Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Av 5762 - July 17, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Doing Something about Media Bias Against Israel

by S. Fried

A forceful threat issued by the Israel Communications Minister was enough to convince Mr. Eason Jordan, head of CNN's worldwide news desk, to fly in to Israel.

Mr. Jordan struck a fine pose on the tenth floor balcony of the King David Hotel with the Old City walls as a backdrop. The image seemed to hint that although now he was being photographed and interviewed by the Israeli media, the walls still loom in the background as if to say, "Ye poor Palestinians, we shall not forsake thee even for a brief moment."

CNN is a master of background. In its report from the site of the horrible bombing of a bus at Pat Junction, the international television news giant shot the skeletal remains of the bus blasted to smithereens, ZAKA workers engaged in their holy work, stunned bystanders and rescue workers. That was the background. Certainly enough to catch the eye.

But what caught the ear was a taped interview with the Palestinian Authority's Saeb Erikat explaining to viewers that there was simply no alternative. The Palestinians are by no means brutal terrorists, but merely freedom fighters.

To ensure that none of the hundreds of millions of viewers in 212 countries get the wrong impression, the reporter stressed that the exploded bus's point of departure was the "illegal settlement of Gilo."

Fortunately--if such an utterance can be called good fortune-- soon thereafter the network's founder, Ted Turner, was quoted in another of his slips of the tongue. In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, among other remarks, Turner said, "Aren't the Israelis and Palestinians terrorizing each other? The rich and powerful do not need to employ terrorist means . . . the Palestinians wage their struggle with suicide bombers because that is all they have. The Israelis have one of the strongest armies in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So who is the terrorist here? I would say both sides are engaged in terror . . . "

When Israeli figures protested his remarks, Ted Turner-- unlike Israeli politicians--did not claim his words had been taken out of context. In fact he said nothing.

Turner is the one who set up CNN and serves as vice chairman of the network's parent company AOL Time-Warner. Turner is known to have a big mouth, sometimes saying things better left unsaid and often has to make apologies. He is smart enough to leave his top company officials to put out the fires and to taint his image without taking it personally.


Communications Minister Reuven Rivlin, a Likud man, fanned the flames of protest when he issued an impassioned call for world Jewry (whoever watches TV), Israeli viewers and all people of conscience to boycott CNN.

To the public at least, the Communications Minister is a hardware man and not a software man. His job is to oversee and direct policy for the various types of media in the State of Israel, from Bezeq phones to satellite communications. He is also in charge of commercial firms that transmit visual broadcasts via cables and satellites.

Although these broadcasts and the associated terminology are foreign to us by choice and by necessity, we know that commercial broadcasting channels are perfectly willing to air any sort of trash and tumo as long as it increases ratings, raking in the cash from the gutter without a second thought.

Then along came a group of regular viewers, suddenly incensed over the nature of the broadcasts, sensing themselves the victims of antisemitism. They went straight to the Communications Minister to demand accelerated licensing procedures for a direct competitor with CNN which tends to be far more sympathetic to Israel.

Although it would be nice to think the campaign was motivated by a sense of justice alone, it seems money played a major role. Cable companies pay CNN high fees for the right to air its news broadcasts. The fee for the competitor is less, and therefore cable companies have asked to begin broadcasting it, gradually decreasing or phasing out the CNN broadcasts. Cable companies had already sought approval from the Communications Minister to bring in the competitor, but the anti-Israeli attitude of Turner and his colleagues persuaded Rivlin to speed up licensing for the competing network.

The Communications Minister responded favorably. And indeed, he did get his name mentioned in the headlines.

According to a more cynical interpretation of events, Eason Jordan's urgent trip to Israel as part of a conciliatory delegation serves as an admission by CNN that it may have taken a wrong turn and now the network is trying to do teshuvoh. Yet why bend over backwards for the paltry earnings generated by Israeli subscribers? The entire Israeli market is small change from CNN's perspective. Not enough of a reason to grant interviews and issue apologies.

Well-informed sources know that in the ratings race Fox News, the competitor that is only six years old, has already surpassed CNN despite its 20 years on the air. CNN's heyday was during the Gulf War when its reporters endangered themselves by broadcasting live. Yet during periods of less sensational news, they seem to find it more difficult to keep up with younger competitors. Network executives know it and when competition threatened they sounded the alarm.

Broadcasting the Victims or the Criminal?

The claims lodged against CNN's news coverage are another issue. Israeli spokesmen cite as a notable example the interview with bereaved mother Chen Keinan, who lost her mother and two-year-old daughter in a terror attack in Ramat Hasharon.

Despite the difficulties, Keinan agreed to the interview with CNN to make the world aware of the suffering Israeli terror victims undergo. Yet after being promised that a half-hour segment of the interview would be broadcast, the mourning family was shocked to see that the entire interview was over in a matter of seconds and instead viewers saw an extended interview with the mother of the suicide bomber, who teld everyone how happy she was that her son had died for the sake of Palestine.

The Keinan family was very hurt and the incident brought public attention to CNN's biased approach.

CNN realized its mistake and Mr. Jordan felt it appropriate to meet with the family during his short stay in Israel, yet this skewed report was just one in a string of errors by the network giant.

Another instance of one-sided reporting was the regular airing of video tapes filmed by suicide bombers before embarking on their mission. These tapes show extreme hatred towards Israel and the remarks they contain can easily reach the attentive ears of other Jew-haters.

Israeli spokesmen explained to network heads that broadcasting such tapes is the equivalent of broadcasting filmed speeches by bin Laden, which were banned from the air by the U.S. government. Yet not until now, on the eve of Jordan's departure for Israel, did the network announce it would cease airing these tapes. "There is a difference between being fair and being balanced in the case of terrorism," said Jordan. "Obviously all sides have to be given the opportunity to be heard, but we will not give terrorists and their supporters the same airtime given to the victims of terror."

Nevertheless it seems the network makes a distinction between Palestinians and Al Qaeda. In a recent broadcast, one of CNN's leading reporters Christiane Amanpour (of Iranian origin) noted, "Five hundred Israelis have been killed during the two years of the Intifadah, but the Palestinians have lost more than 1,400. The Israelis adopt the American line that their war against terror is identical to the US war, but unlike in the case of Al Qaeda, which makes unreasonable demands, the world has accepted the Palestinian claim regarding the 35-year occupation of their land."

Roula Amin, an Israel-based reporter of Palestinian origin, regularly employs Palestinian arguments and definitions in her dispatches.

CNN's biased reporting is often conveyed through the use of loaded phrases. Terrorists are referred to as "militants." Israelis "die" in attacks while Arabs are "murdered" or "killed." In coverage of the French Hill attack the reporter said it was "allegedly" the work of a suicide bomber.

In response to all of these and other claims Israeli journalists fired at Eason Jordan, the smooth-talking news division chief executive, he replied, "You may be right. We'll have to take a look at ourselves. Sometimes we make mistakes, but we try to be fair. We'll fix it."

During his visit, Jordan also had to defend claims of a very different nature: The Arabs contend the network is slanted against them due to the powerful influence held by American Jews.

The Yesha Council

Among those clamoring for a boycott of CNN was the Council of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Council leaders announced they would not allow CNN reporters to set foot on its premises until its coverage takes a turn.

Council Spokesman Yehoshua Mor-Yosef confirmed the announcement. "I contacted all of the settlements -- 150 in all -- and told them not to work with CNN."

The new policy involves three changes: CNN reporters no longer receive official Council news updates transmitted to reporters automatically by beeper, they will no longer be allowed into settlements and residents have been instructed not to grant them interviews or to offer comment. Although severing all ties means cutting themselves off from the international media, "I have never seen anything gained by such contact," Mor-Yosef insists.

Residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza actually have claims against many foreign television channels and against some Israeli channels as well, but Mor-Yosef admits having taken advantage of the local furor to voice his objections. He is willing to cooperate with fair journalists, even unsympathetic ones, but when he perceives the coverage is one- sided he simply tells them, "You are not obligated to work with me and I am not obligated to work with you."

Mor-Yosef is constantly on his guard with the Israeli media, which is also not very fond of "settlers." Two weeks ago, during the levaya of terrorism victim Erez Rond of Ofra, the Israeli media made no mention of the funeral while it was taking place. "I called a reporter. I called the stations. They brushed me off. Only after three hours of pressure did they begin to cover the levaya once it had already ended."

Another domestic report noted the levaya attracted participants "from Israel and from the Territories." For Mor- Yosef certain newspapers and reporters simply do not exist. They are a lost cause. "I don't know," he says, "whether my job is to comment and correct or just to pass on the information, but sometimes I can't keep quiet."

The Rest of the World

This time CNN has taken the brunt of Israel's resentment, but almost all of the world media invariably presents the State of Israel as aggressive oppressors, while the Palestinians are depicted as desperate freedom fighters. A few weeks ago the wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair said she understands suicide bombers "because they have no hope," then quickly apologizing "if someone was hurt by what I said."

In the US a pro-Israel media watchdog group called CAMERA has been particularly active lately. Over the last several months major American newspapers have endured sanctions and criticism by Jewish readers.

The New York Times is the most notable example. After several biased reports on attacks in Israel a Jewish organization announced a boycott in May. The newspaper learned its lesson and in subsequent reports tried to present a more balanced picture.

The Washington Post was also boycotted during June and a symbolic one-day boycott was organized in protest of Los Angeles Times coverage.

The Chicago Tribune is careful not to use the word "terrorist." "We try to avoid the use of labels," explained the editor, but Jewish readers were not convinced. They demonstrated outside the editorial offices, cancelled subscriptions and sent letters of protest.

Is the whole world against us? How is it that the majority of foreign journalists in Israel accept the Palestinian point of view?

There are three types of foreign journalists, explains Itamar Marcus, director of a project called "A Look at the Palestinian Media," which surveys the Palestinian media to present the Palestinians' true stances and the education in Jewish hate-mongering in Palestinian Authority territory.

"There are reporters who greatly sympathize with the State of Israel and they are glad to receive material from us. There are very hostile reporters who, no matter what you say to them, will always see things from the Palestinian perspective. This type also exists in the State of Israel, particularly at Ha'aretz. And there are unbiased journalists who see the picture from all sides, but they accept explanations from whoever manages to reach them."

And this is where Israel's great failure lies.

Marcus also has an explanation for the source of this inefficacy. "How can we present our side with the same enthusiasm and faithfulness with which the Arabs present their side, when our Foreign Minister himself speaks for the Palestinians, claiming that all of the terrorist attacks are because of the occupation, while all of us know this is a lie for the sake of the media which simply detests us and wants to drive us out from all of the Land of Israel? The Israelis are like those who claim `half of it is mine' while the Palestinians claim `all of it is mine,' and they are winning.

"The Foreign Ministry staff receives information aimed at the public but makes little effort to use it, perhaps under the instructions of the Foreign Minister. Neither does the Israeli media put much effort into pushing the pro-Israeli stance. All it cares about is entertaining audiences and achieving good ratings, and not about the State of Israel's image before the world," says Marcus. Only when a foreign entity attacks the State of Israel does everyone suddenly rise up in arms and shout, "Antisemitism!"

Marcus says foreign journalists are partly victims of circumstance. "Usually just a single reporter and no photographer is sent to Israel. To move around in the field the reporter needs a local to guide him and to take pictures for him. For this he cannot take a Jewish Israeli since then they wouldn't let him into Palestinian territory. Therefore foreign journalists take an Israeli Arab as an assistant, who can make his way on both sides, or even a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian. And then they view the conflict from the guide's perspective."

The media loves to present the underdog against the powerful, and it considers the Palestinians to be the underdog, despite the unending campaign of murder. And they love a story. Terrorist attacks, Hashem yishmor, make good copy.

These so-called underdogs also know how to intimidate foreign journalists. Following the attack on the World Trade Center Buildings, foreign journalists in Israel filmed Arabs expressing their exuberance and "dancing on the roof tops." Many of these images were never broadcast. The Arabs threatened to kill journalists unless they handed over their film.

The Italian photographer who shot the lynching in Ramallah and broadcast the photos to the world was sent back home because of death threats and his employers apologized to the Palestinians.

"I spoke with a BBC reporter and tried to pass on some of our material to him. He said, `Listen, I have to go to Gaza twice a week and I'm worried. I know you're right but I have to prove to them that I am on their side.'"

Marcus has numerous stories about antagonistic and misleading journalism. "I was in New York during the big Jewish demonstration for Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Jews participated in it. What did the New York Times do? They put the story on page one because it was really impossible to ignore such a massive demonstration. But in the middle of the picture they put the 20 Palestinian counter- demonstrators with their flag.

"The New York Times once contacted me to request material that illustrates Palestinian incitement. I gave them film clips in which they say, `Kill the Jews anywhere you find them.' Over and over again the speakers made remarks such as, `Slaughter the Jews. A Jew is a Jew. All of them are liars.' The newspaper received all of the material, but the article quoted only the less violent part introduced with the words, `Israel claims there is incitement . . . ' They made us look like idiots," says Marcus.


CNN employs similar techniques. When Eason Jordan came to Israel on his appeasement trip, he came equipped with a conciliatory gesture in the form of a five-part series called "Victims of Terror" presented by Wolf Blitzer. In order to strengthen the impression that the network had done "teshuva," Jordan hired the services of a public relations firm that placed newspaper ads reading, "Victims of Terror. Five days of special broadcasts on CNN dedicated to the impact of terrorist incidents on Israeli citizens."

Jordan had the wit the explain that the interviews, under the direction of well-known broadcaster Wolf Blitzer (once upon a time a reporter for the Jerusalem Post), would include interviews with terror victims, bus drivers, psychologists, etc. Five days of pro-Israeli coverage. What more could you want?

The following is taken from a review of the first segment of the series printed in Ha'aretz, hardly known as a strident voice for the Israeli cause:

"Wolf Blitzer opened with an apology. The fact that he is dealing with Israeli victims was not intended to diminish or ignore suffering by Palestinians in the conflict, he said, as if trying to provide balance without antagonizing either side.

"Later he proceeded to a description of the present situation. He chose an example close to the hearts of American viewers: One in 26,392 Israelis was killed in terrorist attacks during the past six months. If the same percentage of victims were killed in the US, it would mean 10,888 Americans dead--three times the number killed on September 11th."

"Then Blitzer interviews Penina Eisenman, whose daughter and mother were killed and whose one-and-a- half-year-old son was severely wounded in the French Hill bombing. She was also injured and had to complete her pregnancy lying in a hospital bed. The interview was not emotional. Everything remained highly restrained, perhaps because the interview was conducted in English.

"Later five terror victims, relatives of terror victims and the psychologist who treated them, were assembled for a group discussion with Blitzer. Each of the participants replied to only two questions. How much can be conveyed in a group discussion on the roof top? Not much. In the background images of the attacks were screened, which may have had some effect. The presenter, who appears to share their pain, remained very reserved."

After airing the series CNN, having fulfilled its obligation to balanced reporting, probably feels free to turn over a new leaf. See how fair we are?

Unfortunately the network really is fair enough, compared to certain elements in the Israeli media that show great understanding for the Palestinian side, and the "great hardships" faced by Palestinian youths.

The Uphill Fight Against Pro-Palestinian Bias

The following is an interview with Daniel Seaman, director of the Government Press Office (GPO).

Yated Ne'eman: What does the GPO do to explain the Israeli side to the foreign press? Why don't foreign journalists have Israeli escorts such as those Palestinians provide?

Daniel Seaman: Israel is a democratic state. Foreign journalists can roam freely here and find whatever channels of communication they want. On the Palestinian side, however, they are required to have escorts at all times and thus they receive the Palestinian approach to the conflict.

This is not the only reason for the pro-Palestinian position in the foreign press. There is a tradition of sympathy for the underdog.

YN: So their contact with the GPO ends upon receiving a press card?

DS: No. We try to conduct tours and briefings for them, organize meetings with Israeli figures. The problem is that they don't have time for tours. They're worried they'll miss the next terrorist attack.

The real problem is that the GPO's status as the exclusive government contact with the foreign press is undermined. The Foreign Ministry also has an apparatus to provide information to journalists, but the Ministry staff has a high turnover making it virtually impossible to establish personal ties with foreign journalists, relationships that can be more important than official information.

For years the GPO was also responsible for providing reporters with state-of-the-art technology to allow rapid communication with editors abroad. Today, with advancing communications technology, reporters are entirely self- sufficient.

Nevertheless Seaman often critiques foreign correspondents on their approach. "For years the prevailing attitude was that we had to be nice to them. Today I let them understand that they will be treated in accordance with how they treat us. I've become harder with them and as a result now they come to talk things over."

Recently the GPO revoked the press cards of several Arab reporters who were extremely anti-Israel in their dispatches. "There was criticism over this step but now they have come more in line with the situation."

There are several independent groups that monitor Palestinian media and Western media. Among them is Palestinian Media Watch which focuses on the excesses of Palestinian media in its expressions of anti-American sentiments and antisemitic statements.


HonestReporting was founded to scrutinize the media for examples of anti-Israel bias, and then mobilize its email subscribers to complain directly to the news agency concerned.

In a short time, HonestReporting has become a major international effort with 55,000 members, and websites in English, Italian, Spanish and Russian.

Among the areas of misinformation addressed are: misleading definitions, imbalanced reporting, opinions disguised as news, lack of context, selective omission, and drawing false conclusions.

HonestReporting has published comprehensive studies of the Mideast coverage of, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the BBC.

HonestReporting has succeeded in shaking up the media and putting them on alert. They think twice, knowing they may be called to task for a particular article or headline.

In June 2002, major editorial changes occurred at CNN which greatly shift public perception of the Arab- Israel conflict in general, and the role of Palestinian suicide bombers in particular. HonestReporting was mentioned in the New York Times (July 1, 2002) as playing a role in this shift, and the Jerusalem Post reported, " readers sent up to 6,000 emails a day to CNN executives, effectively paralyzing their internal email system."

In May 2002, HonestReporting launched a major petition drive calling on newspapers and broadcast media to label Palestinian suicide bombers as "terrorists." (The media favors terms like "militants," "activists," or even "freedom fighters.") The petition, online at, has registered over 50,000 signatures.

HonestReporting also sponsors the annual "Dishonest Reporting Award," presented to the journalist or media outlet that most blatantly violates the principles of media objectivity. The ignoble winner for 2001 was the BBC, whose blatant bias was perhaps best articulated by Fayad Abu Shamala, BBC's Gaza correspondent for the past 10 years, who declared at a Hamas rally (May 6, 2001): "Journalists and media organizations [are] waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people."

HonestReporting's PowerPoint seminar, "Bias in the Media," has been presented to a variety of groups throughout North America and Israel, including the Hasbara Fellowships co- sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. HonestReporting also issues comprehensive position papers on the Middle East, giving users the information to understand the political, economic, religious and sociological context of Middle East events.

HonestReporting also provides a "how-to guide" for accessing the media, including contact information and letter-writing guidelines.

It says that letter writers should use the following 12 guidelines: 1) Be quick. 2) Be clear. 3) Be specific. 4) Be concise. 5) Be focused. 6) Know the goal. 7) Request a reply. 8) Stick to the facts. 9) Write as a concerned individual. 10) Use the CC button. 11) Include contact info. 12) Follow up.

The points are explained in greater detail in its literature.

Pro-Palestinian activists have reacted strongly to HonestReporting's activities, giving a good indication of HonestReporting's effectiveness. HonestReporting has been vilified in the Arab press, and bomb threats were made to the HonestReporting offices.

HonestReporting was originally founded by Aish Hatorah but was later made independent to increase its effectiveness. HonestReporting now operates under the official name "Middle East Media Watch," a section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, non-profit educational organization. It is not affiliated with anyone.


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