Mark on TV tonight–media bias? you bet

I’ll be on an evening news and talk program on Israel TV’s Channel 10 this evening after 6 pm Israel time (1600 GMT), talking about bias in Mideast reporting. The news peg of this is a session of an Israeli parliamentary subcommittee yesterday, in which the chairman of the Foreign Press Association was invited to explain why headlines like this famous one on CBS happen, mentioning Palestinian casualties but not the death of a young Israeli policewoman. Predictably, the FPA and its chairman got up on their hind legs and barked, charging that the invitation was intimidation and comparing Israel to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey instead of the democracy it claims to be.The FPA statement of outrage, issued before the session, has 12 points–one of the longest the FPA has issued.

What nonsense. Imagine having an opportunity to explain how the profession works to actual policymakers. Why would anyone complain about that? Why? Because Israel is automatically the bad guy here.

Media bias comes long before headlines are written. It starts with the need for modern journalists to take sides in conflicts, and they inevitably favor what they perceive to be the weak side. That’s the Palestinians in this case. So it’s easy for some headline writer in New York to throw one out there about Israel killing three Palestinians. The explanation is–this was at the beginning of the incident, before it was known that one of the targeted policewomen was killed.

Explanation–but no excuse. The headline, even at the beginning, could have read, “Israeli police kill three Palestinian attackers.” The fact that it didn’t read that way reflects that underlying bias I mentioned above–favoring the side perceived to be weak. It didn’t occur to the headline writer to cover the possibility that the story might develop in that way–despite the fact that such stories almost always develop that way. Israeli police don’t just kill three Palestinians for sport. That perception is what’s missing.

So this is a much more serious issue than a headline here and there. I’ll try to explain it on TV. The program is in Hebrew, and the interviewer will be Yaron London, a fellow old-timer. I met Yaron in 1973, when he was just back from covering the UN for Israel Radio and gave a course on radio reporting. When he saw my resume, he said, “You should be teaching this course, not taking it.” Never mind–I had been in Israel just a year then, and the course gave me intensive training in professional lingo in Hebrew. Worth every minute, and a pleasure to meet Yaron. He’s a top-notch broadcaster with a wide education. I’m looking forward to the exchange tonight.

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