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Why the Media Gets Israel Recklessly Wrong
The news media, which is amplified by the sheer scale of social media, has decided not just to describe and explain, but to help. And that is why they sadly do far more harm.
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It’s 2014, one year after I moved from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, and a mini-war breaks out between Israel and Gaza.
As someone with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a professional media background, I instinctually paid close attention to how much time and effort the international press gave Israel, and the ways it portrays Jewish-Arab tussles to the world.
One article from The New Yorker described the events by dedicating one sentence each to the horrors in Nigeria and Ukraine, four sentences to the crazed genocides of ISIS, and the rest of the article — 30 sentences total — to Israel and Gaza.1
In other words, it became clear that one of the most important aspects of the media-saturated conflict between Jews and Arabs is the press themselves.
The media has become less a reporter of this conflict and more of a supporting actor in it, “a role with consequences for the millions of people trying to comprehend current events, including policymakers who depend on journalistic accounts to understand a region where they consistently seek, and fail, to productively intervene,” wrote Matti Friedman, an Israeli journalist and author.2
But, before we get into all the wrinkles about why the media is (still) getting Israel ridiculously wrong, let’s take a look at some uncomfortable truths about the media themselves.
There are banal explanations for problems with media coverage. They say reporters hurry to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle. These are realities that can explain minor errors and mishaps like poor headline choices. Some say inflations and omissions are the inevitable results of an honest attempt to cover events in a challenging and occasionally dangerous reporting environment.
But such excuses can’t explain why the same inflations and omissions occur repeatedly, why they are common to so many news outlets, and why the international media’s “Israel story” is so foreign to people aware of the historical and regional context of events in this place.
To make sense of most international journalism from Israel, it is important to first understand that the news tells us far less about Israel — and far more about the people conveying the news.
“Journalistic decisions are made by people who exist in a particular social milieu, one which, like most social groups, involves a certain uniformity of attitude, behavior, and even dress,” according to Matti Friedman.
“These people know each other, meet regularly, exchange information, and closely watch one another’s work. This helps explain why a reader looking at articles written by the half-dozen biggest news providers in the region on a particular day will find that, though the pieces are composed and edited by completely different people and organizations, they tend to tell the same story.”
The media, like many governments, is a corrupt and troubled institution. Corrupt not in that that it accepts bribes; corrupt in a systemic sense. It fails to do what it claims to do, what it should do, and what society expects it to do.
The news media and governments (including terrorist-run governments) are entwined in a vicious circle of mutual manipulation, myth-making, and self-interest. Journalists need crises to dramatize news, and government officials want to “show” that they’re responding to crises. Too often, the crises are not really crises, but joint fabrications.
“The two institutions have become so ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that the news media are unable to tell the public what is true and the government is unable to govern effectively,” according to Peter Vanderwicken, a former journalist at Time, Fortune, and the Wall Street Journal.3
This symbiotic web is very much present in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where foreign activists are a notable feature of the landscape, and where international NGOs and numerous arms of the United Nations are among the most powerful players, wielding billions of dollars and employing many thousands of foreign and local employees.
“Their SUVs dominate sections of East Jerusalem, and their expense accounts keep Ramallah afloat,” according to Friedman. “They provide reporters with social circles, romantic partners, and alternative employment — a fact that is more important to reporters now than it has ever been, given the disintegration of many newspapers and the shoestring nature of their Internet successors.”
“In my time in the press corps,” Friedman added, “I learned that our relationship with these groups was not journalistic. My colleagues and I did not, that is, seek to analyze or criticize them. For many foreign journalists, these were not targets but sources and friends — fellow members, in a sense, of an informal alliance. This alliance consists of activists and international staffers from the UN and the NGOs; the Western diplomatic corps; and foreign reporters.”
In these circles, a distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry. I don’t mean a critical approach to Israeli policies or to the ham-fisted government currently in charge in this country, but a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills.
This idea is quickly becoming one of the central elements of the “progressive” Western zeitgeist, spreading from the European left to U.S. college campuses and intellectuals, including journalists.
In this social group, such a sentiment is translated into editorial decisions made by individual reporters and editors covering Israel. And this, in turn, gives such thinking the means of mass self-replication.
And then there’s the media’s obsession with “Palestinian children.” I think it’s safe to say that no one (well, maybe, except for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists) wants to see children die, especially in war. But when they are killed, they are killed by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists, who literally hide among them and use babies and kids as human shields.
Their deaths are nothing short of tragic, and unlike the children deaths caused by Nazis, but produced by Allied forces in World War II, these deaths are disseminated to global television and social media audiences on a daily basis, using sources like “the Gaza Health Ministry.” Which, as we know, is run by none other than the Palestinian terrorist organization, Hamas. If your source is a terrorist organization, what does that say about the “journalism” you proclaim to do?
What’s more, the numbers and images of Palestinian deaths are delivered by virtue-signaling TV anchors, reporters, and talking heads mostly enjoying the confines of far-far-away studios that are cozy and comfortable. They regret the deaths, pretend to care, and think out-loud in empty banalities. You might even hear them say things like: “Why can’t we all get along?” and “I thought there were no more wars.”
“Putting aside the naïveté, it is an astounding feature of this age that adults can be insulated from hardship, suffering, and reality,” said Steve Schmidt, a U.S. political and corporate strategist. “This is real life.”4
What most people don’t realize is that more Palestinian deaths is in great service to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations, which leverage and inflate these deaths, via the scale of today’s news media and social media, to generate more anger and dismay against Jews (both in Israel and around the world).
This anger and dismay is channeled into “pro-Palestinian” protests and other demonstrations, oversaturated with incendiary and lie-infested propaganda, otherwise known as antisemitism and Jew hate. These protests and demonstrations are, in turn, over-covered by the news media, which desperately needs more content to fill their absolutely unnecessary 24/7 “news” products.
As a result, the worthless “news” coverage of these protests, augmented by social media, essentially inspires more bad actors across the world to partake in covert and overt antisemitism and Jew hate, under a disguise of the “pro-Palestinian” banner.
Eventually, and probably sooner than later, these “pro-Palestinian” demonstrations will turn violent, as demonstrators realize that chanting things like “Gas the Jews!” and holding signs with swastikas and other Jew-hating representations, are not working against Israel’s fight against Palestinian terrorists who have for decades vowed to wipe both Israel and Jews off the face of the earth.
(Article 7 of the Hamas charter describes Hamas as “one of the links in the chain of the struggle against the Zionist invaders and references a hadith — a statement or endorsement of Muhammad — which states that the Day of Judgment would not come until the Muslims fight and kill the Jews.)
When these “pro-Palestinian” demonstrations turn violent, the news media will seize upon this doom-style clickbait, which will in turn “inspire” more bad actors, and here we have the very definition of a vicious cycle.
Ultimately, this vicious cycle perpetuated by the news media and social media could most definitely contribute to more deaths on both Israeli and Palestinian sides — than these two sides are inflicting upon each other, combined.
What is likely different here compared to other wars is that, in this iteration, Jews are the so-called “perpetrators,” “oppressors,” and “colonizers.” In addition to these terms being so far removed from any sensical view of reality, the uglier characteristics of Palestinian politics and society are mostly untouched by the international press because they would disrupt the “Israel story,” a story of Jewish moral failure.
The news media’s editorial line, predominantly, is that the conflict is Israel’s fault, and the Palestinians and the Arab world are blameless. As one editor of the Associated Press Middle East regional desk put it: He he had gone from seeing himself as a proud member of the international press corps to “the Jew-boy with his finger in the dike.”
Hence why the news media and governments have created a charade that serves their own interests, but misleads the public. Officials oblige the media’s need for drama by fabricating crises and stage-managing their responses, thereby enhancing their own prestige and power.
Journalists dutifully report these fabrications. Both parties know the content is self-aggrandizing manipulations and fail to inform the public about the more complex (and more boring) issues of government policy and activity.
What has emerged, according to Paul Weaver — author of News and the Culture of Lying: How Journalism Really Works — is a “culture of lying.”
“The culture of lying,” he writes, “is the discourse and behavior of officials seeking to enlist the powers of journalism in support of their goals, and of journalists seeking to co-opt public and private officials into their efforts to find and cover stories of crisis and emergency response.”5
This is why most consumers of the “Israel story” don’t understand how the story is manufactured. But Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations do. Since assuming power in Gaza in 2007, the Islamic Resistance Movement has come to understand that many reporters are committed to a narrative wherein Israelis are oppressors and Palestinians passive victims with reasonable goals, and are uninterested in contradictory information.
“Recognizing this, certain Hamas spokesmen have taken to confiding to Western journalists, including some I know personally, that the group is in fact a secretly pragmatic outfit with bellicose rhetoric,” according to Matti Friedman, “and journalists — eager to believe the confession, and sometimes unwilling to credit locals with the smarts necessary to deceive them — have taken it as a scoop instead of as spin.”
That is, the news media has decided not just to describe and explain, but to help. And that is why they sadly do far more harm.
Friedman, Matti. “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth.” Tablet. August 26, 2014. https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/israel-insider-guide.
Friedman, Matti. “What the Media Gets Wrong About Israel.” The Atlantic. November 30, 2014. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/11/how-the-media-makes-the-israel-story/383262.
Vanderwicken, Peter. “Why the News Is Not the Truth.” Harvard Business Review. 1995. https://hbr.org/1995/05/why-the-news-is-not-the-truth.
Schmidt, Steve. “Peace is what comes after war.” The Warning With Steve Schmidt. October 15, 2023.
Weaver, Paul H. “News and the Culture of Lying: How Journalism Really Works.” The Free Press, 1994.