finds that “news and comment have been conflated in our mainstream media outlets… No one reading newspapers down the years can have been in any doubt how their political stance has influenced their content.”

The new norm of bias is “spin,” whereby “heavily angled stories and headlines are the norm.” No one in the media is embarrassed “about omission, about failing to inform readers about news that, for one reason or another, fails to fit the editorial agenda.”

Consider the US decision to reject the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, the “Iran agreement”). As we know well in Israel, most of the Middle East, especially those countries that are “moderate” in the eyes of the Western media, cheered President Trump’s action. However, this fact was somewhat hidden by the media, especially the mainstream European media.

On May 8, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, the Washington correspondent of the prestigious Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, known as FAZ, had this to say in his commentary on Trump’s decision, titled “Trump’s destructive act”: “That his decision for sanctions against Iran has fatal consequences seems not to disturb Trump. The main issue is that Obama’s legacy is wiped out. And what does the North Korean dictator learn from this?” In plain words, the Iran decision was a frivolous act by a frivolous president whose main goal in life is to annul the actions of his predecessor. Not a word about the interests of the people living in the region.

This was not a unique event. FAZ’s reporting and commentaries were one continuous expression of disgust with the American president. Two days later, Nora Mueller added her two bits, writing, “Donald Trump’s decision to annul the nuclear treaty with Iran is fatal. It increases the danger of instability and new military warfare and this at the doorstep of Europe.” In Spain the situation was no better. The leading El Pais newspaper seemingly parroted the FAZ. On May 10, Javier Solana, under the headline “Trump’s exit from Iran nuclear deal: an epic mistake,” continued with: “What the US president cares about the most is the fact that the deal was signed under Obama.”

The Swiss Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) was more of the same. The headline of Daniel Steinvorth’s commentary on May 10 was: “Trump abandons the Iranians,” but the content was the same: Trump is motivated by Obama. Not a word about the support for his decision coming from the Saudis or other Middle Eastern countries.

The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of Trump’s decision was similar: “Trump’s trashing of the Iran deal is really about one word: Obama.”

Is it then surprising that Europe as a whole is not backing Trump? The situation is so out of hand that one of us received a letter from a colleague in which he expressed sincere worry about the situation in the Middle East and the danger to Israel.

The relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem was not better received.

Jochen Stahnke of FAZ reported on May 12: “A delicate day in Jerusalem.” Historic? Joyous? Of course not. The subtitle was: “The opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem is first and foremost a symbolic act. But also symbols can catch fire.”

The Guardian’s May 14 headline for the article by Simon Tisdall on the event was much less guarded: “Death, division and denial as US embassy opens in Jerusalem.” The content was the old stuff: “The pompous grandiosity of this tacky ceremony conveyed the essence of Trump-ism: all sound and symbolic fury, lacking substance or sense.”

Space is lacking here to review the many other important European news outlets and their anti-Trump bias, which is quite similar to the knee-jerk anti-Netanyahu responses of Haaretz.

But the breadth of it all suggests that it is not Israel’s lack of public relations, or antisemitism, which lies at the heart of Europe’s journalism. It is rather a byproduct of an ingrained liberalism which cannot dissociate wishful thinking from fact.

The anti-American and anti-Israel bias that it has created is very real, and is something which we must face and counter. It may be fatal to us, again.


May 9, 2018

MEDIA COMMENT: Misdirecting the news

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:59 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: Misdirecting the news
Iran lied; OK but precisely about what?
In the liberal Politico magazine, on April 26, Tim Alberta observed of the 30-year effort by American conservatives to prove media bias that, “It’s no secret that the majority of journalists working in national newsrooms are left-ofcenter, at least culturally. Few of them own guns, for instance, or attend church every Sunday.”

Nevertheless, he couldn’t restrain himself, pompously adding, “But most of the reporters at respected, mainstream outlets check their worldviews at the door when covering the news and strive for impartiality.”

That remains to be proven.

For example, consider the reaction both here in Israel as well as abroad to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation of the Iranian files coup. Whether analyzing media reports or how the media is directing and managing the reactions of persons being interviewed, one finds an obvious effort to minimize and basically pooh-pooh what Israel revealed. The story’s focus was moved from Iran’s duplicity to the persona of Netanyahu.

Ma’ariv’s Kalman Liebskind quipped, “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Israel’s media have a shared enemy: Netanyahu.”

One especially blatant example was evident at US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s in-flight press conference as he was leaving Israel.

Pompeo pointed out that “we now know that they continued to store this material in an orderly fashion for some purpose – right? They kept the documents for a reason, and one can speculate as to why… [they] chose to store in secret and hide these documents.”

So what does a reporter ask? The unnamed journalist, according to the transcript, suggested, “Historical record?” and added, “you’re not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t want to destroy their history.”

Pompeo cut him off: “The world can decide if this was for the Iranian museum that they – that they decided to hang onto it. (Laughter).”

The former American diplomat Aaron David Miller “went dark” to influence the story line, tweeting: “my head’s still exploding re: Bibi’s pitch which makes the Roadrunner cartoon bomb shtick pale in comparison.

Iran lied; OK but precisely about what? Who’s gonna read 100,000 files to find out?” He then added, conspiratorially, “How long has Israel been sitting on this?,” ignoring Netanyahu saying in his presentation that “the information was obtained within the past 10 days.”

Outlandish views were being echo-chambered, such as those of Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution, who was quoted saying “nothing that Netanyahu has said undercuts the rationale for the [Iran deal].”

The beating of media tom-toms to get the masses dancing in a trance was obvious in Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer’s reference to the story. He wrote in The London Times the day after: “What Mr. Netanyahu delivered…was less than earth-shattering.”

And in Haaretz, Pfeffer claimed that what Netanyahu presented “wasn’t a smoking gun but a photograph of a smoking gun taken years ago,” ignoring what Netanyahu actually explained.

Barak Ravid from Israel’s TV Channel 10 also downplayed the event, tweeting “…the data wasn’t new and interesting but for those who appreciate the [spy] genre…

Begin bombed Iraq and Olmert bombed Syria. Netanyahu continues bombing with speeches.”

Ravid, in his old age, might have an impaired memory, but we note that Netanyahu’s government has more than once, even openly, ordered bombings in Syria to prevent weapons from reaching the Hezbollah, or lately, to counter Iranian presence in Syria.

Orit Galili-Zucker, a far-left former media adviser to Netanyahu, tweeted that he’s “one of the biggest liers [sic] in the world who’s saying Iran is lying and that’s a macabre joke on brainwashed uneducated citizens.”

Raoul Wootliff of The Times of Israel characterized Netanyahu’s speech as preceded by a “hyperbolic and fear-mongering build up.” Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev spun it this way: “The prime minister risks casting himself as pushing for a U.S.-Iranian confrontation just as he did with Saddam Hussein in 2002.” In other words, since there were no nuclear armaments then, there are none now.

The media message: Netanyahu Lied.

Shalev added that the operation was “a blatant play to domestic public opinion.”

The media message: Netanyahu is a Megalomaniac.

Amir Oren, now at Walla after leaving Haaretz, described the event as “Netanyahu’s Show of Illusions” during which he revealed “old and dusty documents… nothing new.”

He added that “the only thing that interests him [Netanyahu] is delaying the criminal probe against him.”

We are reminded of the media accusing Menachem Begin over the bombing of Osirak in 1982 of possibly sacrificing IAF pilots’ lives just to win the election that month.

Humor also served the media to depreciate what the Mossad had accomplished.

Amy Spiro, writing in this newspaper on May 1, noted that Amichai Stern, the tech and foreign affairs correspondent of Kan, the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation, posted a photoshopped image of Netanyahu hawking goods on Israel’s shopping network. Jokes quickly spread. The police were opening yet another criminal probe against Netanyahu, this time for the theft of Iranian files. Another was that Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev had decided to submit the film recording to the Academy Awards in the category of Short Documentary.

Indeed, many reports highlighted the aspect of a “good show,” one that was “dramatic.” Content was quickly relegated to second place and claims that Iran was actually fulfilling the terms of the deal US President Barack Obama had negotiated were given prominence.

Incidentally, and worthy of more extensive treatment, is the phenomenon of journalists expressing themselves quite freely and without normative ethical restraints on Twitter and Telegram. The practice clearly demonstrates that there is a major problem when it comes to the ability of the public to obtain professional-quality media content.

Almost none of the senior pundits we reviewed raised the point that the total lack of on-site inspections of Iranian installations dovetails with Israel’s claim that Iran was lying or that, as Caroline Glick noted lasted Friday, the storing of the materials was a breach of Article T82 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the “Iran deal” Dr. Haim Shine observed in Israel Hayom that “Mockery backfires on the media” and that a for ”group of well-known Israeli broadcasters, media pundits and political figures… their hatred of Netanyahu, the ‘Bibiphobia Syndrome,’ throws off their judgment, overpowering their love of country and their concern for its future and security.”

To be fair to Haaretz, last Friday, IMW awardee for excellence in economic reporting Nehemia Strassler wrote: “Might it be that Netanyahu is right? A new accord is needed, one that will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons forever. Our survival depends on it.”

This inserting of journalists, themselves as well as their biased opinions, into their reporting, is part of what Kelly Jane Torrance published in the conservative Weekly Standard on April 27: “There’s nothing the media love more than a story about themselves and if it isn’t about them, they’ll make it so.”

Using disparaging terms, casting doubt where there is none, quoting interested parties and providing less-than-necessary information to prevent media consumers from making informed decisions is not only unethical, but should be criminal.