The timing could not be any more perfect. I just published on my blog last Friday Link: My Last Blog an extraordinary report by Matti Friedman, a former Associated Press reporter, AP Reporter Tells it Like it Is on how ideology directly influences the content and focus of reporting regarding Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. And here comes NY Times reporter Jodi Rodoren and writes the New Analysis: 50 Days of War Leave Israelis and Palestinians Only More Entrenched as Exhibit A for Mr. Friedman’s article. So please do me a favor and read Matti’s insightful piece and then Jodi’s. I hope to demonstrate how this typical piece of disingenuous reporting and analysis by the New York Times comes from deeply adhered-to beliefs and ideology which, by their nature, distort and misrepresent Israel, Palestinians and the conflict.
Ms. Rodoren’s article so distorts the dialogue on the subject while appearing to be well-researched and reasoned that it’s hard to know where to begin (nearly every sentence is conditioned upon this ideological bias), so let me reverse the process by first offering the ideological underpinnings of the Times, as representative of the left/liberal media, and then describe how this ideology manifests itself in what she writes. I will also offer some examples of the many to choose from in her article. I hope, after you read my take on this, you will sit down with her article, read it again, and you should be able to easily spot many of instances of the same.
The media’s ideology, as exemplified by publications such as the Times, lacks subtlety, sophistication or context. That is possibly why media outlets take such umbrage to the following characterization — even as it oozes from every pore of the material they publish. It may be simply described as: Israel is strong and powerful and therefore can act at-will while the Palestinians are weak victims and not in control of their fates and therefore cannot be judged by their actions. Israel’s power allows it to make the “tough decisions” regardless what Fatah, Hamas or anyone in the PA says or does. Quoting Mr. Friedman “The “Israeli-Palestinian” framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person today believes this to be true…A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate.”
The second aspect of this ideology is what I call “social relativism”, i.e., that all people around the world are essentially the same and therefore want the same things. Culture and religion are relegated to secondary status as far as being a major influence on a people’s desires and efforts. This also leads to the conclusion that it is possible to “negotiate” in a way that ultimate brings about a win-win — a thoroughly Western concept that has no place in the Middle East where Honor and Shame drive societal values. For example, when Jodi writes “Gaza residents, and the broader Palestinian public, yearn, primarily, for freedom from Israeli restrictions on the crowded coastal territory…” she is exhibiting this “social relativism” because it is not clear that Gaza residents primarily want freedom from restrictions — that this desire may be very secondary to the desire for Islamic supremacy or not accepting the shame of having Hamas or the Palestinian leadership being dictated by Israel that they must disarm. How does her statement fit with the idea that nearly 50% of the public in Gaza voted for Hamas, a repressive, dictatorial regime run by the Muslim Brotherhood committed to the destruction of Israel? That there is a culture of death and martyrdom infused into Palestinian society by Islamic and revolutionary fervor without a real desire to live “side by side” with Israel? That a Gaza poll found that 89% of Palestinians support terror on Israel. So what the Times and the majority of mainstream media do is either ignore or minimize are these inconvenient contextual facts. It just does not fit their victim narrative and the idea that all people, as a society, strive for the same things.
Ms. Rodoren ignores all context in terms of the violent intent on the part of the Palestinians as well as their blatant antisemitic utterances. A simple perusal, in English, of Palestinian Media Watch or MEMRI clearly demonstrates their culture of anti-Jewish hate, embracing of death and glorification of murder. The media would consider these remarks just for public consumption, explain it’s a small non-influential minority, or declare these results originate with Palestinians being the victims of occupation. Israel being powerful and an occupier does play into old antisemitic stereotypes of exaggerated Jewish power and control, though one assumes this is not Jodi’s intention — regardless, it plays into these prejudices rehashed by the liberal press (and liberal Jews, to some extent) — but, more importantly, it allows for socially acceptable anti-Zionism as aggressors and occupiers and attributes all bad acts to the Israeli right wing crazies of whom Bibi may be secretly a member. Reading her analysis, you would not think that Hamas is a full party to what is going on in Gaza and their mischief in Judah and Samaria (yes, they did admit to committing the murder of the 3 teens).
There is no sin too small for Israel to be judged or sin too large for Hamas or Fatah to be reported. Hamas staging a coup and executes hundreds of Fatah members; Hamas explicitly calls for Jews to be killed and Israel destroyed on a daily basis along with narratives of Jewish control of the World lifted right from the Protocols of Zion; pronouncements of Hamas and Fatah calling for the destruction of Israel are not even mentioned in the article for context as to possible reasons why Israel might be skeptical of the intent of ALL Palestinian leadership. Could this explain Netanyahu’s comment that Abbas “will have to decide which side he is on”? You would not know this from her article but rather she implies something stubborn and difficult about Bibi.
Extrajudicial executions of anyone Hamas disagrees with or calls a spy – not the Times’ problem. Hamas using child labor and the deaths of hundreds of children building tunnels in order to attack civilian towns in Israel — not worth the mention. Hamas launching thousands of missiles targeting cities in Israel – just a passing note. But the worst offense is not a single mention in her article of the diversion by Hamas of nearly $100 million dollars of building material brought into Gaza for civilian reconstruction that was illegally diverted and used to build terror tunnels to kill and smuggling tunnels that generate massive toll revenues for Hamas (Israel repeatedly warned this was happening but was under extreme pressure from the U.S. and EU to relent). How can Jodi miss the manuals published by Hamas calling for an active strategy to imbed their war machine inside schools, mosques and apartment buildings? Can Jodi think of anything more ironic than calling for rebuilding of Gaza with Hamas in power while it continues to proclaim their “right” to act as a separate armed group outside of the PA police, and their stated intention to rebuild their rocket and tunnel infrastructure while begging the world for aid? It’s hard to have the dialogue here because one barely finds Hamas as an actor in her entire analysis. Here is the bottom line: there are alternative ways contextualize Israel and the Palestinians or Hamas and the fact that she chooses one that places the primary responsibility on Israel and softens any attempt to ascertain the Palestinians active and conscious role in this mess tells you something about her ideological biases.
By the way, you would think that the photo lead to the article would raise some questions of culture, Islamism and desire to reach an accommodation where Palestinians are real actors in this drama. Jodi, the idea of a girl my granddaughter’s age dressed in a full Hamas military outfit walking with masked Hamas — okay, call them militants for a moment — strike you as important enough to warrant a few lines of analysis and introspection? Doesn’t this photo in your own article call into question many of your assumptions and your important omissions regarding Hamas? Do you have an opinion about children being used and manipulated in this way? Where are your liberal values when it comes to the Palestinians?
So, just as Mr. Friedman describes in his insider’s view of the press, Jodi’s ideology of Israeli Power blinds her from any alternative potential narrative or contextual explanation. You combine this with quotes and interviews from the Israeli and U.S. “liberal left”, where many already on record blaming Israel for being the aggressor, and you have the thrust of Jodi’s analytical framework. Let’s take something simple like the number of civilians versus terrorist fighters who were killed — there is clear evidence that the numbers being touted are way off the mark (The Real Count of Who was Killed) but here they are quoted without context or balance. Look, even the word militant softens the message — let’s get back to the definition of terrorism — the use of civilians and violence towards a political agenda — isn’t this what Hamas did with the rockets fired at civilian areas from within their civilian areas and the use of attack tunnels into Israel sovereign territory? Come on — this is terror and terrorism and hence these are terrorists and not militants.
When you read her article it’s hard to get a fix that Hamas is even an actor in this drama. Here are some examples:
- “Hamas, the militant Islamist group that dominates Gaza” — dominates? How about rules and administers Gaza as a one party state. Are they the ruling government or not? Of course they are. Softening. Reducing Hamas’ responsibility.
- “Repeated attacks through tunnels” — who did this? “Hamas rockets reached all over Israel” — Hamas fired rockets into civilian cities — is that what you mean? Softening.
The best is the quote from Diana Buttu, whom Jodi describes as a “West Bank-based lawyer and analyst”. Ms. Buttu states that the militants performance gave “a measure of dignity” back to the Palestinian people. This just passes through without comment. You mean that Hamas dared Israel to attack after Hamas repeatedly fired missiles into Israeli cities while Hamas’ leadership sat under hospitals with their missiles nestled in schools and mosques? Is this the dignity they are talking about? So what is this “measure of dignity” all about and how does this comport with the prior comment that Palestinians yearn primarily for freedom from Israeli restrictions. You would think that Jodi’s news analysis would at least point this out as a way for the reader to potentially understand Butt’s preposterous comment. You would think Jodi would at least explain where this whole societal ideal of self-destruction as a form of dignity comes from. Nope, not a word.
And who does Jodi rely upon to explain the Palestinian position without context or analysis. Who is Diana Buttu? Buttu is a total shill for the PA and who utters the most absurd and non-factual positions on TV and the press. Here is just one example Diana Buttu on TV where she mouths the Palestinian victimization mime or denies any reference to Hamas’ repressiveness or use of civilian areas to launch attacks on Israel. She is more than a lawyer and analyst — let’s be honest Jodi — she is a spokesperson for the PA and possibly even Hamas. That would start to put her words in proper context and you know better.
So here comes Netanyanhu, the obstinate fellow he is, who is now more convinced more than ever that troops must remain in the West Bank indefinitely. You might understand why he believes this if the context of Jodi’s article were really balanced. But in the Times world there is no mention that Israel has been under constant mortar and missile attack for nearly 9 years and in this last conflict Israel waited 2 weeks which only encouraged Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad to expand their missile attacks until Israel had no choice but to invade after Hamas tried to use their terror tunnels to attack as Israeli town. You see this nowhere in her article because these are inconvenient facts that get in the way of Israel the Powerful and Palestinians the Weak ideology.
And what about Fatah and it’s constant drumbeat calling for Israel’s elimination? No mention. The unbelievable corruption within the PA, Fatah and Hamas? Not a peep. If only Israel was acting more reasonably, all would be resolved.
The graphics for the article are totally in keeping with this lack of context. The interactive map (NY Times Interactive Map) does not even pretend to suggest there could be reason, such as placement of missile batteries near these civilian areas. Yet this data exists directly from the IDF. IDF Map of Missile Firings from Civilian Population) In the spirit of honest journalism, the IDF map should at least be offered as an alternative explanation. Clearly the Times’ Palestinian sources (again masquerading as the UN though we know that much of this data is controlled by political organs of Hamas) represent for the Times the only facts-source they need.
Here is the key: her article is not about analysis — it’s about framing. And since framing is filtered by the underlying way one looks at the world — ones values and beliefs — Jodi’s analysis must be viewed in this light.
Finally, I would love to stop all the bellyaching I hear that being a reporter in Israel is a difficult job — Jodi, get used to it. I have read that the Times knows it is doing a good job if they equally offend. This chest-beating deflects from the deeply troubling ideology that passes off as some cross between news and reasoned analysis. The careful manipulation of context by judicious use of language, order and omission with a careful choice of experts is intentional and I wish Jodi and her ilk would just admit their core value-beliefs about Israel, the Jews and the Palestinians so that we would be able to read the Times with a proper perspective. Instead, in arrogance and self-justification, they dismiss the core issues that lie beneath the surface of their articles and editorials.
I consider myself qualified to look at this whole issue of filters, values and beliefs. In my prior life, I worked as a jury consultant and TV consultant on some of the most high-profile complex commercial and criminal litigation matters in the Northeast. I originated and taught the jury persuasion component of Temple University’s LLM in Trial Advocacy and I authored or co-authored 5 books and numerous articles on the subject of how people filter what they see and hear based upon their values and beliefs. That biases are present in every aspect of how we assimilate information and understand the world we live in. It was my job to deconstruct cases in order to understand how people will perceive and understand what they hear based upon these filters and biases. We used to have a saying: Facts Follow Feelings.
It is definitely the case that editorial and journalistic ideology — it’s values and beliefs — permeate every aspect of what people analyze and write about. Biases are part of human nature. I wish Jodi would acknowledge the ideological filters at the Times so that we may all have a truly meaningful discussion of the role the media has in their conscious and unconscious use of wording, order, what they say and what they omit, the pictures included with the article and the “experts” who are quoted — so we may stop, once and for all, this ludicrous argument of whether the Times is really the paper of record. It is not, my dear readers. It is the paper of the ideological left masquerading as balanced and reasoned reporting. Shame on them and shame of Jodi that she does not possess the intellectual fortitude to come out of the closet and just see her filters for what they are. I submit her article as Exhibit A.