American media coverage has received considerable attention in recent years. The alarming paranoia of the political right has inspired a broad defense of publications and journalistic institutions rather than the content they produce.
The task of talking to conservatives is so enormous and exhausting that reasonable criticism of media objectivity often goes unnoticed. There are few cases with so many biases requiring more urgent attention than that of the US-backed Israeli occupation of Palestine.
There are myriad American publications in circulation, but none have as much fame or national reach as The New York Times and The Washington Post. For nearly the last century, they have served as the de facto authorities on whatever subject they choose to report on, especially in non-conservative environments.
The authority of these media is relatively unchallenged when it comes to international issues, apparently because conservatives willing to discuss domestic issues are far less interested in international politics. Their bias is rarely discussed for fear of sounding too much like a climate change denier wearing a tinfoil hat, despite criticism from the opposite end of the political spectrum.
There are two glaring problems with granting this authority. First, it goes against the legitimization of popular reporting, which plays an important role in disseminating information during political unrest. Basic reporting can potentially contain more accurate information, as journalists are members of the community and as such are not constrained to the reporting relationship as the international press.
In my personal experience, when I’ve forwarded a link or video from an account or organization that does grassroots reporting like this – more recently, the account @eye.on.palestine on Instagram or @HoyPalestina on Twitter, both of which post video evidence of the daily brutality of Israeli Defense Force soldiers – I was met with a considerable amount of contempt or dismissal.
Americans are accustomed to their news being presented in a uniform format whereby anything that strays outside is subject to an alarming level of doubt. They expect local grassroots reporters to feature all news from places literally under attack in a recognizable font or for the video to have English subtitles, as if it’s necessary to understand background conversations to acknowledge state-sanctioned brutality, or reasonable to expect them to be provided on live footage from active war zones.
“It’s not a reliable source” is one of the most frequent and appalling things I’ve heard from Americans facing evidence of violence by a military operation backed and funded by their own State.
Take two victims of Israel Defense Forces brutality – one who is the “perfect” victim and one who is written off by the media. here is the funeral of a 7-year-old Rayan Suleiman whose heart stopped on adrenaline after his parents said he was chased by Israeli soldiers. here is a video of the IDF smashing a young man’s face into the ground. here it’s from another angle. Yes, you don’t know his name and you don’t know the reason for his detention.
These two things give Americans the chance to say, “well, we just don’t know enough.” Any inconsistency or complete lack of clarity in this report is immediately used to discredit it. It doesn’t matter that living under occupation and the constant threat of arrest or murder doesn’t allow for the same precise and time-consuming fact-checking process that one has the privilege of in a press office in the United States. , or that sharing the name of someone already brutalized by the IDF will make them more of a target.
These are only two examples of victims of the occupation, but what are the testimonies of their families and witnesses if not the most primary and most urgent source? It’s not responsible to wait for a pithy news anchor in an expensive suit to report on carefully chosen victims. or for the Washington Post to write about the death of a 7-year-old child about the army directly responsible for his death as a reliable source. When will so many Americans stop pretending the information doesn’t exist until it’s covered by their favorite experts?
It may seem that Americans are creatures of habit like everyone else, and your comfort in receiving your news in this pre-packaged format, with its almost surgical precision in flagging only the most acceptable violations and most undeniable of human rights, stems from the reliability of this method. It is crucial to understand that what you are receiving is just the tip of a very large iceberg. This is better written propaganda. The fact that you’re used to interacting with the media in this form doesn’t make it normal, it makes it common.
The second and most crucial element here is that media seen as trustworthy and acceptable, and presented as a natural superior to “non-objective” or “agency-driven” grassroots reporting, is literally anything but objective.
Take the Washington Post which, since its takeover by one of the the richest men in the world with a variety of worker abuse claimspublished little more than insidious opinions American imperial propaganda, each time with the brand slogan “Democracy dies in darkness”. The days of Watergate are long gone – so is the celebration and trust in a newspaper owned by a man like Jeff Bezos.
The New York Times is not exempt either. In any other country, a publication which publishes such nauseating portrait people whose only job is to commit mass murder behind a computer screen would be considered terribly biased. Maybe John Oliver would take care of that a bit. Cue the infographic and the “We need to talk about [blank]”titles.
holly jackson study 2021 on New York Times reporting on Palestine at MIT offers a poignant and undeniable analysis of media bias from reliable sources. What is most urgent is that the Times overstates Israeli victims, understates Palestinian victims, refers to Israeli groups in 93% of stories compared to references to Palestinians, which are only present in 43%, and uses the passive voice twice as often when referring to Palestinians.
Jackson too refers to a study by Allison Weir’s nonprofit “If Americans Knew” which compared media coverage during two periods of the Second Intifada. The study found that despite Palestinian deaths being 7.6 higher than Israelis in 2004, The New York Times reported Israeli deaths at 149% and Palestinian deaths at 41% in headlines or first paragraphs.
The stilted reality of the death toll has not changed. Reports show little evidence of change either. Point blank assassination by Shireen Abu Akleh, an internationally respected Palestinian journalist with Al Jazeera, was so widely reported in May that it was impossible to ignore. Unless, of course, you’re an avid reader of The Times, in which case you’d be presented with a report where the Israeli authorities, after shooting a journalist in a press vest, are repeatedly cited in apparent good faith.
It’s ridiculous enough that many Americans have been eagerly awaiting their champion publication to conduct their own investigation into a murder that was literally broadcast live, as if that would be the only way to find out what happened, but that the only conclusive statement that the Times has managed to extinguish is that Shireen Abu Akleh was “most likely“Another IDF casualty is a marker of their profound lack of integrity.
The US media does a disservice to its readers by underreporting and misrepresenting the reality of US-sponsored violence abroad. Americans themselves are on a precipice of deciding how much they will value a publication’s name versus the content it reports. This is a decision that needs to be made urgently – if not for the sake of their conscience, then for the sake of media literacy for future generations.
Sofia Uriagereka writes about international and national politics and social movements. Write to him at [email protected]