Bias in the Middle East

Bias in the Middle East

Both sides criticize the media's coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

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1m 45sec

"Days of Rage" by Sharyn Vane, in American Journalism Review (July–Aug. 2002), Univ. of Maryland, 1117 Journalism Bldg., College Park, Md. 20742–7111.

A tidal wave of indignation hit news organizations last spring—angry e-mails, phone calls, letters, even boycotts. The complaint: bias against Israel (or, in the minority view, in favor of Israel) in coverage of the latest violence in the Middle East. "It’s more continuous and more intense than I’ve ever seen it," said beleaguered National Public Radio ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin, who received some 9,000 furious e-mails between March and May.

"People have bristled at everything from word choices to story play," with failure to cover rallies (pro-Israel, usually) an especial sore point, notes Vane, books editor of The Austin American-Statesman. In Minneapolis, some 350 readers of the Star Tribune, including the state’s highest elected officials, objected to the paper’s refusal to describe Palestinian "suicide bombers" as "terrorists." A letter writer from an editor of B’nai B’rith’s International Jewish Monthly complained that while a front-page Washington Post feature vividly portrayed the suffering of a Palestinian family, no comparable attention was paid that month to Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks. Meanwhile, writes Vane, the online Palestine Media Watch urges readers to protest news accounts that use the words "retaliation" or "response" in describing Israeli actions, or that fail to refer to the Gaza Strip or the West Bank as "occupied" territories.

"Across the country," reports Vane, "editors acknowledge they have made mistakes, but to a one maintain that there’s simply no bias shaping coverage. Yet the sheer volume of complaints raises the question: Can so many readers be wrong?"

Yes, they can, insist the editors. They maintain that much of the criticism is generated by the Internet, which speeds information and misinformation around the world with dizzying speed. Also upping the volume, notes John Schidlovsky, director of the Pew International Journalism Program, are the innumerable pundits now holding forth on the Internet and cable TV. A lot of the critics aren’t really interested in fairness and accuracy. They just want to see their views reflected in news coverage.

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