Accuracy in Media

The biased coverage of the war in Lebanon has come as no surprise. But it is bizarre when a self-styled media critic decides to pile on Israel-and its main backer, the U.S.-for trying to win the war.

It is a war of self-defense. One striking feature of the coverage has been the claim that Israel was reacting to two soldiers being kidnapped, as if this was a minor incident that shouldn’t have provoked a full-scale war. Reporters rarely say that Hezbollah crossed the border into Israel, kidnapped two soldiers, and killed eight in the initial exchange. And that then Hezbollah began firing Katyusha rockets indiscriminately toward civilian-populated areas of Northern Israel.

Let there be no doubt as to who started this war.

Let there also be no doubt that Greg Mitchell of the trade publication Editor and Publisher has turned in a sorry performance, offering his anti-Israel opinions under the guise of media criticism.

Editor and Publisher describes itself as “the authoritative journal covering all aspects of the North American newspaper industry.” It has been around since 1884. Lately Mitchell has been writing with great consternation that most newspapers are not editorializing and reporting the way he believes they should be. Namely, that Israel should be roundly condemned for its actions that have led to the death of civilians during its war with Hezbollah.

“Amazingly, writes Mitchell, “criticism of the extent of Israel’s bombing and its policy of collective punishment?has actually decreased as the carnage has mounted.”

“The editorial response is all the more scandalous,” he complains, “because this is not some distant conflict where America is merely a third party. The U.S. is Israel’s prime (sometime virtually its only) major ally, and the funder or producer of much of the armaments landing on Lebanon?though you’d never know of this special link from reading most of these editorials.”

Mitchell goes on and on, criticizing papers if they don’t blast Israel for “the bombing of Beirut,” as if Israel is deliberately targeting the civilian population rather than outposts for Hezbollah. Mitchell says that “it’s a disgrace that few [editorial pages] have expressed outrage, or at least condemnation, over the extent of death and destruction in and around Beirut?and the attacks on the country’s infrastructure, which harms most citizens of that country.”

What is disgraceful is the kind of attack that Mitchell wages on a country whose survival is on the line. Israel is in a unique situation because there are many different terrorist organizations, and their state sponsors, who want to see Israel completely destroyed. Mitchell’s one-sided commentaries ignore the fact that Hezbollah is responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians because its terrorists hide and operate among the civilian population.

Think about how World War II would have turned out if the media had followed Mitchell’s advice and had attacked Western nations for trying to destroy the Nazi war machine, on the grounds that too many civilians were being killed. In that war the U.S. did deliberately bomb civilian areas. There was no question about it.

The outcome of World War III, as Newt Gingrich calls it, is in doubt partly because of the Mitchell mentality. According to the Mitchell dictum, terrorists are allowed to operate in civilian areas but the nations under attack by them cannot bomb those areas because civilians might die?even though Israel takes the extra step of warning the civilians to get out of those areas in advance of any military action.

This double-standard benefits the terrorists, who use 24-hour cable and satellite TV, including networks like Al-Jazeera and Al-Manar, to promote their propaganda.

There is a great piece in National Review Online by Noah Pollak, called “Video Made the Terrorist Star,” about how the coverage has moved beyond propaganda to reports that are incoherent and even silly.

He cites Ann Curry of NBC as a prime example. We would expand that to others who have been on the scene. Curry, like Shepard Smith of Fox News, and Tucker Carlson of MSNBC, and others, basically have little or no experience or expertise in the region. In Lebanon, they tend to focus on the alleged civilian casualties, creating the impression that Israel has overdone its response to terrorism. That is the Mitchell line.

In Israel, the story can change, however, depending on what is defined as “news.” Pollak describes a scene in which Ann Curry sticks a mike in the face of an Israeli soldier and asks him how it feels to be killing innocent civilians, and the next day she is doing a sympathetic story about an Israeli family under threat of attack. 

“In fact, they are not exactly journalists at all,” writes Pollak, “at least not in the sense that we have been taught to believe. They do not seem interested in reporting what is traditionally understood as news?that is, information that attempts to convey as complete and realistic an accounting of events as possible. They can be more accurately described as entertainers, who stimulate their audiences with that which is factual and passing. The most striking thing about the producers and on-air reporters who show up in Israel is how deeply ignorant they are of the conflict and its history.”

In the end, however, the bias always seems to be concentrated against Israel, depicted as an aggressor when it was the victim of aggression.

The anti-Israel bias, as demonstrated by media critics such as Greg Mitchell, is unfair because of the documented fact that Israel has repeatedly demonstrated a desire to live in peace with its neighbors and has shown over and over a willingness to withdraw from territories it has taken in previous wars. The Israeli leadership, including “hawks” such as Ariel Sharon, has indicated no desire to occupy Lebanon or Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Gaza.

The war in Lebanon is the result of an attack on Israel, not Israel’s desire to expand its land. 

In this war, the distinction between civilian and military cannot really be maintained because Hezbollah hides amid the civilian population. That gives terrorists the ability to deceive the people of the free world, through commentators such as Greg Mitchell, and to blame Israel for civilian deaths when they occur.

Mitchell is entitled to his opinion, but he should not advertise it as legitimate media criticism. If he wants to continue bashing Israel for exercising its right to defend itself, he should resign from Editor & Publisher and became a commentator for Al-Jazeera.

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