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Media Coverage of Israel’s killing of Palestinians

During Operation Cast Lead, the last time Israel decided to concentrate a large number of war crimes into a short period by kicking the shit out of Gazans despite the fact that Palestinians offer exactly zero real military threat to Israel I wrote a lot about it, and received the strongest pushback of my writing life: rich donors don’t like it when you say bad things about Israel.

Coverage in the US, of Israel, is so slanted that the Washington Post runs with 2 Israeli soldiers dying rather than over 60 civilians being slaughtered.

Simply put, for most news organizations, when Israel goes on a rampage, inflicting massively disproportionate collective punishment (a war crime), you have to make your bones.  Ideally you should cover for Israel: make excuses or slant coverage.  Of course the Post mentions that many more Palestinians are being killed by Israel than vice-versa; and of course the Washington Post will get around to mentioning the number of children killed

But the Washington Post editors know what all news editors know: about half the audience only reads the headlines.  Half of the remaining audience reads only the first paragraph.  If you don’t get around to mentioning inconvenient facts until later, most people will never read them.  You can feel virtuous “we covered that”, while being a propaganda outlet at the same time.

As with a lot of topics, writing about Israeli war crimes endangers your career.  The publishers and editors don’t want to hear; powerful politicians don’t want to read it.  Those who wrote against the Iraq war tended to get demoted or lose their jobs.  It’s not so bad for Israel and Palestine, of course: if you’re the sort of person who might write such articles, you’ll never make it to a position to write those articles.

Oh, to be sure, there are exceptions, and there are more in Britain than in the US.  But they are exceptions.

Writing about Israel and just noting the facts even handedly (starting with the higher casualty numbers, say), if you’re career minded, or just want to be able to feed your family, is a bad move.  It’s just not worth it.


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  1. Yeah, it’s called being pusillanimous, otherwise known as having no balls, and it is the bane of most media and politics.

  2. Bruce Wilder

    I admired Chris Bertram’s straightforward post at Crooked Timber, Bullshitting about Gaza.

    You make it sound as if the behavior of the New York Times or career-minded journalists is a mere catering to the prejudices of their readers, cowardly and unprofessional at worst.

    It becomes an unseemly complicity, as it becomes obvious that military operations and tactics are tailored, not to an ordinary contest of arms with a belligerent government, but to the needs of a Public Relations campaign. People are being killed and maimed, as part of a shameless contest of narrative. Journalists, who choose to participate by being passive uncritical conduits, are accessories to the crime.

  3. Ian Welsh

    They are catering to the prejudices of their publishers.

  4. Spinoza

    That’s their real ideology. A filthy, despicable careerism.

    On the other hand, I never quite understood hatred of the media, whatever that means. Seems most people who bitch about the media are journalists. I always assumed the Media with capital M would, by definition, be opposed to the truth and that to expect honesty out of most elite or mainstream outlets betrayed a kind of naivete. This is defensible historically too. Lest we forget Mr Hearst and yellow journalism. Maybe its just cynicism, which is naive in its own way too.

    I’m not journalist nor do I know many. Perhaps others with more experience could enlighten me?

  5. atcooper

    I had the fortune to date a journalist a lifetime ago. From her, I learned how stories get supressed. Things like editors being friends with members of the school board leading to killing a story about a district pushing out kids who didn’t test well. Funding was tied to those test scores, don’t ya know?

    She also educated me on the harm media consolidation had wrought on reprorting in general. She ended up moving into PR work for the county after some time. I expect the endemic sexism played a large part, as well as the issues touched on above.

    It was my understanding that reporters, on the whole, share the proclivities politically of other intellectuals. The publishers and their cronies in the editorial boards tended towards alignment with the monied interests.

  6. I’d say, though, that online things are a lot better than they used to be. I used to assume that I’d be a small minority, arguing the Palestinian case, but it isn’t nearly that bad anymore. Just inserting a note of optimism, dependent as it is on my anecdotal observation.

  7. John Measor

    “catering to the prejudices of their publishers” … nice!

    A new variant of A. J. Liebling’s “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

    The slavishness of media and intellectuals to power belies the enormous cost(s) to maintain fiction(s). The ‘free’ market, Western predilection for ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’.

    Ian skewers it daily on this site.

  8. Celsius 233

    IMO, this is a must see video of an interview with Yossi Gurvitz, an Israeli author. It goes a long way towards explaining the barbarity of the Israeli government; they’re entitled…

  9. ak

    The internet may be the only thing that can save us, in this time when 6 media corporations control 90% of tv, radio and newspapers …

    until Net Neutrality is quashed.

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