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Former AP Reporter: I Didn’t Leave Journalism, It Left Me: Lori Lowenthal Marcus, Jewish Press, Dec. 16, 2014— A journalist for more than 40 years, Mark Lavie was based in Jerusalem for most of them and then in Cairo for two – during the “Egyptian Revolution.”
What the Media Gets Wrong About Israel: Matti Friedman, The Atlantic, Nov. 30— During the Gaza war this summer, it became clear that one of the most important aspects of the media-saturated conflict between Jews and Arabs is also the least covered: the press itself.
Imagine No Religion: The Western Media and Islamic Terror: Raymond Ibrahim, Middle East Forum, Dec. 19, 2014 — As the West experiences a rise in the sort of terror attacks that are endemic to the Islamic world…
Rolling Stone was Performing Advocacy, Not Journalism: Barbara Kay, National Post, Dec. 10, 2014— A crisis at Rolling Stone magazine is a cautionary tale of the harm done to journalism when reporters abandon objectivity and due diligence in order to further a political agenda.
The 2014 Dishonest Reporting Awards: Honest Reporting, Dec. 23, 2014
New Billboards Target NY Times for Anti-Israel Reporting: Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu, Jewish Press, Dec. 25, 2014
Rolling Stone Apologized. Will the Times?: Liel Liebovitz, Tablet, Dec. 8, 2014
The Old Journalism and the New: Ross Douthat, New York Times, Dec. 6, 2014
The New Republic is Dead, Thanks to its Owner, Chris Hughes: Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2014
Lori Lowenthal Marcus
Jewish Press, Dec. 16, 2014
A journalist for more than 40 years, Mark Lavie was based in Jerusalem for most of them and then in Cairo for two – during the “Egyptian Revolution.” Lavie is no longer a journalist. But he didn’t leave the profession, “it left me,” Lavie says. Now Lavie is speaking out in as many fora as possible. He seeks to alert the public about the dramatic difference between what journalism used to be – and still pretends to be – and what it actually is. Lavie’s conclusions shouldn’t surprise many readers… But those conclusions, and the detail Lavie provides as someone who lived for so long within the belly of the beast, provides a stunning rebuke – especially to the Associated Press, where Lavie worked for fifteen years. AP has long been criticized as biased against Israel. Lavie provides eye-witness testimony that:
A recent account by another former AP reporter, Matti Friedman, indicting AP editor Steve Gutkin for killing a story about a 2008 peace proposal advanced by Israel, drew a sharp and categorical denial by the AP director of press relations and the now ex-editor Gutkin. They asserted flatly that Friedman was wrong and that what he said happened didn’t happen. But now Lavie weighs in: “I was there,” he told The Jewish Press. “Gutkin said to can” that article. More broadly and more deeply, Lavie is profoundly pessimistic about the quality of the work put out by AP and most sources of mainstream journalism today. Driven as they are by the Internet’s insatiable appetite for the latest flash, people who call themselves reporters are interested, he says, primarily if not exclusively in speed, not substance.
Perhaps even worse, Lavie provides direct testimony that journalists no longer even pretend that their job is to report facts. Instead, he’s been told by former colleagues, the job of the media is to advocate for those actors on the world stage that the journalists feel deserve support – to “speak truth to power.” “But that isn’t the job journalists are supposed to do!” Lavie cries. “The job of journalists is to take a significant story and make it interesting, by explaining it and putting it in context.” Lavie had a front row seat to the seismic changes in the Middle East, including every major outbreak of fighting, terrorist attack and peace negotiation efforts over the past nearly half a century. He also was ringside in Cairo when the “Arab Spring” was revealed to him as a “Broken Spring,” instead. That is also the name of his recently updated book and his blog.
Lavie severed his relationship with AP and, in the past few months, has been sharing some inconvenient truths about how journalism has changed including at AP, and especially in the Middle East. Outsiders have long believed that the mainstream media is consistently and intentionally biased against Israel. Lavie confirms that view, and he does so with the credentials garnered by enduring a long-term sojourn in the belly of the beast. Lavie is also center-left, a supporter of the Geneva Initiative, a committed Two-Stater. Given Lavie’s experience, his politics and his ringside seat, his message deserves as broad an audience as possible. That message is: virtually all reporting about the Middle East is sifted so that only one side comes out. And some critical information never even makes it into the sifter at all.
First, Lavie has a lot to say about the general state of journalism throughout the world and how the social media revolution has led to catastrophic consequences. The rise of social media as a delivery service for news is the equivalent of the bubonic plague. The consequences are many and nearly all destructive. The reduction in reportorial and editorial budgets has meant that fewer reporters are in the field, and those fewer are required not just to get there and get it out first, but also to tweet and to blog while reporting and to “own” each breaking story. The frenzied pace leaves little time or energy for fact-checking or deep-sourcing. Added to the exponentially-expanding workload of the journalists are the online competitors for the latest and the most widely-spread news. Those computer jockeys race quickly with little or no oversight or accountability, giving the few real journalists more than a run for their money. Being a journalist in the 21st century brings to mind the title of a book from a few decades ago: “I’m dancing as fast as I can.” The Internet thus propels the news cycles into warp speed, with the concomitant loss of care, facts and professionalism.
Lavie recalls with pride that his position used to be, and it was one accepted by all of his earlier employers: “I may not be first, but I will be right.” For Lavie, accuracy and completeness were paramount. Those two qualities are now held in far lower esteem. The seminal moment for Lavie came while listening to an AP “Town Hall” in 2004. Lavie told The Jewish Press, the person speaking – he thinks it was Tom Curley, and the timing is right, Curley was president of the AP in 2004 – said: “speed matters more than heft.” Lavie knew then it was the beginning of the end. But the focus for The Jewish Press is Lavie’s take on how, as he put it in an August article he wrote for The Israel Project’s publication, The Tower: “Why Everything Reported From Gaza is Crazy Twisted.”…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
The Atlantic, Nov. 30, 2014
During the Gaza war this summer, it became clear that one of the most important aspects of the media-saturated conflict between Jews and Arabs is also the least covered: the press itself. The Western press has become less an observer of this conflict than an actor in it, a role with consequences for the millions of people trying to comprehend current events, including policymakers who depend on journalistic accounts to understand a region where they consistently seek, and fail, to productively intervene.
An essay I wrote for Tablet on this topic in the aftermath of the war sparked intense interest. In the article, based on my experiences between 2006 and 2011 as a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, one of the world’s largest news organizations, I pointed out the existence of a problem and discussed it in broad terms. Using staffing numbers, I illustrated the disproportionate media attention devoted to this conflict relative to other stories, and gave examples of editorial decisions that appeared to be driven by ideological considerations rather than journalistic ones. I suggested that the cumulative effect has been to create a grossly oversimplified story—a kind of modern morality play in which the Jews of Israel are displayed more than any other people on earth as examples of moral failure. This is a thought pattern with deep roots in Western civilization.
But how precisely does this thought pattern manifest itself in the day-to-day functioning, or malfunctioning, of the press corps? To answer this question, I want to explore the way Western press coverage is shaped by unique circumstances here in Israel and also by flaws affecting the media beyond the confines of this conflict. In doing so, I will draw on my own experiences and those of colleagues. These are obviously limited and yet, I believe, representative…There are banal explanations for problems with coverage—reporters are in a hurry, editors are overloaded and distracted. These are realities, and can explain small errors and mishaps like ill-conceived headlines, which is why such details don’t typically strike me as important or worth much analysis. Some say inflations and omissions are the inevitable results of an honest attempt to cover events in a challenging and occasionally dangerous reporting environment, which is what I initially believed myself. A few years on the job changed my mind. Such excuses can’t explain why the same inflations and omissions recur again and again, why they are common to so many news outlets, and why the simple “Israel story” of the international media is so foreign to people aware of the historical and regional context of events in this place. The explanation lies elsewhere.
To make sense of most international journalism from Israel, it is important first to understand that the news tells us far less about Israel than about the people writing the news. Journalistic decisions are made by people who exist in a particular social milieu, one which, like most social groups, involves a certain uniformity of attitude, behavior, and even dress (the fashion these days, for those interested, is less vests with unnecessary pockets than shirts with unnecessary buttons). These people know each other, meet regularly, exchange information, and closely watch one another’s work. This helps explain why a reader looking at articles written by the half-dozen biggest news providers in the region on a particular day will find that though the pieces are composed and edited by completely different people and organizations, they tend to tell the same story.
The best insight into one of the key phenomena at play here comes not from a local reporter but from the journalist and author Philip Gourevitch. In Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa, Gourevitch wrote in 2010, he was struck by the ethical gray zone of ties between reporters and NGOs. “Too often the press represents humanitarians with unquestioning admiration,” he observed in The New Yorker. “Why not seek to keep them honest? Why should our coverage of them look so much like their own self-representation in fund-raising appeals? Why should we (as many photojournalists and print reporters do) work for humanitarian agencies between journalism jobs, helping them with their official reports and institutional appeals, in a way that we would never consider doing for corporations, political parties, or government agencies?” This confusion is very much present in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where foreign activists are a notable feature of the landscape, and where international NGOs and numerous arms of the United Nations are among the most powerful players, wielding billions of dollars and employing many thousands of foreign and local employees. Their SUVs dominate sections of East Jerusalem and their expense accounts keep Ramallah afloat. They provide reporters with social circles, romantic partners, and alternative employment—a fact that is more important to reporters now than it has ever been, given the disintegration of many newspapers and the shoestring nature of their Internet successors.
In my time in the press corps, I learned that our relationship with these groups was not journalistic. My colleagues and I did not, that is, seek to analyze or criticize them. For many foreign journalists, these were not targets but sources and friends—fellow members, in a sense, of an informal alliance. This alliance consists of activists and international staffers from the UN and the NGOs; the Western diplomatic corps, particularly in East Jerusalem; and foreign reporters. (There is also a local component, consisting of a small number of Israeli human-rights activists who are themselves largely funded by European governments, and Palestinian staffers from the Palestinian Authority, the NGOs, and the UN.) Mingling occurs at places like the lovely Oriental courtyard of the American Colony hotel in East Jerusalem, or at parties held at the British Consulate’s rooftop pool. The dominant characteristic of nearly all of these people is their transience. They arrive from somewhere, spend a while living in a peculiar subculture of expatriates, and then move on. The uglier aspects of Palestinian society are untouchable because they would disrupt the “Israel story,” which is a story of Jewish moral failure.
In these circles, in my experience, a distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry. I don’t mean a critical approach to Israeli policies or to the ham-fisted government currently in charge in this country, but a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills, particularly those connected to nationalism, militarism, colonialism, and racism—an idea quickly becoming one of the central elements of the “progressive” Western zeitgeist, spreading from the European left to American college campuses and intellectuals, including journalists. In this social group, this sentiment is translated into editorial decisions made by individual reporters and editors covering Israel, and this, in turn, gives such thinking the means of mass self-replication…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Middle East Forum, Dec. 19, 2014
As the West experiences a rise in the sort of terror attacks that are endemic to the Islamic world—church attacks, sex-slavery and beheadings—it is only natural that the same mainstream media that habitually conceals such atrocities "over there," especially against Christians and other minorities under Islam, would also conceal the reality of jihadi aspirations "over here." As The Commentator reports: [T]he level of the [media] grovelling after the tragic and deadly saga in Sydney Australia over the last 24 hours has been astounding. At the time of writing, the lead story on the BBC website is of course about that very tragedy, in which an Islamist fanatic took a random group hostage in a cafe, ultimately killing two of them. He did this in the name of Islam. But you wouldn't get that impression if you started to read the BBC's lead story, which astoundingly managed to avoid mentioning the words Islam, Islamic, Islamist, Muslim, or any derivations thereof for a full 16 paragraphs…
If these are the lengths that Western mainstream media go to dissemble about the Islamic-inspired slaughter of Western peoples, it should now be clear why the ubiquitous Muslim persecution of those unfashionable Christian minorities is also practically unknown by those who follow Western mainstream media. As with the Sydney attack, media headlines say it all. The 2011 New Year's Eve Coptic church attack that left 28 dead appeared under vague headlines: "Clashes grow as Egyptians remain angry after attack," was the New York Times' headline; and "Christians clash with police in Egypt after attack on churchgoers kills 21" was the Washington Post's—as if frustrated and harried Christians lashing out against their oppressors is the "big news," not the unprovoked atrocity itself; as if their angry reaction "evens" everything up. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times partially told the story of an Egyptian off-duty police officer who, after identifying Copts by their crosses on a train, opened fire on them, killing one, while screaming "Allahu Akbar"—but to exonerate the persecution, as caught by the report's headline: "Eyewitness claims train attacker did not target Copts, state media say."…
Blurring the line between victim and oppressor—recall the fear of "anti-Muslim backlash" whenever a Muslim terrorizes "infidels" in the West—also applies to the media's reporting on Muslim persecution of Christians. The mainstream media shows remarkable consistency in employing an arsenal of semantic games, key phrases, convenient omissions, and moral relativism to portray [Islamist] violence as a product of anything and everything … not Islam. A February 2012 BBC report on a church attack in Nigeria that left three Christians dead, including a toddler, objectively states the bare bone facts in one sentence. Then it jumps to apparently the really big news: that "the bombing sparked a riot by Christian youths, with reports that at least two Muslims were killed in the violence. The two men were dragged off their bikes after being stopped at a roadblock set up by the rioters, police said. A row of Muslim-owned shops was also burned…" The report goes on and on, with an entire section about "very angry" Christians till one confuses victims with persecutors, forgetting what the Christians are "very angry" about in the first place: nonstop terror attacks on their churches and the slaughter of their women and children.
A New York Times report that appeared on December 25, 2011—the day after Boko Haram bombed several churches during Christmas Eve services, leaving some 40 dead—said that such church bombings threaten "to exploit the already frayed relations between Nigeria's nearly evenly split populations of Christians and Muslims…" Such an assertion suggests that both Christians and Muslims are equally motivated by religious hostility—even as one seeks in vain for Christian terror organizations that bomb mosques in Nigeria to screams of "Christ is Great!" Meanwhile, Boko Haram has torched 185 churches—to say nothing of the countless Christians beheaded—in just the last few months alone. Continuing to grasp for straws, the same NYT report suggests that the Nigerian government's "heavy-handed" response to Boko Haram is responsible for its terror, and even manages to invoke another mainstream media favorite: the poverty-causes-terrorism myth.
Whether Muslim mayhem is taking place in the Islamic or Western worlds, the mainstream media shows remarkable consistency in employing an arsenal of semantic games, key phrases, convenient omissions, and moral relativism to portray such violence as a product of anything and everything—political and historical grievances, "Islamophobia," individual insanity, poverty and ignorance, territorial disputes—not Islam. As such, Western media keep Western majorities in the dark about the Islamic threat, here and abroad. In short, the "MSM" protects and enables the Islamic agenda—irrespective of whether its distortions are a product of intent, political correctness, or sheer stupidity.
National Post, Dec. 10, 2014
A crisis at Rolling Stone magazine is a cautionary tale of the harm done to journalism when reporters abandon objectivity and due diligence in order to further a political agenda.Last month the magazine ran a story by contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely about an alleged 2012 fraternity gang rape of a University of Virginia student. According to the harrowing tale of the victim, “Jackie,” she was taken — sober, she says — to a frat party by her date, a man she trusted. Once there, she was thrown on to a glass coffee, which shattered on impact. Lying on the broken glass, she was then raped by seven men. She left the party and called some friends, who argued over whether she should report the crime. She didn’t.
Recent media scandals betray the due-process double-standard that exists for men accused of sexual impropriety. On one end of the spectrum are anonymous male university students, instantly vilified by journalists and campus activists as dangerous misogynists based on unproven allegations of rape. On the other end of the spectrum are celebrities who use dilatory legal and quasi-legal means to keep their accusers at bay for months, years or even decades. Last month, Rolling Stone magazine published a campus rape-culture tell-all centered on the alleged gang rape of a woman (“Jackie”) at a University of Virginia frat-house party. The story was shocking. But a subsequent Washington Post investigation revealed that some of the details reported in the Rolling Stone story are untrue. For instance, the fraternity in question didn’t hold a party on the night of the alleged crime. And the frat membership list contains no one who fits the description of the accused rapist. On December 5, Rolling Stone ran a “note to our readers” acknowledging that “there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account.”
Upon release, the story understandably evoked passionate indignation amongst unquestioning rape-culture activists. It also caused great anguish on the UVA campus. But to more detached eyes, certain sensational aspects of the story rang false. The first to query details in a Nov. 24 blog post was Richard Bradley, editor of Worth Magazine. His close reading of the piece and his accusation of “journalistic malpractice” (at Jackie’s request Erdely did not try to contact the accused men, or even speak with Jackie’s friends; she took Jackie’s word for everything she wrote as fact) sparked a wave of further criticism in outlets such as Bloomberg, Reason, Instapundit, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
Investigation showed discrepancies between Erdely’s account and reality, such as the fact that Phi Kappa Psi, the frat house in question (which denies Jackie’s charges), had not held any social events during the weekend specified by Jackie, and her date was not a Phi Kappa Psi member. Other questions should have occurred to Erdely. Why would a pre-meditated gang rape, which is what Jackie seemed to be alleging, take place on a coffee table and not a bed? What man in his right mind would expose his genitals to broken glass, and were any of them injured by the glass in a way that may have offered corroborating evidence of Jackie’s allegations? What kind of woman would say to a friend who, she believed, had been raped by seven men and was streaming blood from her wounds, “Why didn’t you have fun with it? A bunch of hot Phi Psi guys?”
But Erdely clearly didn’t question Jackie’s account. She had come to UVA expressly to find stories, the more alarmist the better, to fit a pre-existing theoretical template of a flourishing rape culture on American campuses. Jackie merely fed her what she was longing to hear. That Erdely’s editor fell in with her unprofessionalism is even more disconcerting. As bigger and bigger holes appeared in the story, Managing Editor Will Dana put out a public letter of apology, saying Rolling Stone was “mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account.” (This language itself is an update from an earlier version, which said, “Our trust in [Jackie] was misplaced.” Having been accused of blaming the victim, Rolling Stone is now taking full responsibility and is accusing Jackie of nothing.) Dana explained that “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault….”…
Journalism is a big tent that can accommodate both reportage and opinion bias. But opinions (including this one) generally belong in the comment section. And even there, arguments must be evidence-based. As a columnist known to be sympathetic to male victims of, among other things, a dysfunctional, anti-male family court system, for example, I have received literally hundreds of narratives by men whose lives have been ruined by women’s allegedly false allegations. I believe most of them, but I don’t write about them, because I can’t get the accused women to talk to me and give me their side of the story. And that’s how it should be. When journalists and editors use their privilege to advance a political agenda at the expense of objectivity, they cheat the public and cheapen the journalistic profession.
Barbara Kay is a CIJR Academic Fellow
The 2014 Dishonest Reporting Awards: Honest Reporting, Dec. 23, 2014 —Scarlett Johansson’s brave stand against Israel-bashers seems so long ago.
New Billboards Target NY Times for Anti-Israel Reporting: Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu, Jewish Press, Dec. 25, 2014—The CAMERA watchdog organization has posted five new billboards in midtown Manhattan to spread the message of The New York Times’ slanted reportage on Israel.
Rolling Stone Apologized. Will the Times?: Liel Liebovitz, Tablet, Dec. 8, 2014—Have you heard the one about the major news organization that published an abominable piece by a contributor who made no real effort to obtain a thorough account and ran instead with an impassioned story that sounds plausible and moving just as long as you don’t bother looking at the actual facts?
The Old Journalism and the New: Ross Douthat, New York Times, Dec. 6, 2014 —sometimes media events synchronize almost too neatly.
The New Republic is Dead, Thanks to its Owner, Chris Hughes: Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2014—At a 40th-birthday party in July for Franklin Foer, editor of the New Republic, the magazine’s young owner, Chris Hughes, got all choked up as he pledged to the roomful of writers at Foer’s country home in Pennsylvania that the two would be “intellectual partners for decades.”
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