Media Objectivity -- Fuhgeddaboudit!
by Jonathan Rosenblum
April 25, 2007
It has been a long time indeed since anyone suspected the British media of anything approaching objectivity or fairness regarding Israel. Not without cause has the BBC, the largest and most listened to media outlet in the world, has spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to prevent release and publication of an internal report dealing with the objectivity of its Middle East reporting. One BBC reporter told a Hamas rally in Gaza, that he and his colleagues were "waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people." And another BBC reporter in Gaza described on camera how she was moved to tears by the sight of a dying Yasiser Arafat.
The British press led the charge proclaiming that the IDF was engaged in genocide in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. In the annals of shoddy, propaganda journalism, the reportage of the battle in Jenin by the British media, including the BBC, deserves a full chapter.
The British press did not just distort and credulously accept at face value the most fantastic stories woven for them by Palestinians, they lied outright. Phillip Reeves of the Independent, informed his readers that Israel's cover up of a "monstrous war crime . . . has finally been exposed. . . . The sweet and ghastly reed of rotting human bodies is everywhere, evidence that this is a human tomb." Yet Reeves could have smelled no such thing for the simple reason that there were too few bodies. After initially reporting 5,000 Palestinian dead – an estimate dutifully reported by much of the British media – even the Palestinians themselves admitted in the end that the total number of Palestinians killed did not exceed 56, and that most of those were armed fighters.
Daily Telegraph reporter David Blair described cold-blooded killings of Palestinian civilians, with a single shot to the head. None occurred. Veteran war correspondents, like the Evening Standard's Sam Kiley and the Times' Janine di Giovanni, termed the scope of the destruction in Jenin the worst that they had seen in decades of covering wars around the world.
Giovanni compared the destruction in Jenin to that in the Chechen capital of Grozny, after Russian artillery leveled the city of 300,000. Blair reported that two-thirds of the Jenin camp was destroyed. Again these purported eye-witness reports were demonstrably lying. The total area of destruction in the camps was a few hundred square meters.
In the documentary, Jenin: Massacring the Truth, the Times’ Di di Giovanni revealed her true colors. Leaning back on plush pillows, she did not squirm under questioning by producer Martin Himel. She refused to talk as long with Yonatan Van Caspel, an IDF reserve officer who lost 13 comrades in Jenin, remained in the room. A bit later, she asks Himel, "Are you Jewish?" Called upon to justify her comparison of Jenin to scenes of mass death in Grozny, she offers only, "Israel always seems to get away with it, doesn't it."
Dave Brown won the British Cartoon Society's 2003 award for the best political cartoon for a portraying a grossly fat Ariel Sharon dropping Palestinian babies into his mouth.
British journalist Chas Newkey Burden relates how after traveling to Israel to write a series of articles on tourism in Israel, he received a call from a journalistic colleague, with whom he had not spoken in years, who told him how "absolutely disgusted" he was with Burden for his trip and to express his hope that Burden would "put the boot in" when he wrote his articles. Over drinks with another group of journalists, one of them gushed admiringly about the "guts" of Palestinian suicide bombers and wished that more people in the world had their courage.
The editor of a respected magazine, which has published numerous articles about Israeli "war crimes," refused -- "because of the need for balance" -- to let Burden write in an op-ed piece that Arafat had refused Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David in 2000 – a fact never denied by Arafat himself.
We are indebted to Zev Chafets for having uncovered the words of British poet Humbert Wolfe, written in 1930, which perfectly capture the state of the British press today: "You cannot hope to bribe or twist/ (thank G-d) the British journalist./ But seeing what the man will do Unbribed,/there's no occasion to."
IN THIS CONTEXT, we should all be grateful for the recently passed resolution of the British National Union of Journalists at its annual meeting calling upon its membership to boycott Israel. That resolution removes once and for all any pretense to objectivity on the part of British journalists.
No other country has ever been subjected to a boycott by the British National Union of Journalists. Not Sudan, which has actively sponsored the murder of over 300,000 black Moslems in Darfur by the janjaweed militias; not North Korea, which has starved millions of its citizens in order to pursue its nuclear ambitions, and which exports nuclear technology to any rogue state interested in purchasing it; not the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, which killed over two million Cambodians; not China for its occupation of Tibet and efforts to destroy all remnants of Tibetan culture; not Iran which threatens to "wipe out" Israel, and whose highest court recently ruled that it is permissible for private citizens to kill any fellow citizen whom they consider guilty of "immoral activity." (The list could be expanded indefinitely.) Just Israel .
The resolution, inter alia, condemned Israel for its "slaughter of civilians in Gaza," and last summer's "savage pre-planned attack on Lebanon." Apparently, British journalists, sharp observers that they are, had not noticed that Israel withdrew from Gaza in the summer of 2005 and, despite the constant firing of rockets from Gaza at Israeli cities, has not returned. Nor has it come to their attention that the Palestinian civilians being killed in Gaza are being killed by their fellow Palestinians in clan warfare or in battles between Hamas and Fatah factions.
With respect to Lebanon, one wonders whether the British journalists also believe that Israel somehow maneuvered Hizbullah into kidnapping two soldiers, in a cross border raid last July. Needless to say, the resolution makes no mention of the 34 days of missile fire to which over a million Israeli citizens were subjected as well.
The General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Jeremy Dear, offered one more precious justification for the resolution: He described the boycott resolution as a "gesture of support for the Palestinian people – notably those suffering in the siege of Gaza, the community Alan Johnston [the BBC reporter kidnapped and held by Palestinians for more than a month] has been so keen to help through his reporting." (Note the admission that a BBC correspondent was "so keen" to use his position to help the Palestinians.)
The ever sharp Melanie Phillips did her usual job of making mincemeat of this excuse: "The NUJ apparently cannot grasp how demented it is . . . to boycott Israel because of the kidnap of Alan Johnston. . . . . If Palestinians kill Jews, blame Israel. If Palestinians kill Palestinians, blame Israel. If Palestinians kidnap a British NUJ member, blame Israel. And if Palestinian journalists protest to Palestinians about the kidnap by Palestinians of a British journalist, those Palestinian journalists are to be 'rewarded' by – a boycott of Israel."
True, asAs in the case of the resolutions of the British academic unions calling for a boycott of Israeli academics and academic institutions a few years back, only a small fraction of the union NUJ members voted: 120 out of a total membership of 35,000. But the resolution was publicized in advance of the annual meeting, and even assuming that a majority of British journalists opposed the resolution – by no means a given – with a handful of exceptions they did not feel strongly enough about being associated with a motion singling out Israel from all the nations of the earth to attend the meeting or vote against it.
IN A SENSE the British journalists' boycott resolution is a non-story: It merely confirmed what was already evident to any observer of the British media. Far more revelatory, and therefore far more disturbing, are the recent efforts by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) to censor a documentary entitled Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Moslem Center, produced for a PBS series "America at the a Crossroads, " under a grant of $675,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The subject of the documentary is what happens to those Muslims in America and Europe who participate in the democratic processes in their adopted lands, and the pressures to which they are subjected by radical Muslim groups, many of them espousing the Wahhabi stream of Islam and financed by the Saudis.
Clearly the subject is an important one. If as Daniel Pipes has repeatedly said, "Radical Islam is the enemy; moderate Islam is the cure," then there could hardly be a more important topic for Western policymakers, especially those in countries where there are large Muslim populations torn between integrating into their host societies and adopting a radical separatist posture.
i>Islam vs. Islamists was selected as one of eleven documentaries to air on the "America at the a Crossroads" series. But after it was selected PBS and its local Washington D.C. affiliate WETA placed innumerable obstacles in its path, including demanding a series of changes from the filmmakers that would have totally eviscerated the documentary and stood its message on its head. At one point, the filmmaker Marty Blake, was asked by the president of WETA, "Don't you check into the politics offo the people your work with," a reference to the fact that his co-producers Frank Gaffney and Alex Alexiev are the president and vice-president, respectively, of the Center for Security Policy, a neo-conservative think tank.
The United States Constitution bans religious tests for public office, but apparently PBS does not hesitate to impose a political test on what kind of documentaries may be shown. Only those documentaries produced by those people with solid Left-wing credentials are fit for airing. The rest are not fit for viewing. The idea that government-financed public broadcasting should be limited to the Left side of the political spectrum, in a country where more taxpayers describe themselves as conservative than liberal, is simply mind-boggling.
Nor was the insistence that Gaffney and Alexiev be dropped from the project the end of the procedural irregularities in the handling of the film. One of the segments of Islam vs. Islamists dealt with Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam and the funding that it receives via the Saudi embassy in Washington D.C. So naturally PBS hired as an advisor for that segment an academic who has publicly expressed her admiration for Farrakhan. Even more astounding, the rough cut of that segment was sent to the Nation of Islam for their review.
The PBS producer for the entire series of documentaries was Leo Eaton, whose father Hassan (Charles) Le Gai Eaton, also known as Hassan Abdul Hakeem, is a prominent British convert to Islam and an influential figure in British Islamist circles. The latter's influence was evident in Eaton's criticisms of the documentary. One of the charges made against the documentary was that it was excessively alarmist and portrays all Muslim organizations that are not liberal and Western as threatening. When the filmmakers pointed to their treatment of Sufi Muslims, a stream within Islam dating back to the early centuries of Islam, Eaton countered that they must specify that Sufi is considered heretical by many Moslems.
Eaton further contested whether it might not be a good thing for Muslims in the West to be able to live according to their own legal system, and demanded to know on what basis the producers contended that Sharia is incompatible with Western values. According to Sharia, only a Muslim can judge another Muslim, a Muslim cannot be sentenced to death for killing an infidel (though, naturally, there is no reciprocity in this respect), and a Muslim woman cannot marry without the consent of a male guardian. Each of these requirements would be hard to square with Western values.
One of the sections of the film dealt with "blood money," the practice by which a murderer can free himself of further obligation by paying the family of the murdered party an agreed upon sum. An April 19 article in the New York Times helpfully explained how blood money works in the Iranian legal system. Iran's Supreme Court ruled last week that six members of the state militia cannot be tried for the murder of five people they considered to be "morally corrupt." The court ruled that they would be are immune to prosecution, even if their victims were not in fact "morally corrupt," as long as they had good faith suspicions of moral corruption. In that case, however, they might be required to pay "blood money." Two of those murdered in the Iranian case were an engaged couple whose moral corruption consisted of walking together in public. (But who says the Sharia is not compatible with Western values.) ?) Eaton's response to the "blood money" segment was to describe the institution of "blood money" as a positive means of bringing closure to tribal disputes.
The written criticisms directed to the filmmakers contained a heaping dose of the moral relativism that has become the "religion" of much of Western intelligentsia. Thus they were challenged to explain on what basis they characterize the Muslim group Hizb-ut Tahria as "extremist," despite the fact that it is banned in several Western countries as a terrorist organization. "Moderation" and "extremism," one of the written critiques of the documentary argued, inevitably depend on one's vantage point.
Most disturbing about PBS's so far successful efforts to suppress Islam vs. Islamists is what it reveals about the Europeanization of American elites. Western European elites have to a very large degree shown themselves incapable of awakening to the threat posed to their societies by large, and totally unassimilated, ,Muslim minorities, or by the external threat of radical Islam. Islamophobia is still considered by European policy-makers a far greater danger than radical Islam.
If America follows down that path of underestimating the ambitions of radical Islam or its ability to wage war on the West, then the situation is grave indeed. PBS's efforts to suppress Islam vs. Islamists suggest that America is further down that road than we might previously have suspected.
Related Topics: Islamofacism & Terrorism
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