Feature

Gaza: Who’s winning the media war?

The Israeli attack on Gaza is now a media war as well as a ground war.

“War is fought on battlefields,” said Jeffrey Fleishman and Raed Rafei in the Los Angeles Times, “but passions are roused by images.” Not surprisingly, then, the Israeli attack on Gaza is now a media war as well as a ground war. The Arab world and much of the globe is being bombarded with grisly pictures of dead and dying women and children, courtesy of the Al Jazeera network and other Arabic media sources. In those outlets, Israel is routinely accused of “war crimes,” and the rationale for the assault—the more than 6,000 missiles Hamas has launched from Gaza into Israeli towns and villages—is never mentioned. Nor is Hamas’ tactic of using civilians as shields. The Israeli news media is apparently covering an entirely different war, said Griff Witte in The Washington Post. There are virtually no images of the Palestinian dead, “while the plight of Israelis injured or killed is covered around the clock.”
 
But what’s the U.S. media’s excuse? said Terry Ahwal in the Detroit Free Press. Americans are entitled to balanced coverage of the tragedy in Gaza, but instead we mostly see a reflection of the “Israeli spin machine.” Israel’s brutal military is hunting the Palestinians in Gaza like animals in a cage. Yet in most of the U.S. press, “the voices of Palestinians are, as usual, absent.” You’ve got it completely backward, said Sam Dealey in USnews.com. Most news reports have been framed almost entirely in terms of the toll on Palestinian civilians, while Hamas’ missile attacks on Israel’s women and children are barely mentioned. “Israel’s odds of pulling off its Gaza incursion are debatable, but its chances against the world press are decidedly dismal.”
 
For the news media, this is a “familiar crossfire,” said Clark Hoyt in The New York Times. As this newspaper’s ombudsman, I can tell you that no issue rouses public ire like the Middle East, with both sides insisting that the coverage is “unfair and inaccurate.” In this instance, the press’ job is complicated by Israel’s ban on journalists entering Gaza. That, ironically, forces newspapers to “rely on pictures taken by Palestinian photographers,” which leaves us open to accusations of propaganda. The fact that everyone is mad at us doesn’t prove that we are doing it right, but it at least suggests we are trying to be evenhanded. Unfortunately, in the “complex, intractable struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, even the best, most evenhanded reporting will not satisfy those passionately on one side or the other.”

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