A Media Earthquake Started
And you might have missed it. We can file all this under the heading of lethal journalism.
Last week Matti Friedmann wrote the most important article on the media and Israel of recent years. It lifts the lid on how the AP’s coverage of Israel is so slanted as to be completely worthless. Dave posted about it but I wanted to bring it up too, it really is that good.
An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth
A former AP correspondent explains how and why reporters get Israel so wrong, and why it matters
You simply need to read it all. I’m going to include just one section here because it talks to something I’ve long felt: Israel is just given way too much emphasis. I made exactly this point when I mentioned how Pakistan had displaced 500,000 people just before our defensive operation started and barely anyone noticed. Interestingly, Bret Stephens used exactly the same Pakistani example a couple of weeks later in his column at the Wall Street Journal ($).
We’d all be better off if the world wasn’t told about Israel all the time. I’m going to have something to add to this story in time. And I hope to be meeting with Matti in a couple of days.
How Important Is the Israel Story?
Staffing is the best measure of the importance of a story to a particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP, the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” eventually erupted.
To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel. I don’t mean to pick on the AP—the agency is wholly average, which makes it useful as an example. The big players in the news business practice groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the herd. Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.
The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.
News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic, and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand. They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.
But do read the rest.
On a related note, Richard Behar, writing in Forbes has also produced another simply outstanding run down of what went on in the media relating to the Gaza war. It too is very long and well worth reading.
Media Intifada: Bad Math, Ugly Truths About New York Times In Israel-Hamas War
Perhaps anti-Israel crusaders this month would be happier about the whole situation if more Israeli civilians were dying-by-rocket. Sarah Tuttle-Singer, the new-media editor at the Times of Israel puts it perfectly: ”Do we need to line up somewhere and let Hamas have a free shot at us for you to understand that we are dealing with a terrorist organization hell-bent on destroying us even at the expense of their people?,” writes Tuttle-Singer, who tells me that she and her two young children are traumatized by all the rockets, sirens and hours spent in bomb shelters. “ How many of us have to die for people to understand the extent of Hamas’s evil? Will six million do it for you?”
Here he is quoting Sarah Tuttle Singer who was actually quoting my LBC radio interview (the bit about wanting to “line up” our kids and let Hamas have a free shot).
He also makes quite a big play of the casualty numbers which Israellycool was one of the first to publish a proper analysis. All very important stuff.
Those two should keep you busy reading over Shabbat. Print them out if you’re observant enough not to use devices!
A final note: the illustration for this piece comes from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression CJFE by Juniper Park. I’m not quite sure they mean what I mean but their pictures are wonderful. And I know for sure journalists wouldn’t have died in Gaza if Hamas hadn’t wanted them to die.