The BBC headline blared: “Israeli air strikes kill pregnant woman and baby.”
Readers must have been shocked. Here again was mean, aggressive Israel bombing those poor caged Palestinians in Gaza, whom Israel forces into inhumanely squalid conditions by enforcing an internationally illegal blockade.
Anyone not familiar with the whole story – and that means approximately 99% of BBC readers – would have no idea of the context. They would not know that since May Hamas has been deliberately burning Southern Israel. They would not know that in the last week Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets as far as Be’er Sheva, injuring numerous Israelis.
They wouldn’t know this because the BBC doesn’t tell them. Perhaps the largest, most respected news service in the world is very selective about what Israeli/Palestinian stories it tells and how it tells them. Almost invariably, BBC reports paint pictures of Middle Eastern events by focusing heavily on Israeli “aggression” and Palestinian “victimization”.
Those of us who’ve followed BBC Mideast reporting know this, but that leaves us in a tiny minority. Regardless of what the BBC reports, we will be suspicious of it. Even if the story turns out to be straightforward and true, we will suspect there are other relevant stories on the same subject that the BBC is ignoring for political reasons.
Strangely enough, this puts us in the same position as American supporters of Donald Trump.
Political pundits in the United States continue to be baffled at how, notwithstanding the constant stream of anti-Trump reporting, the Mueller investigation into potential Russian/Trump collusion and the constant lying from the White House, Trump’s supporters remain committed to him.
No matter what the press reports, Trump claims it to be “fake news”. Trump fans believe him. American journalists remain stumped . “Why don’t the Trump supporters believe us,” they ask? “How can they keep supporting him”?
Examine that BBC headline and you’ll see why.
There are three types of fake news. The first is to make up a story that simply didn’t happen (“Trump’s Inauguration Day crowd was the largest in history”). This is the most obvious form of fake news and the most easily refuted. Of course, the news services have to be interested enough to do so (which often during the Obama Administator they weren’t, but that’s another story).
The second type of “fake news” is to ascribe a phony causation to an actual event. An example here came in 2011, when then US member of the House of Representatives Gabby Giffords was shot and almost killed. Very quickly, many in the news media blamed former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin for having encouraged the shooter by publishing a campaign poster showing key districts in the crosshairs of a gunsight. It turned out that the media had no basis for this accusation and that the shooter hated all politicians regardless of their affiliation.
An even more brazen example of the second type of fake news came after Christopher Stevens, the American Ambassador to Libya, was murdered in Benghazi in 2012. President Obama disseminated fake news by blaming the murder on a spontaneous demonstration which erupted after a little known anti-Muslim video was posted online, despite the fact that he knew this wasn’t true. Most of the news media parroted President Obama’s line. The video’s author, a Coptic Christian named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, even got jailed for being a “danger to the community”, even though his video had nothing to do with Ambassador Stevens’s murder.
The third type of fake news is the BBC’s specialty, and also the most insidious. This is to selectively choose which stories to tell about a topic and what parts of emphasize in order to further the teller’s political agenda. When challenged, the author (or news organization) can claim that every story he/they have published is true. Usually it is, but that is the whole point. The cumulative effect of the stories told and the way they are told furthers the author’s agenda. However, it robs the reader of any real understanding of the overall situation.
Think about that BBC headline. Nobody works alone in a major news organization. There are reporters, headline writers, editors etc. The BBC has a large Middle Eastern bureau. They know what’s been going on in Gaza since May.
In order for that headline to lead the story on the intense Israel-Hamas fighting last week, there had to be a conscious choice made by numerous individuals up the BBC chain to the main headquarters in London. They had to decide affirmatively that the BBC would highlight not that Hamas has been trying to burn Israel for months, not that Hamas has fired indiscriminately at Israeli civilians for months, not that Hamas held “military exercises” last week which Israel mistook for real attacks and killed two Hamas members, not that Hamas fired over 100 rockets into Israel against Israeli civilians, not that Hamas has absolutely refused any prospect of peace with Israel, but that two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli airstrike.
The fact that the headline was wrong (there was no baby killed) is almost beside the point. The headline was a deliberate choice made by the BBC to present to the world the story of the Israeli-Hamas fighting by concentrating on two Arabs killed by Israel. The headline mentioned nothing else.
For decades, the BBC has reported the Middle East this way (check out some of the gems on BBC’s “Newsnight”). Organizations like CAMERA and MEMRI have noted numerous times the bias in BBC reporting, headline writing and most importantly choice of stories to tell. It’s the reason many of us who support Israel simply tune out the BBC. No matter what the BBC reports, I will discount it.
Put simply, when it comes to reporting on Israel, the BBC is “fake news”. It is an organization that collects information, then chooses which information to disseminate and how to disseminate it based on a predetermined political polemic. For those in the United States who wonder, as the title of the popular American book stated a few years ago, “What is the matter with Kansas?”, it just might be that Kansas and Trump fans figured out what supporters of Israel have long known. Institutions that profess to be unbiased often are not, and you accept their information at your own peril.