Media Bias Kills People

It has often been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. It may be safely stated that the written word can also be more deadly than most weapons. In the Middle East, the US media should get some of the blame for the killing on all sides.

The reason people are dying in the Middle East, and being wounded and terrorized, has as much to do with the US failure to force Israel into compliance with international law and human rights requirements, as it has to do with any specific aspects of the problems on the ground.

Washington’s “pro-Israel” policy, which ultimately hurts Israelis and everyone else, is in place partly because of special interest influence. The religious right and weapons manufacturers are a part of that picture, but the pro-Israeli lobbyists (especially AIPAC) are second to none in the expertise at bringing out the disgraceful worst in US officials. But special interests are motivated by greed, and our leaders are likewise susceptible to the seductive wealth and power the lobbies offer.

So the American flag is being dragged through the mud and blood in Palestine. The tragedy is partly the fault of the American government.

What could change that all, of course, would be a massive shift in American public opinion. And that is where the US media, the opinion makers, weigh in, and fall flat.

The bias of American media on issues related to Israel reaches even beyond the Israeli media’s bias! Anyone listening to Ari Fleischer’s April 12 news conference at the White House, after the Jerusalem bombing, heard American reporters prodding the press secretary toward canceling the Powell-Arafat meeting. The meeting was, in fact, subsequently postponed. Are they journalists or policy makers? The senior reporter, Helen Thomas (oft referred to as the “Dean” of the White House press corps), was the only one who asked pointed questions about US bias. In view of President Bush’s fervent condemnation of the day’s suicide bombing, Ms. Thomas asked, “Does the President also equally condemn the killing of hundreds of Palestinians and the destruction of the West Bank with American-made weapons?” Fleischer’s key response in the brief exchange: “Helen, I think we know you have a different opinion…”Fleischer’s blow-off of the 82-year-old reporter’s excellent question went unchallenged in the roomful of hand-picked “journalists,” and as far as I know, unreported in the mainstream media.

All the public needs is the truth! The truth is that Israel is in the 35th year of an occupation of Palestinian lands in violation of international law (UN Resolution 242, etc), and that Israel is using principles which are contrary to American principles and values in an evident attempt to permanently expand the borders of a religion-based state by making life on the land unbearable for the indigenous Palestinians that are not killed outright.

The government of Israel has a goal which is easy to see, and the goal is ethnic cleansing. No other explanation fits the facts. Where, though, are Americans to find the facts?

For the sake of professionalism alone, the US media should include analysis by experts who are critical of US policies, instead of repeatedly subjecting their readers and audiences to the words of Israeli-funded “think tank” specialists. The “other side” should not be cut off by anchor people who seem to represent the US State department or by other guests. Americans need to hear ideas and thoughts completely, not in bits and fragments. Noam Chomsky, Hanan Ashrawi, and Zbigniev Brezinsky are good candidates, and there are many more.

The truth is also available through real coverage of the lives of poor people, living in Palestine under Israeli occupation and siege. Sixty percent unemployment, and now this? The infrastructure needed for life is being destroyed as the occupation army of the enemy terrorizes those they don’t kill or drag away.

Remember the images of those brave firefighters in New York? The Iwo-Jima look-alike picture? I spoke with a Palestinian at a demonstration in Raleigh, NC, recently. There were demonstrations in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, NC that day, among other cities all over the country and all over the world, rarely reported in the US media. The young man’s brother is a fire fighter in a West Bank town. He was taken away by the Israelis that very day, and nobody knew whether he was alive or dead. He is a firefighter, not a terrorist!

International peace keepers and strict sanctions against Israel would help to save people on all sides from this deadly foolishness.

When will American print and broadcast media, and wire services (particularly the Associated Press) confront their own bias on Middle East topics and start doing a better job of revealing the truth?

Failure to do so, not to mention the evident effort to directly and blatantly distort facts in the mind of the viewing audience, makes our media complicit in the killing, and even complicit in the suicide bombing.

Freedom of the press is a core American value, but with the freedom, for those in the media, comes responsibility. They should start living up to it.

The media can save lives, but hiding the killing is killing.

Mr. Claiborne M. Clark contributed above perspective to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Durham, NC, USA.