For better or for worse, we are in an age where the most important factor for most news companies is speed. News stories cannot be both instantaneous and comprehensive. The terms are mutually exclusive. When writing an article within minutes or even seconds of an event, no reporting can provide comprehensive details. Without those details, mistakes are bound to happen.
Several times, I have gotten panicked texts from my kids about a terrorist attack. Because even before the mainstream media (or even the non-mainstream media) get a chance to publish a story, people are WhatsApping, Facebooking, Tweeting, and using the devices at their fingertips to instantly share whatever rumors they come across.
Once a story has broken in social media, the media have no choice but to quickly publish whatever information they have. If they act responsibly and wait until all the details are confirmed, it won’t make a difference because people looking for news will keep moving from one site to another until they find…something.
Even as someone who has spent over a decade analyzing news coverage of Israel, I am not immune. I get the texts from the kids, and I hit Times of Israel to see what they have. If they don’t have the story, I can go to Jpost, Ynet, Israel National News, or dozens of other sites. I will keep surfing until I find something, somewhere.
It’s crazy because I know that almost all first reports turn out to be wrong. So can I really blame the media when all they are doing is feeding my insatiable appetite for instant news?
As bad as initial reports of events like terrorist attacks are, the headlines tend to be even worse. The person who writes the headline is most often not the journalist trying desperately to describe events in motion. The headline writers are sitting in New York or London or somewhere far from the scene trying to compose headlines that quickly capture a detail of the story but also remain intriguing enough to get people to click.
So we have headlines such as “Palestinian shot by Israeli” when we know fairly soon that the incident actually involved the death of a Palestinian terrorist attacking an Israeli.
The good news is that these headlines are easy to fix. Many editors will accept emails and tweets alerting them to an error, and they will make a change. So if you see a problem, don’t wait. Send a short tweet or email to the news organization (they are all on Twitter, and they check tweets.) You’ll be surprised what you can quickly accomplish.
But the bad news is that we will have to live with bad headlines because we, the news consumers, don’t give the news companies time to provide us with accuracy. For every bad headline that we get fixed, there is another one waiting around the corner, just one terrorist attack away from popping up on our screens to make us crazy.
Don’t get me wrong, we do need people to chase the bad headlines. Luckily, with many hasbara organizations as well as some very well written blogs, there are many voices to protest and get that correction.
More important is to focus on the true anti-Israel media bias that has nothing to do with speed or even the specific events in a news article.
When the media fail to provide accuracy on the subjects of terrorism, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and the peace process, they are doing far more damage than an errant headline. If people believe that “east” Jerusalem was simply an area that was “conquered by Israel in 1967, and that the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state…” then they will never begin to understand why this is such an important issue for Israelis.
Getting the media to change the way they refer to these things will not be easy. But if we point out that what they are doing is inaccurate, I believe we can make a difference.
I recently wrote to Joe Federman, the Jerusalem Bureau Chief of the Associated Press to make a case for these issues. (By the way, as head of AP coverage in Israel, he is one of the most influential foreign journalists covering the country.)
Not surprisingly, he disagreed. BUT — he wrote back a detailed response. Because like many journalists posted here, he does care about accuracy and how people are responding to his articles.
We need to stop simply picking fights with journalists and engage them with factual, persuasive arguments. While there are definitely some journalists that are indeed anti-Israel, there are also many, like Federman, who will listen and even respond to questions.
That’s the kind of journalist we need to talk to if we really want to make a difference in reducing or eliminating anti-Israel media bias.