In past months, many media outlets perform contortions in order to present the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in "even-handed" terms. They feel obligated to assign equal blame to Israel for the fighting and bloodshed.
In recent weeks, the British Guardian goes even further. It places no blame whatsoever on the Palestinians. In article after article, and editorial after editorial (called a "leader" in England), the Guardian places sole blame on Israel, on Israel's new prime minister, or on Israeli Defense Forces. Here are selected violations of media objectivity by the Guardian:
USING TRUE FACTS TO DRAW FALSE CONCLUSIONS
When a Palestinian terrorist killed 8 Israelis by ramming into a bus stop, the Guardian defended him as "a sort of Palestinian everyman who finally snapped because of the combined pressure of the four-month uprising and Israel's economic blockade." Despite his having admitted to carefully planning the attack, the Guardian said the attack was "far from being the calculated aim of a dedicated terrorist," and claimed that the killer was merely drowsy from medication.
The Palestinians continuously argue that Israel does not allow them to continue working in Israel and support their families. But did the Palestinian who perpetrated this atrocity really snap from economic pressure, as the Guardian claims? He was one of the lucky inhabitants of Gaza to hold a steady job -- working for almost 6 years with the same bus company! On the contrary, this one man may have well jeopardized the livelihood of an additional 200 Palestinian drivers who live in Gaza, and are employed by the same bus company, some for 25 years.
Why would the Guardian provide moral and medical justification for this multiple murder of innocent Israeli civilians? And why -- despite his having admitted to carefully planning the attack -- do they report that the attack was "far from being the calculated aim of a dedicated terrorist"?
DISTORTION OF FACTS
The day after winning the election, Ariel Sharon visited the Western Wall and reverently touched the ancient stones. The Guardian then ran a cartoon by Steve Bell that obscenely depicted Sharon's bloody handprints on the Western Wall. The cartoon desecrates the holiest Jewish site and encroaches on brash anti-Semitism.
Sharon served as a soldier and officer, as did Yitzhak Rabin, Dwight Eisenhower and Lord Montgomery. They all gave commands that sometimes led to civilian casualties. War is not sterile, but war is governed by humane rules of engagement that Israel and its military officers follow.
Terrorism, however, is beyond the pale. The terrorism of Yasser Arafat -- hijackings, massacres, and deliberate targeting of civilians -- are all ignored, in favor of vilification of Israel and Sharon. Does the Guardian ever show Arafat kneeling at the al Aqsa mosque atop the Israeli victims of the Munich massacre? Or atop the civilians bombed in airports, sidewalk cafes and Jerusalem buses? Or atop the wheelchaired Leon Klinghoffer, killed on the Achille Lauro? Or atop the cold-blooded execution of the U.S. Ambassador in Sudan? Or atop the Christian victims in the Lebanese town of Damour?
Why does the Guardian hammer away at Israel and its democratically-elected prime minister, while ignoring the bloody actions of Palestinians and their leader, Yasser Arafat?
The Guardian proclaims that the peace process is "dead... officially killed off by Israel's prime minister-elect, Ariel Sharon, and by the new Bush administration." No blame is assigned to Yasser Arafat, who unleashed violence in the region through incitement in the PA's inflammatory media, who rejected the far-reaching Barak proposals, and who has violated virtually all commitments made in the Oslo Accords.
Certainly Yasser Arafat deserves the bulk of the blame for the murder of the peace process. He rejected the far-reaching and unprecedented Israeli concessions made at Camp David and in later negotiations. Arafat then made mockery of the Oslo agreements that he signed, particularly his commitment to resolve differences peacefully, by releasing Palestinians terrorists from jail, and by inciting violence in the PA media.
Why does the Guardian not highlight Arafat for blame?
Another Guardian opinion piece compares Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon to the worst war criminals of recent memory: "By any reasonable reckoning, he is a war criminal. This is a man of blood, whose history of terror and violation of the rules of war stretches back to the early 50s... Sharon's most horrific crimes are more recent than Pinochet's and his responsibility for the Sabra and Shatila killings is better documented than, say, that of the indicted former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic for the comparable Srebrenica massacre."
Another Guardian opinion piece is entitled, "Israel simply has no right to exist," which claims that Israeli soldiers "defy their consciences and blast unarmed schoolchildren."
And the Guardian’s list of violations of media objectivity goes on and on and on...
119 Farringdon Road London EC1R 3ER United Kingdom
THE GUARDIAN RESPONDS
In response to the flurry of complaints from readers, the Guardian ran the following editorial:
The Guardian - February 22, 2001
"Media manipulators" - How a north London web-designer began a campaign that deluged the Guardian with emails
by David Leigh - email@example.com
Why would the Guardian provide moral and medical justification for the multiple murder of innocent Israeli civilians?
It's a pretty bizarre question, but we found ourselves being asked it over and over again this week. Emails clicked in to the letters page by the hundred, all making the same weirdly alliterative points. This followed publication of a Guardian article trying to understand the motivations of the Palestinian bus driver who ploughed into a queue this month, killing eight Israelis.
The mysteriously similar emails - from all over the world - started coming in, too, to our foreign editor; to our website; and to the personal email address of our Middle East correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg.
They were inconvenient, and also sometimes a bit scary in their violent tone - "The bloody Guardian... Have you killed a Jew today?... Are you anti-Jewish?... Unrelenting Guardian anti-Israel bias... Why would the Guardian provide moral and medical justification etc...?'
This global blitzing was tending to crowd out genuine expressions of opinion from our readers. Our suspicions aroused, we tried to discover what was going on. It wasn't straightforward. But eventually we discovered the trick. A website calling itself HonestReporting.com was set up in London last autumn.
It has recruited 12,000 subscribers to its database, it claims, all dedicated to fighting anti-Israel "bias" in the media. The aim was to recruit a total of 25,000.
Every time someone writes something they don't like, details of the offending article are circulated round the world, together with a handy form of protesting words, ready to be lightly embroidered and electronically dispatched at the push of a button.
"This is what you should do," they tell their members "Forward it on to the news company concerned at the email address provided. If you can, please change the subject of the email to 'complaint' or something similar."
Their first success, HonestReporting boasted, was with the London Evening Standard. Its columnist Brian Sewell wrote last autumn calling on Israel to "become a multicultural society" and cease exploiting the Holocaust to justify unacceptable behaviour.
"The next day, [we] sent out a letter to subscribers." Standard articles recorded "a wave of complaints... hundreds of Jewish readers have written in". Then "after more pressure" there followed a pro-Israel article by Simon Sebag-Montefiore. "This is an example of what we can do."
And now it was the Guardian's turn to get the email treatment. A long electronic bulletin went out headed: "The Guardian: a mainstream British newspaper consistently blames Israel for everything."
It complained that a Steve Bell cartoon showing Sharon's bloody handprints on the Wailing Wall "encroaches on brash anti-semitism". It complained that a Muslim, Faisal Bodi, had written questioning Israel's right to statehood; and complained that the Guardian had said Sharon had killed the peace process. "No blame is assigned to Arafat." And there too, was our old alliterative friend: "Why would the Guardian provide moral and medical justification...?"
Who was behind this internet harassment? The website gave no address. It had been registered last October under a London name and phone number that seemed not to exist. Eventually, it transpired that it had been set up by a 27-year-old Jewish web-designer from north London called Jonathan. "Don't give my full name," he asked. "Someone was killed in Stamford Hill [the Jewish district] the other day." He and his friends came up with the idea by themselves: "We were just brainstorming."
But the operation was now being funded and run from the US by an organisation concerned with media fairness, Media Watch International.
And who were they? "We're pretty new," says their director, Sharon Tzur, speaking from Manhattan. "It's a group of concerned Jewish business people in New York."
Yet a bit more inquiry reveals that this is not quite the whole story either. For this week's bulletin denouncing the Guardian was in fact composed in Israel by a man named Shraga Simmons.
And when he is not working for HonestReporting, Mr Simmons is to be found employed at another organisation altogether - Aish HaTora. This is an international group promoting orthodox Judaism. "I do some work for Aish," Mr Simmons says, from Israel. And Jonathan, the web-designer who started it all in London, also concedes: "I go to the odd class at Aish."
Aish verge on the colourful in their antics. Founded by Rabbi Noah Weinberg, who complains that "20,000 kids a year" are being lost to Judaism by marrying out, Aish invented speed-dating - eight-minute sessions in cafes to help New Yorkers find compatible Jewish partners. They're widely regarded as rightwing extremists. And they're certainly not people entitled to harass the media into what they would call "objectivity."
HONEST REPORTING RESPONDS
TO THE EDITOR OF THE GUARDIAN:
On behalf of 12,000 members of Honest Reporting, we want to thank the Guardian for taking note of the wave of emails that were sent this week protesting our observation of anti-Israel bias in your publication.
However, we were disappointed, too. Rather than answer our charges of media bias, the Guardian ignored the message and attacked the messenger -- calling the Honest Reporting emails " bizarre... inconvenient... scary," and referring to some Honest Reporting members as "extremists."
I beg to differ. Honest Reporting was founded by a group of concerned individuals that affiliates neither to the right nor to the left. We are students and professionals from all walks of life -- joined in our desire to see that Israel receives the fair media coverage that every nation deserves.
In the case of the Guardian, we specifically objected to your characterization of the Palestinian who recently killed 8 Israelis by ramming into a bus stop. Rather than present him as a mass murderer or terrorist, the Guardian defended the bus driver, calling him "a sort of Palestinian everyman" who was merely drowsy from medication. This is even after the bus driver admitted to Israeli General Security Service investigators that the attack was intentional and premeditated!
We believe this is a violation of media objectivity; hence the wave of emails sent this week to the Guardian.
When I spoke with the Guardian's David Leigh on the telephone, he said that the Honest Reporting email campaign constituted "harassment." I explained that if this had been a mass-mail software program or a hacker device, then the Guardian would have a legitimate point. But Honest Reporting is individuals who are sending individual emails, using their own sense of logic and fairness to determine whether or not a publication is biased. We specifically encourage people to read the article themselves, and then if they feel the article is biased, to compose their own letter of complaint.
In our conversation, Mr Leigh also objected on the grounds that we are involving people from all around the world, and that the Guardian is a local UK paper. While I appreciate such humility, the Guardian is in fact readily available to the entire world through its fine web site -- which does include an email address inviting reader feedback.
Mr Leigh further objected to the fact that Honest Reporting members had sent emails directly to the Middle East correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg, claiming that the volume of email hindered her from doing her job. On the contrary, it seems to me that by alerting her to the opinion of her readers, we are helping Ms Goldenberg do her job better. Isn't the free flow of opinions a foundation of journalistic accountability?
So now we're back to square one. Because through all this, the Guardian has yet to address the basic allegation of anti-Israel bias. Why is the Guardian evading responsibility for what they've written?
Instead, you have criticized the Honest Reporting emails as "tending to crowd out genuine expressions of opinions from our readers." Since these people have read the Guardian and found it offensive, what suddenly makes their opinions not "genuine?"
Free speech works both ways. As an organization comprised of thousands of intelligent individuals, we have a right to criticize the media. So why does the Guardian cast unfounded aspersions against us? Ironically, this in itself constitutes a lack of journalistic objectivity.
Evidence of the Guardian's anti-Israel stance is provided by one of the Guardian's own columnists, Paul Foot, who wrote in "Conjuring Up War Criminals" on Feb. 20: "Anti-Arab, pro-Israel prejudice in the US is as powerful as ever, but in Britain, I would say, it is on the wane. This is thanks at least partly to strong and indignant journalism, including the commentaries from David Hirst and the recent reports from the occupied territories by the Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg."
In the interest of fairness, I am confident that you will print this letter. And in the meantime, we continue to await a response from the Guardian on the basic allegation of anti-Israel bias. That, after all, is the real issue.
On behalf of 12,000 concerned individuals,
Director, Media Watch International / Honest Reporting MwatchInt@aol.com
READERS LETTERS TO THE GUARDIAN:
As a professor of Information Systems, I thank you for providing great material for class discussion.
As part of the course that I teach at NJIT, we cover the transfer of power from governments, media, and so-called opinion makers, back to the people. This happens thanks to technology such as the Internet. Your reporting about Israel, and the number of individuals who responded via e-mail in protest are great material for upcoming classes. To start with, several of your articles provide recent examples of a purposeful disregard to ethics and moral obligations of professionals. Such a Machiavellian example is helping me drive my point home, when speaking to my students about ethics, professional responsibilities, and social responsibilities.
The attention-grabbing responses from thousands of individuals around the world to your version of "journalism" gives me a great example of how individuals in societies can claim back the power they have relinquished (sometimes involuntarily) to what became contemptible institutions.
Professor Eli Rohn, New Jersey
TO THE GUARDIAN:
Your intention to make readers assume that most HonestReporting members are right-wing pro-Israel extremists is not just anti-Israel, it is an erroneous presumption that undercuts your credibility as an objective source of information.
If anything, you should take pride in the ability to acknowledge mistakes. Otherwise, you will develop an agenda, and should that happen, then you cease to be a newspaper, and you begin to be a propaganda machine. While it is your privilege to choose sides in the Middle East spin cycle, you claim to be an objective journal, and therefore, you have been cyber-smacked for violating your trust.
As for your 19th-century view that corresponding en masse with a news organization and its staff is harassment; if you didn't want reader feedback, why did you go into journalism? Maybe you prefer your readers to be mindless unresponsive puds who believe everything you tell them. But the free press is an interactive application, not just an ideal of politics.
The fact that we responded to you in large droves shows our collective disapproval of your written attacks against the Middle East's only legitimate democracy, not to mention your defense of the corrupt Palestinian administration -- which most Palestinians would rather do away with.
Welcome to grassroots lobbying -- internet style.
After you simmer down and consider the qualified arguments made against you, I will look forward to your reply -- public or private. But I won't expect one.
Ysha Harari, Washington, DC
TO THE GUARDIAN:
Your article "Media Manipulators" is really deeply unfair, and represents, in my opinion, misuse of the power a media like the Guardian holds.
I am a member of HonestReporting. That means I've read their charter, and I agree with what they are trying to do. HonestReporting is a fair, reasonableand balanced approach to attacking bias in the media. Mr Leigh makes it sound so much more sinister than that!
His attack has no substance -- he doesn't criticize the charter, he criticizes the fact that the Guardian was accused in an organized manner. What's wrong with that? He doesn't criticize the definitions, he chooses instead to try to paint a picture of extremism where there isn't any. The article seems to promote itself as investigative reporting -- as if it's uncovering some sort of secret organization!
I am flabbergasted at this article. I think it's so way off the mark, that it seriously questions the Guardian's integrity. We accuse you of printing a biased article and we give you our reasoning and substantiation -- and you just dismiss us as extremists. That's not much better than responding with "Yuk, you smell." Come on! Respond like adults or don't respond at all.
Tim Cowland, England