Sunday, May 25, 2008

Seeing is Believing

When touring China, the Chinese media were all over "Western bias" when depicting the events in Tibet.

According to the Chinese, CNN chose a portion of a frame showing Chinese police beating Tibetian demonstrators. The Chinese then showed a longer shot of the frame that showed a line of demonstrators hurling stones and rocks at the police.

This is brought up to demonstrate that the "bias" doesn't only exist when it comes to Israel.

The nature of the journalistic industry has always been fraught with those looking to distort the "news." William Randolph Hearst comes to mind in reporting on events in the Cuba in such an agitating way that the US started the Spanish-American war based on the press’ distorted version of events.

Bernard Goldberg, in his book "Bias" claims that in the twenty-years he worked at CBS, mostly on 60-minutes, he was often told what to report and how to reflect the "liberal bias" of the editors of that program. He related that once he was assigned to do a story on homeless, with the brief to find a white guy because, he was told, the demographics of CBS showed they didn't have many black viewers. So he went to a homeless shelter and amid the hundred odd homeless folks at a soup kitchen, he indeed found one white guy who became the focus of the story. The impression left with the viewer was that many white folks were homeless. The issue of the homeless black people, the vast majority, was ignored. Later in the book Goldberg talks about Dan Rather's liberal bias and how when Goldberg mentioned the liberal bias at CBS in an interview he was gave to a radio station, he was ultimately fired after twenty-odd years on the job.

Independent analysts don't much care about liberal or conservative bias, but bristle at the concept of "journalistic integrity" They say that "If it ever existed, died with Edward R. Murrow." Some point out that in the sixties the radical dissenters went in for "new journalism" which was admittedly biased, and subjective.

A communications scholar pointed out that When Walter Cronkite was the father of American journalism, he admitted in a documentary he slanted the news at the outset of the war in Vietnam the way the White House wanted.

Once Yossie Olmert, brother of Ehud, reportedly threatened the producer at the IBA English News with a termination of his contract if the producer ever allowed again harsh criticism of then PM Yitzchak Shamir. So while the public should hope for 'honest reporting' it is doubtful such a thing exists.

One reported recalled that years ago when she was just starting out she recalled a colleague who said when he needed a quote he invented a guy with a green suit to said the appropriate words.. When the cub reporter brought this up with her desk editor at AP in Tel Aviv during the Yom Kippur war, he told her, "if I ever find a guy inventing someone with a green suit, I'll fire him," but according to the cub reporter, the editor knew that the green suit guy was not the exception but the rule.

Then there was a respected young journalist caught plagiarizing an article by another respected journalist. And we're not talking about the New York Times reporter fired for making up stories to further his career.

On and on it goes.

So, then, is the coverage of Israel anti-Semitic, or just opportunistic?

Take the al-Dura incident. On September 30, 2000 about twenty foreign journalists, TV and radio crews covered a gun battle between Palestinians and Israeli troops at the Netzarim border crossing near Gaza. The France 2 TV channel, a government channel, had cameraman Talal Abu Rahma covering the scene for his station. The story filed by just about everyone that day centered on Jamal al-Dura and his twelve-year old son Mohammed huddled behind a thick concrete barrel, gunshots hitting the wall behind them.

That evening, only a small portion (55 seconds) of Abu Rahma's footage was broadcast on the French evening news. Abu Rahma was the only one to present footage he claimed was the child dying. Strangely, none of the other journalists had those pictures or footage.

The horrific pictures of the terrified father and son hiding behind the oil drum while a gunfight took place were broadcast around the world. This footage was used by the Palestinians and others as proof that Israel was killing innocent children. The picture of Mohammed, dead, ostensibly by Israeli gunfire, became a symbol of Palestinian resistance.

Then some people began to look into the facts. Nahum Shahaf, an Israeli physicist and a reservist with the optical intelligence unit of the IDF originally investigated the claims that Al Dura was killed by IDF soldiers. He concluded that the physical evidence indicated the fatal shots that killed Al Dura could not have come from the Israeli position. Shahaf eventually said that the Al Dura shooting was staged and that the boy was shot by a Palestinian.

But who remembers the events? Like the photo of the unknown lone student protester standing in front of a column of four tanks in Tienanmen Square, or the Palestinian kid tossing a rock at a tank, the image is burned into the memory, and the facts of the event are blurred.

In June 2003, Atlantic Monthly correspondent James Fallows wrote an investigative article for the magazine that summarized evidence indicating Mohamed Al Dura could not have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers.

The story, as we know, was a big deal back then. Those cruel bloodthirsty Israelis killing little kids. In France Phillipe Karsenty – head of the French media watchdog agency called Media Ratings. examined raw footage of the clip broadcast on France 2 and claimed it was a hoax. Karsenty questioned the validity of the report, claimed the station was blaming the Israelis and Jews when in fact the Palestinians had killed the hapless boy. He too also claimed the entire event was staged.

France 2 successfully sued Karsenty who then appealed against the verdict. At the appeal trial, some of the raw footage taken during that fateful day in Gaza was aired to a packed courtroom. Reportedly France 2, only made available some 18 out of 27 minutes of footage that apparently exists.

According to reports these missing scenes and the questionable reliability of France 2's cameraman Talal Abu Rahma convinced the French appeals judge that Philippe Karsenty did not commit libel, and overturned the lower court decision.
This ostensibly exhonerated the Israelis from the murder of Mohamed al-Dura. But the new outcome was barely reported. In the public's mind, the father and son behind the barrell and the boy dead on the ground, are linked with Israelis killing innocents.

And just to prove how biased some newsmen can be, Olivier Mazerolle – news director of France 2 at the time of the Al Dura broadcast, was later found guilty by the Conseil supĂ©rieur de l'audiovisuel (CSA) – an administrative authority over audiovisual media whose councilors are appointed by the French government – of journalistic breaches of ethics over another story. He resigned his post on February 11, 2004 after having approved a false news report that Alain Juppe was leaving politics after his conviction for corruption. (In fact, on a rival station, Mr Juppe had just announced he would stay on and appeal his conviction.)

The voice-over for the al-Dura piece was done by Charles Enderlin – France 2's Jerusalem-based Middle East bureau chief since 1990, who was not on the scene at the time of the shooting.. Enderlin broadcast as fact the claim that Al Dura was shot by Israeli soldiers. …”3 pm... everything has turned over near the Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Jamal and his son Mohammed are the targets of gunshots that have come from the Israeli position.... A new burst of gunfire, Mohammed is dead and his father seriously wounded..,”

Enderlin has been living in Israel for twenty-odd years, and is probably himself Jewish. Did the station make up this story, or get it wrong? The court found they got it wrong. Who knows, maybe it was simply they needed a scoop and didn't check too deeply into the facts, or a hot story to get a raise, or show they were on top of the heap and thus keep their jobs, and they invented the man in the green suit. As one reporter in a green suit said recently, 'it's not as if innocent bystanders don't get killed in a gunfight. They do, on both sides of the fence.'

This doesn't excuse the dishonest reporting.

Larry R- once worked as a reporter for CBS news. At the time he related that he was in Gaza covering the first Intifada and the story of a dead child brought in to the hospital. The doctor claimed he was shot. R- managed to speak to the father, who said the kid had been ill and died of natural causes. The doctor was using the child for his own political purposes, playing the press like a fiddle. When R- told CBS in New York this fact, they went with the shooting story, not the natural death. Eventually R- quit CBS, and went into PR where at least distortion was expected.

And finally, here's what some pundits believe is the bottom line: CBS News, once the pinnacle of honest reporting, stopped being an independent division of CBS about a decade ago, or perhaps more. The news division itself was dissolved, and the department moved into the "Entertainment" division. News as entertainment. Selling newspapers to pass out documents that essentially sell furniture, shoes, dresses, computers, and pillowcases. TV that provides something to watch between commercials.

And let's not get started analyzing that report of a burning bush.