Unfair and Unbalanced

(Weekly Standard) Joshua Muravchik - Tyrannies have often managed to compromise Western journalists - by threats, bribes, and trickery. The New York Times covered up the story of Soviet famines in the 1930s. The Times of London hailed Hitler's "night of long knives" as an effort to "impose a high standard on Nazi officials." Mao, Fidel, Ho, Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas all succeeded at whitewashing their portrayal in the Western media. To this list, we can add the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. I recently completed a study of coverage of the Palestinian intifada that found scores of stories displaying imbalance or outright inaccuracy tilted against Israel. Some of this reflected bias - not anti-Semitism, but the perception of the conflict as "an epic struggle of the weak against the strong." More often, however, the cause lay in the asymmetry of the news environments of a democracy and a tyranny. Much investigative information embarrassing to Israel originates in the Israeli press, which is vibrant and often adversarial. There is, however, no comparable illumination of the warts on the other side. As Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh put it: "The PA exerts complete control over the media inside the territories." The Palestinian Authority routinely uses violence and the threat of violence against journalists. Immediately after 9/11, the PA's cabinet secretary called news agencies, warning, as USA Today reported, that "the safety of their staff could not be guaranteed unless they withdrew the embarrassing footage of Palestinian police firing joyfully in the air." Israeli spokesmen, like other Westerners, spin but rarely lie outright, knowing that a steep price would be exacted if they got caught. Palestinian spokesmen, in contrast, lie shamelessly. Arafat claimed to have ordered a "very serious investigation" of the Ramallah lynching. Palestinian spokesmen heatedly denied knowledge of the arms ship Karine-A. They all claimed a "massacre" had occurred in Jenin. All of these claims, and many more, were sheer nonsense. The goal of balance cannot be achieved by a mechanical report of "he said, she said" when the two sides are so disparate in their fidelity to truth, the openness of their societies, and their willingness to resort to intimidation. Are there no techniques or canons of journalism that will avoid giving a tyranny the upper hand in the press when it takes on a democracy?

2003-09-19 00:00:00

Full Article


Visit the Daily Alert Archive