Jewish World Review June 24, 2002 / 14 Tamuz, 5762
Infighting between the Jewish establishment and media critics undermines the struggle against bias
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | This morning I received a typical e-mail from a close friend living in Jerusalem. In the hours after the latest horrifying Palestinian suicide attack that killed 19 Israelis and wounded 52, he sent a message that was titled "We are okay."
It went on to say that his wife had listened to the sirens of the emergency vehicles rushing to rescue those who were not already dead, though she had not heard the blast itself.
But when we view and read accounts of this despicable crime, don't be surprised if reports in the daily newspapers and the broadcast networks cast this event as yet another instance of Palestinian rage at Israeli "occupation" or "injustice" understandably boiling over.
That has been the way most of our mainstream media outlets treat the wanton slaughter of Jews in the streets of Jerusalem. The keynote of Middle East coverage amounts to blaming the victim, while rationalizing the murderers in a way that would have been unthinkable if the subject were the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Most of the American media, including its elite troops earning paychecks at dailies like The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as National Public Radio, still cannot bring themselves to use the word "terrorists" to describe Palestinian killers. They prefer to use the word "activists" - as if the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade were trying to organize a textile-worker''s union.
Further proof of the importance of media bias came this week in the form of the publication of a new study from the Anti-Defamation League, which showed rising levels of anti-Semitism in this country.
Only one thing can account for this: the backlash against Israel as it struggles to defend itself against an Arab war of terror and propaganda. During the course of the last 20 months, as Arab propaganda filtered into the mainstream media, cliches about the nefarious influence of the Jews have migrated from the Web sites of extremists to the mainstream news media.
FIGHTING ABOUT NPR
NPR is unique among contemporary American broadcast-news outlets. Its noncommercial format and relatively lengthy feature slots in its popular "Morning Edition" and afternoon "All Things Considered" shows provide for an in-depth style of journalism that is virtually extinct on CBS, NBC and ABC.
But despite its virtues, insiders describe NPR as a place where those who stray from lockstep liberalism are not tolerated. And that spirit is reflected in a relentlessly ideological approach to the news.
Unfortunately for Israel, in NPR-land, the Jewish state and its right to defend itself against terrorists who aim to destroy tends to be treated with about as much respect as that accorded South Vietnam.
While there is little disagreement among friends of Israel that NPR is a problem, there seems to be little consensus about what to do about it.
On the one hand, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America has relentlessly hounded NPR over mistakes, distortions and outright falsehoods. Although NPR's chief executive officer, Kevin Klose, has made a point of trying to reach out to Jewish audiences to shore up his base of contributors, he has declined to answer CAMERA''s detailed criticisms (found online at: www.camera.org).
Instead, he is relying on a dynamic that is not unfamiliar in Jewish history: the tendency for some mainstream Jews to treat gadfly groups like CAMERA as a threat to their status as insiders.
Abe Foxman, ADL''s national director, has taken a dim view of what he considers a scattershot approach to the media on the part of groups like CAMERA.
ADL has good reason to lament the rise of an Internet culture that can generate a million e-mails to a supposed anti-Semitic transgressor before the charge can be investigated. Prior to this, ADL was able to settle some problems quietly and only reverted to public pressure when that route failed. ADL''s ability to play that role is obviously constrained when CAMERA or the similarly oriented HonestReporting.com Web site can mobilize activists to hammer the media before Foxman even has the chance to talk with the offenders.
CAMERA leader Andrea Levin even goaded Foxman in a scathing opinion piece published in The Jerusalem Post last year when he asserted that charges of a generalized media bias against Israel were unfounded. Though Foxman chose not to fire back then, payback came this spring in the form of an ADL report on CAMERA''s primary target: NPR.
But prominent ADL contributors - some of whom are also supporters of CAMERA - were skeptical of the need for ADL to expend its resources on a project whose aim seemed to be to undercut research already done on the same subject by CAMERA.
Even before the study was finalized, Foxman told this writer that he did not intend to formally publish the findings. And when an early draft was circulated to leading ADL donors, critical feedback led to a revised draft that was circulated inside the group and to some journalists.
While ADL asserted that NPR was not "fundamentally biased against Israel," there were, it said, still "significant problems."
ADL'S 'WORKING RELATIONSHIP'
Without going into the details of comparing ADL''s guarded charges against CAMERA's more wide-ranging assertions, the whole point of the affair seemed to be to preserve what ADL said was its "working relationship" with NPR. ADL hoped their recommendations would "bring greater balance to NPR's Mideast reportage, including personalizing the suffering of the Israeli side, as well as the Palestinian, and doing so on an ongoing basis, not selectively."
Fair enough. But if the real point of the exercise was to assert ADL''s role as the "responsible" house-trained Jewish group, in contrast with the presumably less responsible and noisier gadflys at CAMERA that NPR could afford to ignore, then the effort was a mistake.
If the more assertive critics of NPR were truly incapable of influencing or pressuring the network to change its ways, then perhaps traditional ADL quiet diplomacy would be the only answer.
But given NPR's vulnerability to public pressure because of its need to attract American Jewish contributions, is this really a case where insiders can do the job better than the outsiders? CAMERA is an essential part of the pro-Israel community''s response.
If the final result of all this is the production of an unpublished and admittedly nonexhaustive ADL study that NPR can use to deflect more hard-hitting criticisms, was that really helpful to the cause of countering media bias? Clearly not.
ADL remains American Jewry''s primary defense agency, and is perhaps the only remaining national Jewish organization of that type which still has a coherent mission and the ability to accomplish it.
But the lesson here is that when a group succumbs to the temptation to act to protect its turf and access to the corridors of power, the result is bound to be hurtful to the cause it is attempting to serve.
We are living in a time when Israel is at war and anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world. The last thing we need is a sideshow between Jewish organizations that seems to be more about egos and differences over tactics than about principles.
Friends of Israel need to concentrate their fire on the real problem - the biased journalism at places like NPR - and not on each other.
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