Marcelo Wio
Marcelo Wio

Emotions Replace Facts in Middle East Coverage

“In the long run my observations have convinced me that most men, reasoning preposterously, first establish some conclusion in their minds which, either because of its being their own or because of their having received it from some person who has their entire confidence, impresses them so deeply that one finds it impossible ever to get it out of their heads,” Galileo Galilei

“No amount of belief makes something a fact”, a phrase often attributed to James Randi, who “dedicated his life to exposing seers who did not see, healers who did not heal and many others”,  states nothing more but the truth, but a fact itself, but which, in the case of the Spanish coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, seems to be abolished: faith, founded on ideology, creates facts (or pretends quite successfully to do so), and, if it cannot, destroys them by force of silence, omission, distortion, a little like in Orwell’s 1984.

More than a few journalists, acting more as partisan “magicians” or, better still, as “illusionists”, by way of inducing, eliciting certain emotions, turn bias (or even prejudice) into “facts”. Thus, in the case of Spanish-speaking coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, emotions (as a tool of ideology, of some sort of “moral” partisanship or activism) has overtaken, in too many cases, the professional task. Thus, more and more, it seems that it isn’t about information anymore but about the singling out of the State of Israel for condemnation – through fabricated “facts”, that is, emotions purporting to be facts.

As Brian Weeks pointed out (Emotions, Partisanship, and Misperceptions: How Anger and Anxiety Moderate the Effect of Partisan Bias on Susceptibility to Political Misinformation), emotions are a core component of citizenship that shape how people see their political world.

Among other things (such as omissions, distortions), emotions have become the malleable material with which many Spanish-speaking journalists mold the reality of the conflict and of Israel to fit in with preconceptions that look, in many cases, like old and well-known prejudices. A sort of “evidence” (or, better still, a substitute for it) that is presented to an audience that, sharing a common knowledge, and common prejudices, arrives to the evident conclusions without even questioning the validity, or veracity of information.

After all, Karin Wahl-Jorgensen said in her work The strategic ritual of emotionality: A case study of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles that at the extra-textual level, journalistic narratives are grounded in the anticipation of particular emotional responses in the audience.

In turn, Cornell University professor of Psychology Thomas Gilovich said in his book How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life that social psychologist Ziva Kunda argued that “people do not realize that the [inferential] process is biased by their goals, that they are only accessing a subset of their relevant knowledge, that they would probably access different beliefs and [inferential] rules in the presence of different goals, and that they might even be capable of justifying opposite conclusions on different occasions. Our motivations thus influence our beliefs through the subtle ways we choose a comforting pattern from the fabric of evidence.”

And journalists have several ways of producing or eliciting emotions (as a substitute to evidence and/or as a key to interpret the minimal, decontextualized facts) in their audiences. One of them is used over and over by Spanish-speaking professionals: relying on statements and opinions of alleged experts (whose credentials aren’t offered, just their position and some vague explanation). “By judiciously choosing the right people to consult, we can increase our chances of hearing what we want to hear,” explained Gilovich. Hence, the repetitive quoting of certain NGO’s and Palestinian or anti-Israel voices in the Spanish covering of the conflict.

Emotions, at the end of the day, eases the obligation to produce evidence, to contextualize the news, to document, facts. Emotions allows the journalist to present himself as a kind of moral beacon: not merely someone who reports, but someone who says what the reader, the viewer should feel and, through that feeling, what he should think about a given subject. After all, these journalists know better – even what the Palestinian leaders mean to say when they address their own audiences.

Coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Spanish-speaking media can certainly be defined as a melodrama, as María Constanza Mujica and Ingrid Bachmann (Melodramatic Profiles of Chilean Newscasts: The Case of Emotionalization) explained regarding Chilean newscasts, which its “main characteristic is “the representation of a ‘moral polarization and schematization’ in which archetypical characters represent the triumph of good over evil. In formal terms, melodrama is characterized by emotional exacerbation through hyperbole and rhetorical resources.” In this case, Palestinians are presented as a good, not responsible, and innocent victim vis a vis the powerful Israeli state and army, presented as a wicked, human less abstraction, more like a mystification, a paradigm of evil.

All of which cancels even the possibility – not to mention the professional will or interest – of presenting Israeli personal stories, views, fears. The divide between good and bad needs to be clear, absolute: unreal. Thus, Israelis seldomly exist as individuals, and even more rarely are they presented as ordinary citizens – on the few occasions when this happens, it’s mostly when they criticize one or other policy of their own government, or when they talk as members of an NGO; but almost never are they quoted in the context of the conflict, whether as victims of an attack, or supporting their country or expressing their worries. Israelis are a faceless, story-less, collection of individuals – an undifferentiated whole – that confirm the abstraction of Israel, which is in turn represented as a device of oppression and occupation, in opposition to the emotional, human (suffering, non-responsible, almost inherently innocent) depiction of the Palestinians.

It follows that it is practically inevitable – because the Manichean presentation of reality requires it, and because journalism is increasingly more related to ideological, political activism or partisanship than to information – that the Palestinian leadership’s lexicon is adopted. This is a lexicon closely related to propaganda; that is, a lexicon, a narrative that doesn’t deal with reality, but with the ways one can act, through other emotions, over that reality. It is basically designed to elicit emotions of rage, (righteous) indignation, nationalistic or ethnic pride, and, beyond that, to provoke pity, uncritical identification, and solidarity with the “Palestinian cause” in Western audiences.

For example, in 2018, the then-most-read newspaper in Spanish, El País, went as far as defining Hebron as “apartheid” – without quotation marks, and not as a quotation of someone else’s statement, just as an assessment by the journalist. The adoption of the lexicon reveals an adherence to a position on the conflict and, more precisely, on Israel.

It is interesting to note what Zhongdang Pan and Gerald Kosicki pointed out in the work Framing Analysis: An Approach to News Discourse that, “choosing a particular designator is a clear and sometimes powerful cue signifying an underlying frame”. In our case, we are almost always confronted with opposing designations to define the conflict and its actors. So for example when it comes to “East Jerusalem”, Israelis’/Jews’ presence will be deemed as a “settlement” (i.e. outsiders, occupants), while they would talk of “the Arab part” or an “Arab neighborhood” – a sharp dichotomy that is necessary to create a frame, and the theme of victim-victimizer, reminiscent of colonial times, that provokes unfavorable feelings towards the Israelis – whose worries and claims, besides are dismissed as “alarmists”, as they are depicted as “warmongers”, “extremists”, “ultra-orthodox”, “settlers”, “right-wingers”.

After all, and as Zhongdang Pan and Gerald Kosicki noted (Framing Analysis: An Approach to News Discourse), “the intended meaning of a news story has the capability of directing attention as well as restricting the perspectives available to audiences.”

 

Emotional Frame and Repetition

Paraphrasing Zizi Papachariss (Affective publics and structures of storytelling: sentiment, events and mediality), refrains reinforce affect, and in the case of “Israeli colonialism”, “oppression”, “land theft”, “human rights violation”, “international law violation”, “apartheid”, “Zionism is racism”, and other such fabrications and slogans are designed not to portray reality but to delegitimize and demonize the Jewish State. Repetition reinforces the affective (the intensity with which we experience emotion; the drive or sense of movement experienced before we have cognitively identified a reaction) pace of the “Palestinian cause.” “The collective chorus,” explained Paparachis (she was focusing on the uses of Twitter leading up to and following the events surrounding the resignation of Hosni Mubarak), “reinforced the theme […] and produced a narrative that blended news, fact, drama and opinion into one.”

This blend is precisely what most Spanish-speaking media outlets have been offering their audiences for a while now. Facts become more and more a sort of trigger, a basic material to generate the same chronicle again and again, each time with more and more elements of blatant opinion (of crass adjectivation)  in news stories. And in the background and foreground, always the emotions, or the elements to stimulate them, to provoke them. That’s what it is all about. Or at least, that’s what it looks like.

As Karin Wahl-Jorgensen said in her work The strategic ritual of emotionality: A case study of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles, “emotions operate at several levels of journalistic discourse. First and most straightforwardly, they are at work in the use of emotive language – from the use of individual emotion words […] to the use of detailed descriptions, judgments and appraisals of environments, objects and individuals.”

This seems logical, or based in the fact that, as David DeSteno et.al (Discrete Emotions and Persuasion: The Role of Emotion-Induced Expectancies) explained, “individuals use emotions as informational sources [and cues] about their environment that in turn can shape their expectancies about the likelihoods of specific events mentioned in a persuasive message, emotions should be capable of influencing the impact of message arguments.”

So, if informing is not actually the priority, then this seems the perfect recipe….

And as with regular information, a frame is needed to make the best use of emotions or to maximize their effect, because, as the academics said, “matches between the emotional state and the emotional framing of messages should result in a greater persuasive impact of messages relative to mismatching cases.”

But it is not just about the journalists endeavor, because as DeSteno et al argued, “the efficacy of this persuasion technique would be expected to depend on the amount of effort individuals give to considering a persuasive appeal; emotion-biased likelihood estimates regarding the central arguments of a message can only exert an influence to the extent that individuals consider the details of a persuasive message when forming an attitude toward it.”

That is, in this very case we are addressing, there is a common ground, a common “knowledge” that is exploited by the journalists: there’s probably no other issue in which emotions, sentiments are exacerbated at such levels, nor that attracts such attention to a conflict or so small a country. Not the atrocities in Syria. Not the camps where the Chinese government held 1.5 million Uyghurs detained.

The omission, after all, is an important element of framing, of slanting the news, of refocusing the attention of audiences and their amount of emotional commitment – what is silenced, doesn’t exist for the audience. So, silence and emotions are part of the frame. That is, less information, less facts, and more emotions.

At the bottom lies what Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson described in their book Age of Propaganda: “The way an object is described and the manner in which a course of action is presented direct our thoughts and channel our cognitive responses concerning the communication. Through the labels we use to describe an object or event, we can define it in such a way that the recipient of our message accepts our definition of the situation and is thus pre-persuaded even before we seriously begin to argue.”

Instead of information, the audience gets incomplete pictures, flashes that match what is already in their heads; the produce is an emotional response. In this reporting scheme, the relevance and significance given to a certain fact (its exaggeration or minimization) or character has an impact on the perception and evaluation of them as relevant, outstanding, problematic, or good, depending on the case. In short, it is the imposition, or attempted imposition of a political or ideological agenda.

 

Lights, camera and… frame

Kimberly Gross and Lisa D’Ambrosio explained in their paper Framing Emotional Response that when people evaluate a situation, they experience emotions according to the information and beliefs accessible to them at that time, as well as their feelings of whether the situation violates their values or affects their pursuit of a goal.

But not only that, as Rolf Reber and Norbert Schwarz argued (Effects of Perceptual Fluency on Judgments of Truth), repeated exposure increases the perceived truth of statements. So, they reasoned, any manipulation that facilitates processing of a statement should increase the likelihood that the statement is judged as true; and concluded that statements that are easy to process are experienced as familiar, thus leading participants to feel that they have heard or seen this before, suggesting that it is probably true. Nothing seems more likely to achieve this goal than a story where the bad and the good are as well (and incredibly) defined as in a children story, that is, in a very simplistic frame.

Because, as Gross and D’Ambrosio added, “just as frames alter the accessibility or importance of various considerations brought to bear in formulating opinion, they also alter the considerations available when formulating emotional response.” They concluded that “if people’s emotions rest, at least in part, on the nature of the cognitive assessments they make of the situation, then changing the nature of the available causal explanation should influence affective responses as well as judgments. In other words, different emotions may result from changing the locus of attribution….”

This adjustment of locus is seen too often in Spanish media coverage mainly in the alteration of chronology of facts, that can certainly change the attribution or, at least, the responsibility from one actor to another: in this sense, Israel is portrayed almost always as the active subject of the conflict, the one that attacks, even when the action is a response to a prior Palestinian terror attack from Gaza. In this way, Israel, framed as the guilty party, is assigned the role of the aggressor in the conflict, while the Palestinians are awarded with the innocent victim role.

Victimhood

Ekin Ok, Yi Qian, Brendan Strejcek, and Karl Aquino noted (Signaling Virtuous Victimhood as Indicators of Dark Triad Personalities) that it has been alleged that Western societies have so embraced a “culture of victimhood” that claiming one is a victim has become increasingly advantageous and even fashionable.

The authors, that defined victim signaling “as a public and intentional expression of one’s disadvantages, suffering, oppression….”, stated that claiming victim status can also facilitate resource transfer by conferring moral immunity upon the claimant. Moral immunity, they said, shields the alleged victim from criticism about the means he might use to satisfy their demands. “In other words, victim status can morally justify the use of deceit, intimidation, or even violence by alleged victims to achieve their goals. Relatedly, claiming victim status can lead observers to hold a person less blameworthy, excusing transgression…”

For this building up of moral immunity – even moral superiority – of the Palestinians and anti-Israelis, whitewashing and silencing of Palestinian terror, incitement to violence and hate, corruption, and oppression seems imperative. Spanish media outlets do not run short in this practice. And it’s not just the “cause” that’s being elevated to that higher moral position, but the journalist’s, by extension, or by ideological contiguity. After all, as the authors explained, by communicating one’s superior moral character to the outside world, one can project an image of trustworthiness.

But, of course, not everything is about the frames (or the efficacy), or the ability of the journalist to advance his view, when it comes to communication; audiences have responsibility too. As Gross and D’Ambrosio pointed out, “predispositions —values, principles, and beliefs—may mediate the effect of frames on emotional response. […] A frame may resonate with prior values and predispositions, making framing effects more likely, or prior opinions and values may serve as a resource for resisting framing attempts.”

In this sense, Laura Alba-Juez and J. Lachlan Mackenzie (Emotion, lies, and “bullshit” in journalistic discourse: The case of fake news) mentioned that “authors play with the cultural knowledge shared between them and the readers, the inferences triggered, the emotions conveyed in the text and those triggered in the audience, and the consequent emotional implicatures sparked off.” It is notable how tropes that are characteristic of classical anti-Semitism (the “lobby”, that is, the behind-the-scenes conspiracy; the power, through money, over other governments; the evil) are openly presented or lightly suggested regarding Israel, Zionism.

 

Emotion, so much “better” than facts

If confronted with a reality one doesn’t like (because it does not fit into one’s ideological beliefs), with facts that invalidate one’s convictions, one can just rely on feelings, emotions, and be outraged – or offended – and “win” the argument: after all, realty is said to be, more and more, a matter of sentiment, of point of view, of vital experience.

So, a vast majority of the Spanish-speaking media, apparently thinking that the audiences can’t or won’t handle the reality of the conflict as it is, very tactfully spare them such reality and offer them instead a bundle of bits of facts wrapped up in a lot of emotional assessments.

As with the song that said that “video killed the radio star,” so it seems that emotions killed the facts, or at least serve to mask them, to turn them into something entirely different to the user’s liking.

Not in vain, as Brian Weeks pointed out (Emotions, Partisanship, and Misperceptions: How Anger and Anxiety Moderate the Effect of Partisan Bias on Susceptibility to Political Misinformation) that results of an experimental study have demonstrated that “when false claims go uncorrected, anger exacerbates the influence of partisanship and makes participants more susceptible to party-consistent misinformation —claims they are predisposed to believe because of their political affiliation.”

Now, if there exists a historic and persistent negative predisposition towards the Jewish people, false claims regarding the only Jewish state – claims in which in many cases classical antisemitic tropes resound – this probably creates (or reproduce, mimic) a certain state of mind (of anger, of utter indignation) that will make the audience more predisposed or prone to believe such misinformation. What other emotion can the evil/innocent victim dichotomy spur?

The author explained that “anger… is triggered when an individual’s goals are blocked, when one feels slighted, or when a perceived injustice or violation of standards has occurred.” And he added that anger increases the likelihood that people ignore information that challenges their attitudes and pay closer attention to attitude-consistent information.

In the same line, Cameron Martel, Gordon Pennycook, and David G. Rand (Reliance on emotion promotes belief in fake news) said that a study found that experienced emotion, regardless of the specific type of emotion, was associated with increased belief in fake news, as well as decreased ability to differentiate between real and fake news. They also found in a second study that inducing reliance on emotion results in greater belief in fake news. In this sense, they explained that an abundance of evidence suggests that individuals assume they are being informed of the truth and are bad at identifying lies and misinformation.

Emotions killed the facts…

Well, this statement might go too far: emotions don’t kill the facts, but those who use emotions as tools to advance an ideology, a partisan goal or view, or maybe as a mere disguise of their professional indolence. Anyway, the result seems to be the same in this particular case: a slanting of the news against Israel.

 

Utter indignation, hatred

Edward L. Glaeser (The Political Economy of Hatred) said that hatred is an emotional response to the belief that a person or group is dangerous and violates social norms. And what else is the Spanish-speaking audience expected to believe about Israel regarding the conflict when the coverage tells them, over and over, in a hyperbolic and partisan way, that the Jewish state is an obstacle to peace – not just in the conflict, but in the region? There are certainly very few emotions that can be elicited: outrage and/or hatred. More so when there is a pervasive prejudice against the Jewish people.

Glaeser further explained that “the formation of hatred involves a cognitive process in which ‘evidence’ [journalists – and “experts”, interested parties and NGO personnel, quoted by them – provide it] about hateful actions are processed into beliefs about the ‘evil’ of a person [a group of persons or a State], creating a desire to weaken or avoid that person.” Furthermore, he stressed that hatred “creates a desire to impoverish to exclude the out-group.” Just like the BDS movement and organizations such as HRW that advance preposterous accusations of “apartheid” with the sole objective of isolating the Jewish state and, ultimately, erasing it – real apartheid can’t be reformed but only justly terminated; banalizing the term, and its tragic reality, and applying it fraudulently to Israel (that is, demonizing, delegitimizing it), they expect exactly that goal. It’s not about Human Rights, it just human misery at its worst posing as social justice.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s March 2013 report entitled Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions against Israel: An Anti-Semitic, Anti-Peace Poison Pill quoted University of Michigan student activist Amer Zahr in 2010 saying: “What we want is not actual economic divestment from Israel. Everyone knows that the U.S. will never pull investments out of Israel like that. Instead, we are looking to shift the dialogue to whether to divest from Israel, without extraneous discussion of the basics. We hope that in 10, 20 years the public will just take for granted the premises that Israel is an Apartheid state, and then we can move from there.”

Now, remember El País’ assessment in the 2018 news story?

The goal is clear. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti made sure to make it very clear when he stated that: “A Jewish state in Palestine, in any shape or form, cannot but contravene the basic rights of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population…definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian – rational Palestinian, not a sellout Palestinian—will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”

But, once again, the complicity of the audience is necessary for the technique, for the trap, to work. “The history of hatred suggests that when people are willing to listen,” explained Glaeser, “political entrepreneurs can create hatred. By telling tales of past and future crimes, people can be convinced that some out-group is dangerous.”

And there is a daily barrage of “information” about the pain that Israel “inflicts” on the Palestinians and about the dangers that Israeli policies (oppressive, aggressive, violent, arbitrary, etc.) pose to peace -no just in the Middle East, but worldwide. That seems to be the purpose of the numerous (at the very least, terribly dubious) “reports” such as HRW’s, B’tselem’s, or those of any of the so many politicized NGOs that feed the media with the material with which their audiences will be emotionally stimulated against the Jewish state, and that echo the accusations and the narrative of the Palestinian organizations and leadership – the timing seems to be attuned: for example, the aforementioned NGO’s report’s preposterous claim of “apartheid” comes right in time for the Palestinian case at the International Criminal Court. Maybe it is just a coincidence, dear Sherlock?

But let’s go back to anger, and to what Michael Greenstein and Nancy Franklin (Anger Increases Susceptibility to Misinformation) noted: “Research examining anger has shown that it impacts attention and memory by enhancing goal-relevant information processing and increases reliance on relatively simple cognitive processes, such as increased stereotype and script use, that support immediate action.”

In turn, Patricia Devine (Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components) pointed out that “stereotypes have a longer history of activation and are therefore likely to be more accessible than are personal beliefs.” To which it should be added that, according to Greenstein and Franklin, anger broadly reduces scrutiny of new information.

Precisely, based on the results of an experiment, Greenstein and Franklin found that increased suggestibility found in the anger condition supports the conclusion that the approach bias and reduced scrutiny associated with anger favor accepting information as fact. “Our findings,” -they stated – “suggest that anger increases both suggestibility and confidence, undermining the typically positive relationship between certainty and accuracy.” And that anger led to a “pattern where increased confidence was associated with decreased accuracy.”

Thus, the emotion (hatred, outrage) elicited, promoted by flawed coverages, kills facts, kills reality.

 

Testimonies, witnesses, reports, experts, and other emotional and validation devices

There probably is no better tool to address audience emotions, or elicit some particular emotion, than to resort to unverifiable testimonies or reports of a third party – of some bystander, of common people, of certain leaders or second-order officials and purported “experts.” There is no better way for the journalist to communicate his own political or ideological positioning – and the emotional state he needs to install or excite among the public so that they accept his position at face value as truthful – than using another words to do so.

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen said in her work The strategic ritual of emotionality: A case study of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles that there is clear evidence to suggest that journalistic storytelling outsources emotional labor – the responsibility for the expression of emotion contained within the news stories, and the elicitation of emotions on the part of the audience. In this, the emotional storytelling of journalism is validated by the evidence provided by sources – which for the most part remains invisible.

The same author explained in another paper (An Emotional Turn in Journalism Studies?) that “experimental studies of stories about mass violence in Africa have demonstrated that ‘story personification’ – or stories focused on the plight of a single victim – contribute to elevating emotional responses and thereby ‘bolster support for intervention’. Story personalization has also been demonstrated to affect audience recall of news… [And there are] robust findings on how particular images may invoke distinct emotions, such as anger, fear, and disgust, and highlighting the fact that images inducing anger are more memorable.”

The false introduction of the idea of a “genocide” being committed by Israel, or the systematic and extended crime of “apartheid,” that Israel (led by “ultra” “right-wingers”) attacks and kills indiscriminately “civilians” – in brief, the constant recourse to the idea of a criminal state (the Jew) that commits crimes on a massive scale – seems to be clearly aimed at creating an alien reality in order to provoke a series of emotions leading to the singling out of the Jewish state.

“Because writers are in complete control of what they report,” – pointed out Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard in her paper Reporting speech in narrative discourse: Stylistic and ideological implications’ –, “they are extremely powerful since they can reproduce what is most convenient for them in terms of their aims and ideological point of view. So, if they witness a whole conversation, they could reproduce it in full (though this would be unlikely due to space constraints) or reproduce parts of what they think is important, allocating turns to people they also think are important and leaving aside all the contributions that perhaps could be relevant from a different point of view.”

Not that journalists seem to do much editing when it comes to certain partisan NGO’s reports and statements.

Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, for her part, expanded on this by commenting that (The strategic ritual of emotionality: A case study of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles) “journalists rely on the outsourcing of emotional labor to non-journalists – the story protagonists and other sources, who are (a) authorized to express emotions in public, and (b) whose emotions journalists can authoritatively describe without implicating themselves.”

And she added that in part, facts are verified through reliance on quotes from sources, and quoted Gaye Tuchman, who proposed that: “The newsmen view quotations of other people’s opinions as a form of supporting evidence. By interjecting someone else’s opinion, they believe they are removing themselves from participation in the story, and they are letting the ‘facts’ speak.” It could be said to be a sort of “emotional verification or validation”, in some cases.

In the case of the relationship of NGO’s and journalists, we could probably characterize it as a feedback, where journalists obtain (ideologically related) material for their news stories in an almost uninterrupted way, and NGOs obtain massive diffusion and something like a “journalistic validation” – after all, journalists are supposed to fact check the material they work with – while the journalist obtains the legitimization for their hinted (or not that hidden) position via the claims by a “renowned” organization – whose credibility and competence credentials are based, in too many cases, on the unverified media coverage of their statements and reports, and on the image projected by the organization itself.

And in the Spanish media, the same NGO’s keep popping up repeatedly – that is, the same old messages are repeated over and over. Something that at this point should surprise no one. Not in vain Paula Jullian (Appraising through someone else’s words: The evaluative power of quotations in news reports) said that a way in which authors may convey their views is precisely through the choice of the informants they bring into the text and the information they choose to include or exclude, and that “such choices carry strong ideological implications, since the mere inclusion of a particular source is the first signal of subjectivity; it reflects who the reporter finds worth interviewing and what s/he finds relevant and reportable in the communicative event. Comments and judgements made through such sources cannot be attributed to the author him/herself, but they certainly tint the story in such a way that readers get the desired view, without strongly committing the journalist to the content and perspectives conveyed by others.”

Shen then went on to state that “in a way, it may be said that no other discourse type is more ideological than the news report since this genre is not overtly political, but the selection of the event, the framing, the sources, the way the events are presented, the heading, etc. are all ideological decisions.” Quotations, she added, serve many purposes to the journalist: they may be used to give credibility to the reporting and to the writer’s words; to reassert what has been or will be said later; to detach the writer from responsibility for the content of the quotes; and in addition to these, they may serve purposes of evaluation in very subtle ways. “This material is very often used to praise, condemn, discredit, etc. the events or the people involved in such events,” she said.

In the case of Spanish-speaking coverage of the conflict, the voices “allowed” into the news story or narrative are the recurring voices of the Palestinian leaders and second ranking officials of Palestinian members of organizations and ordinary citizens, as well as the aforementioned NGOs’ staff, and “experts”, plus the, of course, inevitable, necessary (and complimentary) omissions of other voices and sources. In other words, what ends up being a monotonous chorus of anti-Israel slogans and platitudes. This repetition of certain voices and silencing of others seems to follow what Lilie Chouliaraki stated in her paper Ordinary witnessing in post-television news: towards a new moral imagination: “testimony draws attention to the management of our affective potential towards suffering: either in the form of denunciation against the injustice of suffering, in the presence of a persecutor, or in the form of care and philanthropic sentiment, in the presence of a benefactor.” And further on Chouliaraki wrote that “as a consequence, NGOs… act both as authenticating and as emotive voices in such news stories, showing the extent to which the relationship between journalism and humanitarian agencies is one of inter-dependent symbiosis.”

Chouliaraki concluded that this “is the power of Western journalism to classify suffering into hierarchies of place and human life, privileging some disasters as worthy of Western emotion and action but leaving others outside the space of appearance.” And, also, that “what makes journalism as witnessing both a moralizing force in the space of appearance and an object of harsh criticism, then, is not its capacity to bring distant suffering into the space of appearance per se, but its ‘ritual’ power to constitute Western spectators as public, as a collective with a will to act, at the very moment that it claims to report on it. ‘Pathologies’ of witnessing, in this sense, far from instances of individual malpractice, are structural forms of journalistic bias that have a ‘unifying’ potential…”

Concluding

The Chinese intellectual Qian Zhongshu wrote in his essay Eating that what is in the name of the most important thing often ends up being just a subsidiary consideration. And he offered as an example someone who pursues the daughter of a rich old man, but the girl is not the primary object. The same seems to apply to too many of those (whether journalists, politicians, or members of one or the other of the many NGO created around the conflict) who claim to stand up for “justice” and for the achievement of a state for the Palestinian people; simply because a sense of justice cannot be at odds with the idea of the defense of a Jewish state, of its security and welfare; with a balanced, accurate and truthful information. But it is, and being at odds must imply that the sense of justice and solidarity is insincere, purported or, at best, incomplete: it appears, too many times, to be the mask for some other and well-known old sentiment – old, yes, but always so current – and the attempt to feed or revive that loathing into audiences. The premise seems to be: “Just feel, don’t think; the heart doesn’t lie, the mind does; and here, dear audience, are the pieces of images, facts, that we, caring journalists, have chosen for you to form the idea that we are actually suggesting for you, and that you what us to suggest you.”

In this way, many of the media outlets in Spanish have ended up acting for too long as mere repeaters, loudspeakers (almost as propagandists), and even normalizers of Palestinian extremism (their views of what “peace” would look like: that is, no State of Israel) and anti-Semitism – which is none other than the same old hatred with a keffiyeh and a “cause” – that relapse into the same old clichés. Thus, they contribute to the revitalization or, rather, to the re-justification (or revaluation, if you like) of anti-Semitism: a sort of “it was true; the Jews (embodied in the Jewish State) are all that was said about them,”  centering (justifying) antisemitism around the Jewish State and Zionism as the modern-day collective for the Jews, by attacking, delegitimizing, or denying the Jewish right to self-determination. This happens because not only are anti-Semitic accusations allowed to pass without further ado, but because the hyperbolic and uninformed outrage they promote, leads audiences precisely to that old “conclusion,” to its acceptance. Antisemitism becomes, thus, more than a hate, an ideology: it becomes a prism through which to see the world, and which gathers groups of people from very different backgrounds around a common enemy, a despicable culprit that “explains” the wrongs in the world and, more intimately, in their own lives.

So, this coverage has long since lost its purpose of reporting about facts and context, about verifying claims and information, and has become a tool for partisans and activists to promote their prejudices, and the ones shared with other voices and organizations.

The consequence is quite evident: one of the parties of the conflict (that is, Israel), must be framed as responsible for the conflict, so that it’s actions (real or imaginary) are no longer portrayed as wrong, but reprehensible. The idea is basically that there is nothing that can be amended, nothing that can be negotiated, that there is no possible agreement; the sole idea of Israel must be not revised but erased. This, it is suggested or hinted, is the “common good.” And because it’s all about “peace in the region,” about the “common good,” how anyone oppose the “Palestinian cause” – how can anyone criticize the corruption of their leaders, their incitement to hate and violence, their denial of Israel’s right to exist (which seems to be all too “reasonable”); all of which is mere anecdotal errors or exaggerations – product of Israel’s oppression – with no negative consequences. How dare anyone?

A drastic, categorical, and reiterative characterization of the conflict and of Israel in particular is needed to exclude from the possibility of knowledge or even imagination of audiences any solution other than the eradication of this evil, which is presented as absolute, as intractable – thus, until this can happen, its isolation (just like a virus) is only “logical,” and the violence against it is comprehensible, justified, even necessary: all means are permitted. Hence, the insistence of Palestinian leaders, too many NGOs, many media outlets, and journalists on the same outlandish clichés over and over: because the problem is not the conflict, it is Israel, its very existence. It is evident that this point cannot be reached using reason; it is necessary to cancel reason, to exalt emotions, to even attempt to convince the public of such intolerance, of such an extreme end.

It seems easier to fall into the practices of tabloid journalism, whose purpose, argued Bob Franklin – as quoted by Karin Wahl-Jorgensen – is “less to inform than to elicit sympathy – a collective ‘Oh how dreadful’ – from the readership.” In this case, the “Oh how dreadful” is most probably accompanied, or supplanted, by other too well-known hate phrases.

A longer and slightly different version of this article was published at CAMERA.

About the Author
The author is a media analyst and the Associate Director of ReVista de Medio Oriente, the Spanish Department of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).
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