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Monday, August 10, 2009

Bias

Everyone is biased.

This statement seems self-evident, but some people seem to insist that their favorite sources - whether it is CNN, the New York Times, the BBC, Amnesty International, the IDF, the PCHR or Pakistan Daily - are above such things, and truly look at things with an unbiased eye.

This is absurd and dangerous.

When testing the veracity of someone's reporting or claims, there are a number of things to take into account: what their bias might be, whether they ignore any facts and highlight others, and how the facts inform their opinions.

NGOs have a vested interest in appearing unbiased, but they also have a vested interest in pushing their agendas. Above all, "human rights" organizations need to justify their existence. The main reason is in order to continue to receive funding, often from governments. A highly important secondary reason is that there is no value to them of investigating alleged abuses and finding that things are not so bad, or can be put into context. From their perspectives, their job is to find human rights abuses, not to expose context or nuance.

A clear result is that they will have a bias towards believing the claims of those who allege HR abuse and a bias against those who deny it or contextualize it. If they throw enough resources at an issue, they'll find things to report, no matter what, and in the absence of facts they will rely more on shaky testimonies or "experts" who have little real experience.

Of course, governments and armies have biases as well. In order to find the truth, one must look at what both parties have to say and see which one has more facts on their side. Looking only at parties who have a clear agenda to find abuse is not only inadequate but fallacious.

When looking at the Gaza operation, it is easy to fall in the trap of saying that Amnesty International or HRW or Physicians for Human Rights are unbiased, and that anything that the IDF says in response is by definition biased. How can you possibly find an unbiased human rights organization that would place the same weight on what the IDF says as to what a seemingly homeless old man says?

I am biased as well, obviously. But when looking at the competing claims of the human rights groups and the IDF, along with their supporting evidence, it is clear that the HR organizations allow their biases to push the directions of their reports. It is also clear that they haven't the foggiest notion of how wars are fought. For Amnesty to make blanket statements that the IDF killed hundreds of unarmed civilians, with the clear implication that somehow they could have fought a war without that happening, borders on the irresponsible even as it is factual. To them, every single civilian death is somehow a human rights abuse on the part of Israel, and the millions of dollars and thousands of hours Israel spends to minimize those deaths (as well as to help the injured) is irrelevant.

That is not an unbiased view; that is slander. Not to mention ignorant of the realities of war.

Today, the IDF responded to a PHR report on Gaza. It pointed out that many of the PHR claims were, simply put, lies. Similarly, the IDF report on Cast Lead showed that many of the claims made by the media and human rights organizations were inaccurate or false.

If the human rights groups were truly unbiased, they would go through each of the IDF claims one by one and try to prove them wrong as well - and, when appropriate, admit their own mistakes and shortcomings. But they never do, because they already have their "comprehensive" reports and if they would admit mistakes it would impact their fundraising efforts.

Truth is not their goal. Those who think otherwise are just fooling themselves.

(In the case of some NGOs, like PCHR, of course the bias is far deeper and simply anti-Israel to begin with. And one cannot discount the inherent anti-Israel bias that the people who gravitate to these sorts of organizations tend to have. But even without that, the bias is there and must be examined just as critically as the bias that the IDF has towards its own people.)