As a radio journalist for four decades in the Middle East, I have been in the crosshairs a number of times.
The most memorable incident, because I have it on tape, occurred in January 1988 in the Jalazone Palestinian refugee camp near Ramallah. I walked alongside the Palestinians as they walked through their camp to the edge of the slum under the main highway. Then they started throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers above.
The soldiers retaliated by firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at the protesters. On the tape, you hear me say, “Now the soldiers are aiming in this direction BOOMBOOM!” (The whole story is in my book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?”)
The soldiers didn’t know I was there. Even if they did, they were too far away to see the large, colorful network logo on the tape recorder strapped to my stomach. Luckily for me, I wasn’t hurt.
And if they had shot me, there wouldn’t have been a worldwide flood of condemnations of Israel and a far-reaching smear campaign. Several of my colleagues were then shot and wounded. I was thrown to the ground by a police officer and tear gassed by another at that time, for example. None of these incidents have been condemned by the US State Department.
First, broadcast reporters need to be in the middle of the action, and although we’re trained to stay away, sometimes we can’t. It’s the job. Sometimes we get hurt.
Second, in the last century, there was no anti-social media to whip up a frenzy with amateur and/or fake videos and “evidence”, or just plain hate.
That’s why it doesn’t matter who killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin refugee camp. These days, the truth doesn’t matter. Saying that “my decision is made, don’t confuse me with facts” used to be a joke. Today is the reality.
There are new rules (some would argue there aren’t) in today’s media jungle. Dedicated mainstream journalists still abide by the old rules of fairness, context and unbiased analysis – but they are overwhelmed and overwhelmed by media that caters to their target audience (even the once-respected legacy publications) and media that do not make such claims, shamelessly and promptly picking up any information, true or false, to further their cause.
Add to that the tendency for political correctness that limits what a journalist is allowed to say in the first place.
In recent days, there has been a story about a group of people who attacked doctors and nurses in an intensive care unit of a Jerusalem hospital after another person died there. It was not until almost a day later that local media suggested that the attackers were Arabs from East Jerusalem and that the deceased had died of a drug overdose.
Until then, listeners had to guess who the assailants were and speculate that the poor guy may have been killed by cruel Israeli soldiers or police – thus “justifying” the violence.
A few days later, there was a similar violent incident at a hospital in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, and similar incomplete reports.
Yet it is clear that these missing facts are vital to understanding the context of the event.
So we’ve gotten to the point where the ban on identifying a criminal’s race or ethnicity is banned unless it’s essential to the story, an outright ban in all cases. I’m not sure there is such a formal ban, but again, that doesn’t matter – it’s the reality.
I left daily journalism in 2014 after years of fighting, and usually losing, with my colleagues over fairness and context. I was billed as the “pro-Israel” element in my office, and that’s not what I signed off on when I became a journalist in 1963.
The worst case scenario was my agency’s refusal to allow me to report on my discovery of Israel’s 2008 peace offer to the Palestinians. “It’s nothing new,” my boss said.
I don’t write articles like this without suggesting solutions. This time, there are no easy ones. With anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism (whatever that is in the 21st century) pervading college campuses across North America, promoted by groups who make up their own facts and “narratives”—two terms that essentially mean the opposite l each other – attempts to respond with facts are comforting but mostly useless.
New approaches are needed to make this a fair fight. I do not and will never advocate violence. Not only is this morally reprehensible, but it is also counterproductive, since it is a response, not an initiative.
Suffice it to say, the experts who know how to put Iranian centrifuges out of commission with a few keystrokes could probably redirect their efforts to help in this fight as well.