HOW TO RECOGNIZE UNFAIR REPORTING ABOUT ISRAEL
by Lee Green
These are some general guidelines for how to monitor a newspaper.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Analyze the headlines
- Are they distorted consistently? Do they focus on Israel's response
rather than on the acts of terror that provoked the military action?
- If Israelis are murdered, do they headline it using passive
verbs and without identifying the perpetrator as Palestinian or Arab,
e.g. "3 Die in Tel Aviv" rather than "Palestinians Kill Mother, 2
Toddlers"? Do they follow the same pattern when Palestinians are
killed, or do they use the active voice and identify Israelis, e.g.
"Israelis Kill 9 Palestinians"?
- Do they promote false moral equivalence with headlines such as
"4 Palestinians, 3 Israelis Killed," instead of "Palestinians Kill 3
Israelis in Home Invasion; Israeli Response Kills 4 Hamas Terrorists"?
- Are they overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Palestinians and/or
routinely show the Israelis only as a military presence?
- After a terrorist attack, does the newspaper publish a photo of
the terror victims, their family and/or gripping scenes from the
bombing? Or does the paper instead publish photos of family members of
the terrorist and/or his family? If they use photos of the terrorist
and/or his family, do they at least balance it with a photo of an
actual terror victim or his family member?
- If there was an Arab attack against Israel and a response from
Israel, are photos only of the damage to Palestinian areas?
- Are there many more photos of Palestinian children than Israeli
- Is the imbalance a pattern or infrequent?
Monitor the op-eds
Analyze the articles
- If the paper runs anti-Israel op-eds, are they balanced over
time with pro-Israel ones? In other words, if they have a columnist
who routinely takes an anti-Israel position, do they have another
columnist who routinely takes a pro-Israel position? If not, do they
regularly publish guest op-eds to provide that missing point of view?
[Even if there is balance, this wouldn't excuse, for example, an op-ed
that contained inflammatory fabrications or unsubstantiated
allegations of wrongdoing.]
- Are op-eds, editorials, letters and/or obituaries allowed to
contain outright errors, fabrications or unsubstantiated propaganda?
Are corrections made when the newspaper is notified of the error?
- Do they present the news in a balanced, objective and accurate manner?
If not, is the reporting slanted on a regular basis or just every once
in a while?
- Do articles appear to be driven usually by Palestinian complaints
(the daily talking points generated by the Palestinians) or are the
article topics of actual relevance to the ongoing conflict? Are the
roots of the ongoing violence (e.g. anti-Jewish
incitement/indoctrination) explored? Is compliance with signed
agreements by both sides explored? Does the newspaper highlight only
what concessions Israel has not yet implemented, while ignoring all
the significant concessions they have already implemented? Do they
do this while also ignoring the Palestinian Authority's failure to
implement key pledges, such as arresting and disarming terrorists
who reside in Palestinian territories?
- Is the coverage only about the conflict or are there articles
about the societies? Solid coverage about a country should include
not only information about its foreign relations with its neighbors,
but also about what it feels like to live in the country. What are
the daily concerns (unrelated to the conflict) of many people living
there? What are the people proud of about their country? What are
examples of freedom and democratic values or the lack thereof?
- Do they label terrorists as terrorists or label them with
euphemisms, such as activist, protester, operative or
militant? Do they employ a double standard regarding terror
terminology? Do they use similar terminology with terrorists in
Europe, Iraq and Israel or do they use different terminology for
those who murder Israelis in Israel?
- Do they publish human interest stories about both Israelis and
Palestinians, or do they provide many more human interest stories
- Are both sides heard from in the articles? And, if they do include
Israeli perspectives, is the mainstream or government position heard
from, or is there an emphasis on fringe Israeli perspectives? Are the
Israelis allowed to rebut specific allegations made against them in
the article or are they asked about unrelated insignificant issues?
- Are the terrorists who are killed and/or their families
inappropriately given more descriptive, human interest coverage than
the terrorists' victims and their families?
- Are death tallies presented with appropriate context, that most
of the Palestinians killed were combatants, while most Israelis
killed were civilians or noncombatants killed in terrorist attacks?
- Is there appropriate context and key information provided? The
biggest problem typically is what most papers do NOT report...the key
causes of the ongoing conflict: the constant drumbeat of incitement
and anti-Semitism...the delegitimizing and rejection of Israel
throughout the Arab world. The distortion of the news caused by this
lack of context, by the LACK of investigation into key topics, should
actually be a large part of any discussion with editors.
DEALING WITH EDITORS WHEN YOU HAVE DOCUMENTED
Long-term consistent monitoring vs. individual examples
You can contact the editor about individual instances of unfair or
inaccurate reporting, but it's also important to keep track of the
coverage in a consistent way, so you can present the editor with a
long term look at their practices. That way you will be able to
document whether the paper is consistently unfair or inaccurate in
their Israel coverage or whether they just slant their coverage every
once in a great while. If it's the former (consistently), and you have
documented at least 2 months of coverage, the editor cannot reply with
"We may have an occasional article that is problematic, but overall,
our coverage is quite fair and accurate." The editor may sincerely
believe that his newspaper is fair, but you will be able to educate
him, using objective measures, that his newspaper has indeed been
consistently slanted in its presentation of the news about Israel.
Communicate regularly with editors
Some of these ideas are easier to apply by a group of people working
cooperatively as a team.
- It's essential that you communicate regularly with editors to
raise their awareness of unfair reporting, but also to educate them
about what's missing from their coverage. The goal is to establish
rapport, to provide information, but also to hear their opinions and
get them talking and thinking about the issues, so you can have
regular "give and take" conversations. A cordial weekly call is
extremely helpful. Hopefully you will become a resource person who
could be called upon if the editor has a question or needs a sounding
- Endeavor to keep the calls brief (under 5 minutes). We don't
want the editor to dread talking to you because the conversations,
even if interesting, are always long. Even if you're having a
fabulous conversation, if it's getting close to 5 minutes, just end
it by noting that you know he's a very busy person, and you don't
want to keep him on the phone too long. That way the editor will
know he can always take your call without fearing it will take a lot
of his time.
- Select several editors to regularly communicate with, such as
the executive editor, the opinion page editor, the managing editor,
the foreign affairs editor, the photo editor, and the wire editor.
Assuming you have a team, each editor should have one person from
your group calling him/her each week. If possible, assign a
different person to each editor. Make sure the person who will be
calling an editor weekly is likeable, even-tempered and very
knowledgable about the issues. This person should be able to stay in
control and not get angry or judgmental no matter what the editor
says. The goal is to keep the relationship intact, to become a
resource, to become a little voice in the editor's head whenever he
works on items involving Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
- If the editor asks a question you don't know, guesses should never
be ventured. Just say, "Good question. I'm not sure of the answer,
but I'll find out and call you back or email you with the
information." Remember, you're aiming to become a resource for the
editor, so he must be able to trust that the information you give
him is accurate.
How to educate editors about lack of context
- Talk with the editor about examples of incitement. www.memri.org and
www.pmw.org.il are good resources. For example, when the
Palestinians named soccer teams and a soccer tournament after
terrorists, including the terrorist responsible for the Passover
massacre at the Park Hotel, that would have been a good tidbit to
talk about with the editor. This is a clear example of how the
Palestinians glorify terrorists, thereby teaching their children to
support terrorism, to dream of becoming a terrorist, and to see
murdering Israelis as commendable. If the information didn't appear
in your paper (it was covered by the AP), it would have provided you
an opportunity to call the editor to tell him about the report, to
ask his opinion of this Palestinian practice of glorifying
terrorists, to generate conversation about incitement and to ask why
such a report didn't appear in his paper. It would be a good
opportunity to encourage coverage of this topic and to educate the
editor at the same time.
- Are there any special accomplishments of Israel or the Palestinian
Authority that are relevant to the American public or will
particularly resonate with them? For example, regularly visit
www.israel21c.org and you will read about Israeli scientific,
medical, security and high tech innovations that Americans can
benefit from. They will also have information about Israel's
humanitarian work around the world. Share the news about a
particularly interesting innovation or mission. If the newspaper has
its own reporter in Israel, urge the editor to assign a reporter to
write about the topic. If they don't have their own reporters there,
ask the editor to find a wire story (AP, Reuters) about it. If there
is no wire article about it, ask the editor to suggest such an
article to whatever wire service they use.
Organizing an email letter-writing team to respond
to inaccuracies, distortions or unfair reporting
THERE'S ALWAYS SOMEONE THE NEWSPAPER WILL LISTEN TO
- When there is an inaccurate or unfair article, an opinion item that
contains an inaccuracy or a letter-to-the-editor that is
problematic, your letter-writing team should be activated to respond
by email. Everyone on the team should have an up-to-date email list
of the team. Members should be sure to send the whole team any
changes to their email address.
- Whoever notices a problem in the newspaper should send an email
to the team, specifying the date, page number and headline of the item
in question. You can leave the monitoring as a general task for the
whole group or you can assign specific people to monitor specific
days. For example, if you have at least 31 people in your group, each
person can be assigned a specific day of each month. Or, you can
assign a person to monitor the coverage based on the day of the week
(e.g. Stephen monitors the paper every Monday).
- Anyone who writes a letter or makes a phonecall should send an
email about it to the team. A copy of the letter or a description of
the phonecall should be sent to the whole team. This is helpful,
particularly when an article contains numerous distortions or errors.
For example, if there are 3 problems with an article, if you know Bob
wrote a letter about problem 1 (because he sent you a blind copy of
his letter), you can write a letter to the editor about problem 2.
Rachel sees these two letters and writes about problem 3. That way
it's possible that all 3 letters will be published, rather than just
one of them. If there is only one main problem with an article, it's
fine to all write about the same issue. But it's important that no one
copies anyone else's letter and that all letters be unique.
- Be sure all team members have reviewed CAMERA's " Letter-Writing
Tips " on how to write an effective letter that will get published.
If the Editor Does Not Seem to Care About Fair Reporting
If, after you have documented a consistent pattern of slanted
reporting, have met with the editors to discuss these problems, called
them weekly for several months to discuss issues and point out
problematic reporting...if after all this the editors do not make any
improvements and you sense no genuine effort to examine the issues
raised, then what?
- It is time to educate advertisers about the paper's shoddy
reporting, and to seek their help as allies in contacting the paper's
management about the unfair reporting. This involves a long but vital
process of building relationships with advertisers.
- Initiate a letter-writing campaign to point out to advertisers
that associating their business name with an unfair newspaper loathed
by many in the community may do more harm than good to their business
- Do not threaten advertisers with boycott, but do share your
concerns and ask for their help. While there is generally a separation
between the news and advertising department, practically speaking an
editor will usually hear when an advertiser is unhappy or concerned
about public complaints, and the editor may pay more attention to the
issues as a result.
- Call the advertisers regularly (follow the same advice as for
calling the editors)
Educate your community
- submit op-eds about the unfair coverage to a rival newspaper
and/or to the local Jewish newspaper or other publications likely to
care about the fair treatment of Israel
- encourage the local Jewish journal to assign its own reporter to write articles about the newspaper's pattern of unfair coverage of Israel and the Palestinians
- speak about the pattern of unfair coverage to groups likely to
care about Israel, such as Hadassah, synagogue or church Israel
committees, synagogue sisterhood/brotherhoods, American Jewish
Committee...Ask them to get involved in writing to the newspaper and
advertisers whenever they notice unfair coverage. Urge them to join
your local letter-writing group.
Once your own community has been sufficiently educated about the
problems, move on to the wider community, and build alliances with
other pro-Israel groups, such as evangelical Christians.
Please contact CAMERA if you would like more guidance or advice on
how to start a local letter-writing team.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
(CAMERA) monitors the news and TV media for how fair they are in
reporting on Israel. Lee Green is CAMERA's Director, National
Letter-Writing Group. The website address is http://www.camera.org. Or
contact her by email at LeeGreen@camera.org