American media: involuntary collaboration with hostile actors

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A Palestinian activist addresses the media during the first-ever joint exercise of Palestinian militant groups in Gaza City, December 29, 2020. (Mohammed Salem / Reuters)

Hamas colleagues at the Associated Press have proven this. It’s time to act to break the relationship.

Froyalty world press faces a serious new threat. The specter of Western news organizations colluding – through coercion, ideology, or financial interests – with authoritarian states and non-state actors poses a challenge to US national security and global democracy.

When interest, ideology or intimidation is exerted on media outlets, the result is often political and humanitarian disaster. Looking around the world today, we see these forces wielded by major powers such as China and Russia, but also by terrorist groups, such as Iranian proxy Hamas, who apply the principles of asymmetric warfare to managing one of today’s most important battlegrounds: the media.

We have learned how serious this threat is in the latest war between Israel and Hamas. Israel, responding to thousands of rockets that fell on its population centers, bombed a tower in Gaza used by the Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In the aftermath of the attack, the world discovered that the building also served as the local headquarters for some of the most powerful news agencies in the world, including the Associated Press.

The attack on an empty building sparked an uproar from critics of Israel, who took the opportunity to launch harsh criticism against the region’s only democracy. Outrage, however, has clouded the much more troubling reality that Hamas has perfected sophisticated methods of influencing the global news agenda – in this case, effectively holding international journalists hostage.

More worryingly, the world has known this trend for almost a decade (at least). In 2014, during the last major battle between Hamas and Israel, a former Associated Press reporter named Matti Friedman wrote about what could amount to the media organization’s complicity in the activities of the terrorist group:

PA personnel in Gaza City are said to witness a rocket launch right outside their offices, endangering journalists and other civilians nearby – and the PA would not report it, not even in articles from PA on Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas. Hamas fighters would break into the PA’s Gaza office and threaten staff – and the PA would not report it.

It is extremely rare for journalists to deliberately attempt to carry water for an authoritarian regime or another bad actor. Instead, these governments and groups are employing a muscular approach to influence coverage. The math is brutally simple: if journalists stay within acceptable coverage, they are unharmed and, in some cases, gain crucial access to sources. But if they don’t, they risk losing access to sources, the ability to report from places like Gaza, and even their lives.

More importantly, this trend of downward pressure on media organizations shows how some have corrupted important institutions. A notable example this week has come from the monitoring NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which is ostensibly dedicated to the protection of journalists (and which often does this important work very effectively).

Rather than asking why international reporters (according to the PA’s explanation) had unwittingly shared a building with a listed terrorist group in the United States for 15 years, RSF chose to try to influence the powerful and notoriously anti – Israeli International Criminal Court (ICC) to continue an investigation into war crimes against Israel. By deliberately ignoring the well-documented dangers to journalists in Gaza by forces in power for many years, RSF has shown that watchdogs in the media industry are also likely to be unduly influenced by undemocratic forces such as Hamas.

Unfortunately, none of this is new. Looking for my book The gray lady winked, which examines how the New York Times‘Wrong reporting radically alters history, I have discovered that a decade of biased, false or otherwise shoddy reporting by the New York Times of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s could be largely attributed to a Times Head of the Berlin office known (even then) as a Nazi collaborator. When this has been brought to the attention of the Times‘owners, they threatened to slap the whistleblower with a lawsuit. The Nazi-loving journalist’s unparalleled access to German sources gave the Times a competitive advantage in its media market that it would not risk losing.

All over the world we see the same trend at work today. In recent weeks, a Washington post journalist accused the New York Times to “bend over backwards” to play down theories that COVID-19 could originate from a Chinese lab. The Times‘a significant investment in China (which includes a digital edition of its newspaper and a luxury lifestyle magazine in the Chinese market), combined with the Chinese government’s penchant for blocking access to the Times‘the digital properties whenever he perceives the log to be incorrect, cannot be simply ignored.

Seen in the context of the corporate interests of the New York Times Company, the New York Times displays a lack of serious reporting on issues of sensitivity to the Chinese government, such as the origins of COVID-19 or Uyghur slavery, that the Times has resisted describing in the genre of harsh terms, such as “ethnic cleansingHe uses in his reports on the Palestinians.

But even though he protected his language and tone in his coverage of slavery in China, the New York Times had no problem promoting the factually contested 1619 Project, an effort to reframe American history in terms of slavery – which the United States abolished over 150 years ago. Why? And why the Times not fully explore all the possibilities regarding the origins of COVID-19? What, if any, was the financial and political calculation in these cases? How media such as the Times to manage the demands of undemocratic governments? What control mechanisms are there at the top of these organizations to ensure transparency?

Just like the New York Times, CNN, ABC, and others have asked questions like these regarding foreign influence on big tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook, we should be asking ourselves these important questions about Big Media as well.

The American political system and public culture have long regarded the press as the fourth estate of government. But even this heavy nickname does not fully capture the essential role the news media play in a democracy. In a world where the media has become the stage on which public life is played, safeguarding these values ​​means ensuring that journalists like those in Gaza are free from intimidation, fear and influence. undue. This is something that all of us – and especially Congress – should be concerned about. Congressional hearings should be called swiftly and supported by Democrats, Republicans and Independents, because a free press is the cornerstone of American democracy.



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