As a general rule, there are two kinds of journalists. There are those who see their purpose is to inform the public, and to question everything that they are fed by those who wield power. There are also those who see the press as a means of influencing others, building a narrative that is of benefit to one party or cause by slanting the coverage in one way.
It is easy to figure why journalists would inject bias in their reporting. Besides the difficulty any person would have removing personal feelings from the way they see something, true journalism is often a thankless job. CNN’s Jake Tapper, who is often recognized as one of the truest journalists today, has pointed out that his reporting on the Gaza war has led to criticism that made no sense, saying, “The day before I was a Zionist pig I was a Hamas-loving anti-Semite.” When Tapper asked a Palestinian woman who was complaining about the Israeli strikes about the “culture of martyrdom,” Hamas apologists attacked him. But when he reported on the devastation in Gaza, he was attacked by those who saw it as a criticism of Israel.
Besides those who actually appreciate what it is that real journalists like Tapper are doing — which is presenting the facts, the actual practice of journalism — nobody will end up being a journalist’s fan. And so, many of those engaged in that profession end up tilting their coverage to benefit one side so that they can be liked by those they are covering.
But the purpose of the freedom of the press which is enshrined in the Constitution is clear — even if the limits in that actual freedom are less so. Professor Eugene Volokh, in an essay for Heritage, cites their words in “Appeal to the Inhabitants of Quebec,” written by the First Continental Congress, saying, “The last right we shall mention regards the freedom of the press. The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated into more honorable and just modes of conducting affairs.”
The press is not supposed to be a tool that obfuscates and misrepresents facts and untruths to promote the actions and positions of those who act dishonorably and unjustly.
Volokh’s co-blogger at The Washington Post, Professor David Bernstein, shed light on one such case of media malpractice in a post late Sunday night.
The New York Times reported on a story under the headline “Teenager Cites Ordeal as Captive of Israelis.” The Times relied heavily on a report from a group that is dedicated to smearing Israel, DCI-Palestine (Defence for Children International-Palestine), which says that the teenager, Ahmad Abu-Raida, was interrogated “despite not being associated with Hamas.” He was, according to the DCI-Palestine report, subject to “an almost-constant stream of abuse” during his detention.
Deciding to run with the story was a questionable call, to say the least, Bernstein points out. Considering that all they have is an accusation of someone, who, despite his claim not to have any affiliation with Hamas, is the son of Hamas Ministry of Tourism official Jamal Abu Raida, The Times is “at this point… just repeating unconfirmed allegations from a dubious source; in other words, passing along wartime propaganda as news.” While Abu Raida alleges five days of terrible abuse, The Times accepts the claims that they “forgot” to take pictures that would corroborate these claims. Color me skeptical.
But the story itself, and the inconsistencies between the two sources, would be enough to make anyone engaged in the practice of true journalism question it.
First, The Times itself notes that despite two lengthy interviews with Ahmad, he didn’t mention some of the allegations that were mentioned in the report. But instead of that leading them to kill the story, they buried that point in a paragraph between quotes from the report about the alleged abuse, and the new, fresh allegations in The Times interviews.
Second, The Times doesn’t seem to think it important to point out that the age of the boy, 17, is the age that Hamas starts training and using teens as fighters. This kind of lying by omission is indicative of what has become a lot of their reporting on the Gaza war.
Heavy-handed one-sided story-telling is more or less the Hamas propaganda strategy. The mortar that killed four-year-old Daniel Tregerman, Hy”d, was, according to reports, fired from a facility whose coordinates were, according to Jonathon Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, given to Israel to make sure it wasn’t targeted since it was serving as a shelter for Gazans. It was, as has been the case throughout this conflict, a school that Hamas decided to use to launch attacks from. But Hamas and its willing enablers like Chris Gunness from UNRWA parade schoolchildren in front of the cameras, saying that Israel is destroying their innocence.
If the truth is on your side, there is nothing to fear from having the entire story told, including that which is less than optimal for your side. The fact that there are civilian casualties in Gaza doesn’t weaken Israel’s moral standing in the conflict.
The clearest proof of that is that Israel’s opponents, be they from Hamas, UNRWA, or The New York Times, can’t bring themselves to tell the whole story.