Consider a trio of ‘hand-on-heart’ declarations.
“You can trust the Sunday Times..Getting to the truth is integral to our mission and values. Our credibility and integrity depend on these values.” Sunday Times Editor /
"All the News That's Fit to Print" Motto of the New York Times
“Credibility is the lifeblood of our profession. Without it not one person will believe a single word that we write” Sunday Independent Editor.
Here are words to make the entire mass media take a bow. They speak of an elevated desire to go wherever truth may lead, no fear or favor, doggedly and freely with single-minded purpose. We’d like the words to be true, but admitting that a news report is not a sermon they cannot be.
To trust the Guardian or Washington Post or New York Times or BBC or CNN or Time or Reuters to convey truth requires more than a leap of faith; it means putting common sense on ice…Most notably when the media covers Israel and the "Territories".
Middle East correspondents in the main care not a jot for credibility or integrity or news “that’s fit to print.” To them what happened will come second to why it happened. Yet the viewer and reader, though wary of fake news, take reporters at their word. What breaks the connection? How is it that people fail to pick out the hard from the soft in a news report?
The answer lies in what the hand-on-heart editors kept up their sleeves. The most reputable newspaper or wire service or TV channel can depart in the blink of an eye from its given mandate by spicing up news or creating it from new.
Before dipping into the full box of tricks it is important to keep in mind that reports from Israel or the Palestinian side come in three shapes or forms. They can:
- Faithfully convey what news staff observed or were told by others.
- Insert "attitude" by coloring, embellishing or even creating a story to the reporter’s liking, or to the liking of whoever calls the shots.
- Skip a story if not to the liking of the reporter, or to the liking of whoever calls the shots.
Only for a report of type 1 are the editors being sincere. Getting to the truth is integral to the service they provide; credibility and trust are its lifeblood. Only a report of type 1 will give ‘clean’ news that comes with no hidden agenda, no personal opinion, no desire to condition readers and viewers. Reports of Types 2 and 3 do those things – present biased reports driven by an agenda; hence news not to be trusted, news not fit to print.
To illustrate what and how, reports from the war front can be especially lucid. They may be different wars at different times in different parts. They can be as far apart as Libya, Afghanistan and Gaza. The point is the contrast in reporting style, not the contexts.
Start with a report from Reuters: “Nato airstrikes on Tripoli indicate that the alliance is trying to reduce Gaddafi’s ability to defend himself until the moment when his opponents decide to rise up.”
The word “indicate” means the reporter is speculating. He doesn’t know for certain; but is open about it. He’s not trying to force peoples’ thoughts in one or other direction. The veracity and integrity of the report are unquestionable – news that’s fit to print; news that, hands on hearts, the editors laud.
Now to an ‘unclean’ report, again from a war zone. Robert Fisk of London’s Independent is reporting from Lebanon. “Sure it was a bad place for a car to break down. But what happened to us was symbolic of the hatred and fury and hypocrisy of this filthy war.”
One thing the report is not, and that’s neutral. Car-wrecked Fisk has written an opinion piece. His personal attitude is all over it. He wants the reader not just to know that he disapproves of the war; but to be sucked into sharing emotions that make him very angry. High voltage Fisk gives readers the benefit of his opinion and forces them to share it. He hates the war and so must we. The purpose of news of this type is quite different from news relaying a story.
The cases to follow might not be so nakedly agenda-driven, yet all are news reports of the same type. They set up the reader to share the reporter’s opinions. More than relaying news they make it.
A case of grammar
Two Reuters’ reports, on the same day, deal quite differently with an act by Islamic pirates on the one hand and a US military operation on the other. One is written in passive case, the other in active case. Under a headline “Achille Lauro mastermind in custody,” we read: “[Abu] Abbas is the leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, which highjacked the Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean, resulting in the death of a disabled elderly American man, Leon Klinghoffer.”
Note the passive case: "resulting in the death", as if by some unintended and unforeseeable accident. In the film "The Pianist," there is a scene where Nazi troops storm into a Jewish apartment and order the family to its feet. The wheelchair-bound grandfather is unable to rise, so the Nazis carry him in the chair out to the balcony and dump both into the street far below. Change the apartment into a ship and the street into the sea and you have what took place on board the Achille Lauro. The pirates carried the elderly man in his wheelchair to the ship’s side and dumped both overboard. Reuters not only omits these facts but hints of an accident unforeseen by the criminals. And there’s a further play on words in order to shape our opinion. The victim was “an elderly American man." In fact Leon Klinghoffer was an elderly Jew, the very reason he was selected out to be murdered. The pirates identified him as a Jew. Reuters do not want us to know this.
From the same wire service comes this report: “A senior US military officer said...he would launch an investigation into the killing by US soldiers of an Iraqi boy...” Note the active case: "killing by American soldiers…" While the act of Islamic pirates leads softly to the death of a man, the act of Americans is a violent one, to kill.
End of Part I - more to follow.
The writer is a prolific author of novels, non-fiction, opinion and essayist. His works are The Paymaster, 1998; Hadrian’s Echo, 2012; Contributor to ‘War by other means’, Israel Affairs, 2012; Enemies of Zion, (ready for publication early 2019); and Balaam’s curse ( novel in progress) His works have appeared in many sites and journals. Steve blogs at Enemies of Zion http://enemiesofzion.wordpress.com.