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Pressure Groups and Censorship

Influencing Middle East News

By Brig. Gen. James J. David
May 29, 2002

If you haven’t noticed it by now, I’m sure you will within a very short time. I’m talking about US news coverage of the Middle East. It seems that Israel has poured millions of dollars in recruiting some of the top PR firms in the United States to make sure that the news coverage is tilted towards Israel’s behalf. In addition to these public relation firms the Israelis are using several pro-Israel groups to influence American news coverage using tactics to include boycotts of several top media outlets and massive phone, e-mail, and letter-writing campaigns. They are being directed at both large and small news operations with direct communication to the editors of our major newspapers, broadcast outlets, and cable news channels across the United States.

The Israeli government has been particularly concerned that the news media coverage has been somewhat sympathetic to Palestinians, especially in the wake of their latest offensive moves in the Jenin Refugee Camp, Ramallah, and in Bethelem. Their concern is that this “sympathetic” coverage could weaken public support for Israel and influence what is generally seen as a historically pro-Israel US policy. These news outlets are now discovering that there is hell to pay if they portray Arabs positively or Israelis negatively.

I encountered a first hand experience of this pro-Israeli news gestapo tactic just last week. An Associated Press article by Barry Schweid, “US : No Clear Arafat-Terror Link” stated that the State Department recently informed Congress that there was no clear evidence that Yasser Arafat or other senior officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization ordered or knew in advance of terror attacks on Israel.’ Within 4 hours of its release the story was immediately withdrawn and replaced with a revised story, one that was far less forgiving on Arafat and the PA. Being the inquisitive person that I am, I immediately called the Associated Press office in Washington and spoke directly with Barry Schweid, the AP writer for both stories. Mr. Schweid informed me that within a few hours after the first story was released his office was swamped with pro-Israeli calls objecting to the article demanding it be revised. In addition, California Congressman Tom Lantos, a staunch Israeli supporter, was near hysterics in his complaints of the article demanding it be withdrawn and revised with a far less innocent portrayal of Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Within minutes the article was withdrawn and was replaced with a revised article that was obviously less forgiving and far less favorable on Arafat and the PA.

Whatever the case may be, there’s no doubt that journalists generally understand critical words about Israel to be hazardous to careers and now, more than ever, it seems that journalists are taking heed. Just two weeks ago, a Palestinian mother and her two small sons were picking grape leaves on their own farmland when the Israelis fired a tank shell that killed all three. After the Israelis attempted to justify the killing with one of their usual lies by saying that a bomb detonated under their tank causing an immediate response, it was later discovered that there was no bomb at all. The only blast that was heard was the normal sound of clatter coming from the tank tracks.

Just two days ago a Palestinian mother and her 13 year-old daughter were also killed by an Israeli tank shell. These two innocent Palestinians were doing nothing more than grazing sheep on their own land, but the Israelis had a different story to tell. According to the Israelis, the mother and her 13 year-old daughter were approaching too close to one of the checkpoints without halting causing the Israelis to open fire. Again, the Israelis were caught with their normal deception when it was later discovered that the mother and daughter were nowhere near any checkpoint. Once again, the Israelis had to change their story by saying that the two “looked suspicious.” “Looking suspicious” seems to work best when Israelis need a good lie. It’s only used as a last resort, but it’s one lie that’s rarely challenged and impossible to refute.

The murder and slaughter of these innocent Palestinians hardly received any news coverage at all and any coverage they did receive were hidden in the back pages of some other unrelated topic of Middle East News. They didn’t make the front page of any national newspaper nor did they make the leading stories on Headline News. You didn’t see any story titled “Israelis kill Palestinian mother and 13-year-old daughter because they ‘ looked suspicious.’ “ There was no leading story of any headline news saying “Palestinian mother and her 2 small sons killed by an Israeli tank shell because of noise from the tracks.” But when a Palestinian suicide bomber strikes and kills 2 Israelis, as it did yesterday, the newspapers and headline news makes it their leading story. And not only does it make the Headline News, but it makes the leading story on Paul Harvey and nearly every talk show on American TV and radio. Yet, not one word is mentioned about the innocent Palestinians killed. I guess it’s only news if Israelis are killed. Tilting the news in order to make one side appear less violent is unfair practice and must stop. To use a comment from Robert Fisk, “Rarely since the Second World War has a people been so vilified as the Palestinians, and rarely has a people been so frequently excused and placated as the Israelis.”

In addition to this current PR campaign by pro-Israeli groups to help maintain pressure for a favorable media tilt, the half-century old tactic that has been brandished most effectively and used as a preemptive threat is, and has been, the charge of anti-Semitism. Any Americans who speak out against Israel’s extreme disregard for human rights are liable to be in the line of fire, and the news media are not excluded. The promiscuous use of the label “anti-Semitic” to tar and feather any critic of Israel has been and remains the most effective tool used to influence today’s coverage of Middle East News. Once again, I’m reminded of the wonderful words of Robert Fisk when asking his collegues to search their consciences: “Our gutlessness, our refusal to tell the truth, our fear of being slandered as ‘anti-Semites’—the most loathsome of libels against any journalist—means that we are aiding and abetting terrible deeds in the Middle East.”

A just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict can only be achieved if U.S. policy is based upon American moral principles and a strict adherence to international law. This can only be achieved with a balanced Middle East policy to include fair and unbiased news coverage as reqired by the ethical standards of American journalism. Both policies play a major factor in the final determination in bringing a lasting peace in the Middle East. Jews and Arabs have suffered too long. No people have suffered more. It’s time for peace in the Middle East.

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Multimedia

Interview with Ken Silverstein about censorship at LA Times

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Watch News Report on Israeli Censorship

BBC Interview with Greg Philo on Israel/Palestine News Coverage

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AP's Matti Friedman: Israeli citizen and former Israeli soldier

Placing the Fox in Charge of the Hen House
Washington Post Book Reviews on Israel

Some Muslims Are Not Bad:
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More on Bias

Resources

Attacks on the Press 2003 – Israel and the Occupied Territories

Booklet – The Information Blockade

Times Warp: What The New York Times doesn't tell you about Palestine and Israel

Short Movie: AP Erased Footage of Palestinian Boy Being Shot – Watch Online!

AUPHR Report – Accuracy in Oregonian Coverage of the Palestine / Israel Conflict

FAIR Report – The Illusion of Balance

Book – Bad News from Israel

Leaked Document: Israeli Communications Priorities 2003

Related Organizations

Committee to Protect Journalists

Reporters Without Borders

Justice for James Miller

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Committee to Protect Journalists

Reporters Without Borders

Media Report Cards

Deadly Distortion: Associated Press
Jan. 2004 - Dec. 2004

Off the Charts: ABC, CBS, & NBC
Sep. 2000 - Sep. 2001
Jan. 2004 - Dec. 2004

Off the Charts: New York Times
Sep. 2000 - Sep. 2001
Jan. 2004 - Dec. 2004

SF Chronicle (CA) Report Card
Sep. 2000 - Mar. 2001

San Jose Mercury News (CA) Report Card
Oct. 2002 - Mar. 2003

San Jose Mercury News (CA) Report Card
Apr. - Sep. 2002

New London Day (CT) Report Card
Mar. - Jun. 2003

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