Western news media coverage of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is again coming under scrutiny — this time from the media itself.
In the Atlantic magazine this week, a former reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, claimed anti-Israel bias colored Western news coverage of Israel. And the writer, Matti Friedman, provided several examples.
His conclusion: “The Jews of Israel are displayed more than any other people on earth as examples of moral failure.”
And he observed: “The construction of 100 apartments in a Jewish settlement is always news; the smuggling of 100 rockets into Gaza by Hamas is, with rare exceptions, not news at all.”
Coincidentally, the public editor of the New York Times, Margaret Sullivan, wrote a column Nov. 22 that addressed readers’ complaints about the paper’s coverage of the conflict. She concluded: “The coverage seems to reflect baseline beliefs that Israel has a right to exist and that Palestinians deserve a state of their own. Does The Times sometimes fall short in individual articles or headlines or in presentation? Undoubtedly. … Solid and often excellent as it is, the coverage and handling of this fraught topic has room for improvement.”
But the AP’s director of media relations, Paul Colford, refuted Friedman’s assertions, insisting that they were “filled with distortions, half-truths and inaccuracies, both about the recent Gaza war and more distant events. His suggestion of AP bias against Israel is false. There’s no ‘narrative’ that says it is Israel that doesn’t want peace; the story of this century-long conflict is more complicated than that.”
Among Friedman’s complaints about the AP is that in the aftermath of the three-week Gaza war in 2008-2009, AP reporters in the Jerusalem bureau were explicitly told never to quote a Jerusalem-based group called NGO Monitor or its director, Gerald Steinberg. He said the pro-Israel group “could have offered some partisan counterpoint in our articles to charges by NGOs that Israel had committed ‘war crimes.’ …. In my time as an AP writer moving through the local conflict, with its myriad lunatics, bigots, and killers, the only person I ever saw subjected to an interview ban was this professor.”
The AP denied that there was such a ban and cited a half-dozen stories since the 2009 Gaza war that mentioned NGO Monitor and Steinberg.
But Steinberg told The Jewish Week in an email that Friedman was referring specifically to the period of the Gaza war and its aftermath when “the AP was quoting numerous NGO allegations against Israel without checking their credibility.”
Steinberg said the AP’s Jerusalem bureau chief, imposed the ban and that the ban was “reflected in their reporting.” The AP stories Colford provided that cited him, Steinberg said, “were from different bureaus” or after that chief had left.
NGO Monitor later issued a statement saying the AP’s “blatant censorship reveals a much deeper problem. The attempt by the AP and others to shield NGOs from legitimate criticism promotes the NGO ‘halo effect,’ preventing these powerful groups from being held accountable.”
The accountability of NGOs is an issue NGO Monitor has fought for years. A bill it helped initiate in the Knesset that proposed transparency when Israeli entities received foreign government funding was adopted.
In her column in the Times, Sullivan suggested that future stories “provide as much historical and geopolitical context as possible” and that “whenever possible, [include] a sense of the region — for example, that the rise of radical Islam is not a distant issue for Israel but a very real one and a very local one.”
And she said the paper should strengthen its coverage of Palestinians, including their beliefs and governance, what they are taught in school, and the way Hamas operates.