OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

How mainstream media damage Israel in a daily war of words

Supporters of Israel need to hammer the media not only for the big lies against the Jewish state, but also for its steady stream of “small” lies and half-truths.

“The New York Times” building in Midtown Manhattan. Credit: Ajay Suresh via Wikimedia Commons.
“The New York Times” building in Midtown Manhattan. Credit: Ajay Suresh via Wikimedia Commons.
Jason Shvili
Jason Shvili
Jason Shvili is a contributing editor at Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

Many major Western newspapers, magazines and broadcast media never hesitate to malign Israel on big issues—like how Israel is “mishandling” a war against terrorists in Gaza, how it is “illegally” building communities in Judea and Samaria or “threatening democracy” by reforming its broken judicial system. But equally harmful is the daily drumbeat of less obvious lies and innuendo embedded in the majority of reporting on Israel in such media as the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, NPR and the Associated Press

The biggest reason for these falsehoods is “anti-Israel newsroom culture.” Some media, like the Times and AP, are serial offenders. They publish falsehoods and biased analysis reflexively, while their management does nothing to stop it. Other media are guilty of errors through ignorance: Reporters offer “facts” they believe are true without checking them, and fact-checkers in busy, under-funded newsrooms are often non-existent.

In either case—politicized bias or outright ignorance—such a steady flood of anti-Israel reporting and analysis at major media amounts, at best, to journalistic malfeasance, and at worst to antisemitic hate speech.

Certain media outlets are just blatantly biased against Israel, period. A study conducted by noted Israeli journalist Lilac Sigan, for example, revealed that over the course of the last year and a half, the Times’ coverage of Israel was largely negative. For instance, out of the 148 articles the Times published about Israel in the first quarter of 2023, 67% were negative, while only 4.7% were positive. The remaining 28.3% were neutral. 

Matti Friedman, a former AP writer, outlined his former employer’s anti-Israel culture in a 2014 essay. He wrote that when he and another reporter proposed to do a story on Palestinian corruption, his bureau chief told him this was “not the story,” even though AP covered Israeli corruption at length. Friedman also compiled 27 articles on the “moral failings of Israeli society” between Nov. 8 and Dec. 16, 2011, and noted that this seven-week tally of articles was higher than that of all stories significantly critical of Palestinian government and society published by his bureau in the preceding three years. 

During the fighting in Gaza in 2008 and 2009, Friedman was forced to erase a significant detail from AP’s coverage—the fact Hamas fighters dressed as civilians were counted as part of the civilian death toll. He did this because of a threat to AP’s reporter in Gaza. He also noted that it was AP’s policy “not to inform readers that the story is censored unless the censorship is Israeli.”

Indeed, the media frequently omit crucial information in stories about Israel. For instance, last month, AP published an article under the headline, “A Palestinian dies a month after being shot during an Israeli raid in the West Bank.” The article did not identify this Palestinian as a fighter for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade terrorist group until the third paragraph. This could easily have misled readers into assuming he was a civilian, especially if they only read the headline. The end result is that Israel looks like the “bad guy” for killing innocent Palestinians.

Sometimes, the media simply get their facts wrong, distorting the truth and negatively affecting Israel’s image. For example, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour claimed that members of an Israeli family had been killed in a “shootout.” But in fact, three members of the Dee family, a mother and her two daughters, were murdered by Palestinian terrorists who opened fire on their car, then executed them at point-blank range.

The media also tend to wrongfully assume moral equivalence between Israel and Palestinian terrorists. NPR implied such equivalence following an attack last January at a Jerusalem synagogue in which seven Israelis were murdered by a Palestinian terrorist—the deadliest terrorist attack on Israelis since 2011. 

The day after the attack, NPR released an article with the headline, “Here’s what is driving the latest spiral of Israeli-Palestinian violence.” The article begins by referring to the “cycle of violence,” then mentions an Israeli counterterrorism operation in which nine Palestinian terrorists were killed, followed by the terrorist attack at the Jerusalem synagogue.

Implying that a counterterrorism operation and a terrorist attack in which Israeli civilians are senselessly murdered are simply part of a “cycle of violence” suggests a moral equivalence between the two—a notion both absurd and perverse. There is no moral equivalence between killing terrorists and killing civilians.  

In addition, media often simply assume, without verification, that information they get from Israel’s enemies is correct. For instance, an article published in the Economist this past August told the story of a Palestinian winemaker who claimed it was “virtually impossible” to get a permit from Israel to expand his business.  But this article left out one very crucial detail. The winery in question is located in Area A of Judea and Samaria—which is under full Palestinian control. Therefore, permits from Israel are not required.

The Economist either failed to cross-check the claims of the Palestinian winemaker, or simply hid the truth about his winery’s location so it could sell the lie that Israel is responsible for Palestinians’ hardship. 

Fortunately, there is a way of combating the lies and misinformation that abound in the media’s coverage of Israel: speaking out. After Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, condemned the Times’ anti-Israel bias and met with its senior editorial staff, the paper’s coverage of the Jewish state actually improved—slightly.

Sigan found, for example, that whereas Palestinian terrorist organizations were disregarded by the Times in 2022, they were mentioned more often in 2023. Hamas was mentioned in the first half of 2023 twice as much as in the first half of 2022, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad was mentioned three times as much. 

CNN’s Amanpour issued an apology for her infamous “shootout” gaffe following protestations by the Dee family and pro-Israel advocates.

Those who care about Israel must speak out. We must of course oppose blatant bias such as claims of apartheid, genocide and the murder of Palestinian children. But supporters of Israel also need to hammer the media for its steady stream of “small” lies and half-truths about the Jewish state. Remember: The war of words against Israel goes on every day. Our silence is complicity. We can only win if we fight.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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