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March 04, 2003

Wealth of Bias

Recently, the Boston Globe's media critic, Mark Jurkowitz, critiqued CAMERA in an article "Blaming the Messenger". Aspects of the article were actually very good. He listed some of the group's successes. Still there are a number of troubling observations that he makes. The main problem is, of course, the title of the article. Though it doesn't really reflect the bulk of the article, it clearly shows where Jurkowitz stands. The problem in the perception of media coverage of Israel, is not the media but the perception of it by extreme partisans. Jurkowitz quotes one NPR official:
"Economic blackmail" is the term Klose uses to describe CAMERA's tactics. "CAMERA is essentially an advocacy group that calls itself an umpire but only calls foul balls," he adds.
The problem with repeating this sort of criticism is that Jurkowitz doesn't bring a single example of where CAMERA dealt dishonestly with a media outlet. In fact read this:
In September, a crucial effort to stanch the bleeding took place inside WBUR's Commonwealth Avenue offices. Christo and Klose sat down with a small group of WBUR funders, including some who had withdrawn their support. Klose says the meeting was "very satisfactory" and "made clear the complicated reality of doing what we do." But other reports say it was tense and adversarial and didn't exactly end with a meeting of the minds.
This gives NPR a chance to expain its "complicated reality." But even as the NPR official claims he was successful, Jurkowtiz reports that not everyone found Klose to be convincing. Interesting isn't it?
The article is worth reading. Despite the title, I think that Jurkowitz does a pretty good job of showing that CAMERA is correct in what it does.
It's also worth keeping in mind. Saturday's New York Times featured a report, "Palestinian Assets 'a Mess,' Official Says." The article leads of with:
The Palestinian Authority's top finance official said today that he had identified $600 million in Authority assets in 79 commercial ventures, including money that he said appeared to have given rise to Israeli accusations of slush funds controlled by Mr. Arafat and others.
I'm not sure what the impetus of the article was. Was it to bolster the efforts of PA "finance minister, Salam Fayyad, a former official of the International Monetary Fund who has been praised by American and Israeli officials as an energetic reformer?" Or was it to deflect criticism of Arafat likely to result from his listing as one of the world's richest world's leaders in Forbes magazine?
Reading the article, it really seems that the latter is going on. The bloodless way the Times discusses the PA's corruption is astounding. Read that first paragraph again, "... given rise to Israeli accusation ..." Please. There's plenty of corruption in the PA, it's been going on for a long time, and it's well documented. Using a quote from Fayyad to qualify the problem as an Israeli accusation or
"Of all the issues in public finance that cause us to have a bad name, this probably is the one that had the biggest neon sign on it..."
using this quote to say that corruption is a matter of appearances goes beyond being non-judgmental. It is abdicating the skepticism that every journalist is supposed to show. In fact the only negative James Bennet lists about Fayyad is that because Israel likes him it may be difficult for him to become Prime Minister of the PA.
Mark Jurkowitz may think that supporters of Israel hold the media to impossible standards. But reading this news report about the PA's finances you'd think that the NY Times is describing a person who has trouble keeping his checkbook straight not someone who, according to an editorial in the Jerusalem Post, "... has done more than his fair share of plundering his own people, treating their public resources as his personal ATM machine to be looted at will." In fact the Jerusalem Post editorial *reports* more relevant information about the misuse of aid money directed toward the PA than the news article in the New York Times. To any fair-minded person, the Times is whitewashing Arafat and the PA. (Yes that's my judgment.) Bennet's failure to provide a history of PA corruption is typical of American reporting from the Middle East.

The sins and crimes of the PA are downplayed. The statements of its officials are treated unskeptically. The opposite is true when dealing with Israel.

There's a joke, "Just because you're not paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you." In the case of reporting on the Middle East there could be a variation: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you're wrong." Maybe we supporters of Israel are looking too hard for signs of bias. Unfortunately, it doesn't take that much effort to turn it up.

Cross Posted on IsraPundit and David's Israel Blog.