When journalists become cheerleaders, it usually ends badly

The willingness of the media to bury stories that hurt their favorite candidates and to applaud censorship is undermining faith in the press and democracy.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, incoming House Democrat representing Queens, N.Y. Credit: Ocasio-Cortez campaign.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, incoming House Democrat representing Queens, N.Y. Credit: Ocasio-Cortez campaign.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

According to The Times of Israel, I misrepresented Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s feelings about Israel. In a piece written by Simona Weinglas, the TOI claims that I was wrong to write that the New York congresswoman and media darling, who is best known as the leader of “The Squad” of radical left-wing members of the House of Representatives, “wants no part of liberal Israel.”

As it happens, that critique is a blatant example not of “investigative reporting”—Weinglas’s job description—but of a journalist seeking to soften the image of a hard-core anti-Israel partisan with a piece that was deceptively labeled as news. While this is a minor kerfuffle, it’s a telling example not only of how journalism is being corrupted by partisan bias, but also why so many people no longer trust the press.

I noted that after initially accepting the invitation, AOC pulled out of an Americans for Peace Now event honoring the memory of the late Israeli statesman Yitzhak Rabin. What happened was that once the Democratic Socialist’s comrades in the BDS movement made it clear to her that the assassinated prime minister should be remembered as a Zionist “war criminal” rather than as a peacemaker, AOC wanted nothing to do with the event, or at the very least, bowed to external pressure.

The only conclusion to be drawn from such a decision on the part of the influential young politician was that she made no distinction between “bad” Israelis who support the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “good” ones who oppose it. That AOC, who is widely seen as representing the future of the Democratic Party, has decided to adopt the attitude towards the Jewish state of her “Squad” colleagues Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), is bad news for Jewish liberals, as well as for the entire pro-Israel community.

But determined to vindicate AOC’s reputation, Weinglas dug deep into her biography and came up with what she thought was a remarkable discovery. During the period in-between the time AOC attended college and her successful run for Congress at the age of 29, she had a business connection with two Israelis living in the United States.

She worked on education curricula and also created a personal publishing firm (no longer operating) with the help of a business startup incubator run by the pair of Israeli expats. Nothing she did for them had anything to do with Jews, Zionism, Israel or Israelis and clearly played no part in her journey toward becoming the Democrats’ rock star.

It was so important to Ocasio-Cortez that these jobs are not listed on her congressional website biography, which does speak of her work as a waitress and bartender. Nor is it mentioned in “Bring Down the House,” the fawning documentary about her life and congressional campaign that is available for viewing on Netflix.

When Weinglas asked AOC’s office for comment about her Israeli connections, the response from her spokesperson was that this dramatic revelation about her past “wasn’t ringing a bell,” and that no one there (including apparently the congresswoman) thought of it as a “meaningful interaction.” She was told that it was clearly “a fairly tenuous connection.”

Weinglas didn’t have any better luck with the two Israeli entrepreneurs, neither of whom responded to her request for a comment.

In other words, there was no story there. The fact that AOC ran into a couple of Israelis in New York at one point in her brief career says nothing about her feelings about Israel, which were made plain by her snub of Peace Now and the Rabin event, as well as her close connections to BDS supporters and other radical leftists who hate the Jewish state.

The editors at the TOI not only didn’t spike this nothingburger before dumping it on their readers but actually published it as a 1,200-word riposte to my column and another one by Amir Tibon in Haaretz.

By itself, this parody of journalism is meaningless. But it is all too typical of what is happening at newsrooms in a host of publications and news outlets.

Much of the commentary about the current troubles in the field of journalism, both Jewish and secular, has centered on how difficult it is to sustain publications in an era of declining advertising and subscription revenues. Those problems are real, but it is equally true that in this hyperpartisan moment in history, it’s getting harder to trust sources that were once thought to be unimpeachable.

Newspapers that were once regarded as models of objective journalism now routinely run headlines on news stories that editorialize and the same is true for the stories that run underneath them. Contemporary journalists are increasingly ignoring principles about ethics that warned about slanting coverage to accommodate the partisan preferences of reporters and editors. This trend accelerated during the summer of Black Lives Matter protests and has gotten completely out of hand during the presidential campaign.

As a fascinating feature published in The New York Times demonstrated, a woke mob in that paper’s newsroom not only pressured their publisher to disavow an op-ed column by a U.S. senator but also forced the firing of its opinion editor. It further detailed how a star writer at The Washington Post left after his editor pushed back against the way he was editorializing in his reporting. Most of the paper’s personnel thought it was the reporter who should have stayed and the editor who should have been pushed out.

Indeed, the kind of biased reporting The Times of Israel piece was but a small example of is now routine at major outlets and in television news.

This woke mentality manifested itself in the coverage of the “mostly peaceful” Black Lives Matter riots. But the spirit of partisanship reached its zenith in recent weeks when most of the mainstream media refused to report an embarrassing story about the business dealings of former Vice President Joe Biden’s family. While The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN had run many pieces seeking to tie President Donald Trump to collusion with Russia that had far less substantiation and ultimately proved false, they not only imposed a blackout on the Hunter Biden story but branded those who did run it as victims of a Russian intelligence operation, despite the complete lack of proof for that accusation. Perhaps even worse, they cheered when Twitter banned links to the story and locked the account of the New York Post, which published the first version of it.

You don’t have to accept the conclusions drawn from that story by Biden’s opponents or think that it ought to influence anyone’s vote to understand that this kind of behavior is not only a disgrace but the opposite of journalism. The censorship practiced by social-media tech companies run by unaccountable liberal billionaires is a threat to democracy and that is true even if, for the moment, their outrageous behavior favors the candidate or cause you support.

The tribal bifurcation of the media is a tragedy for both journalism and democracy. When journalists act as if basic fairness is a threat to their goal of achieving “justice” or dismissed as “bothsideism,” the practice of journalism isn’t merely threatened but doomed.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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