Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Screenshot from the NY Times "They Were Only Children"
Screenshot, New York Times, "They Were Only Children"

Israel is the media’s whipping boy: we’ve come to expect negative coverage on Israel. This is disheartening to those of us who love Israel and/or hate media bias. We feel hopeful when media watchdogs like the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), find untruths in articles about Israel and hold the news outlets to account. The feeling that we’ve achieved vicarious victory through CAMERA’s important work is tempered, however, by the knowledge that millions have already read and absorbed the lies. Only a handful will ever read the correction. What then, do such corrections achieve?

Take a recent article by the New York Times, “They Were Only Children,” that abuses sentimentality to drive support for Israel to be replaced with another Arab state. The piece offers little context, no timeline, and only a pretense of balance. It is pure agitprop, a numbers game. We are overwhelmed with photos of dead Arab children, with a single photo of the only Jewish child killed by a rocket. The reader/viewer of this photographic display is directed toward the erroneous conclusion that Israel is the bad guy for killing more children than even Hamas.

This is a stupid idea. If someone attacks you, you’ve got to attack back, harder, to make them stop. That, in a nutshell, is war.

That’s war. But there’s war and there’s war. Hamas fights a dirty war. It embeds militants and rocket launchers in civilian locations and structures: dense residential neighborhoods, schools, apartment buildings, hospitals. Places where they know there will be terrible casualties, including children, the sick, and the elderly, all of whom will look amazing in articles like “They Were Only Children,” and drive public sentiment toward the so-called “Palestinians” and against Israel.

It is an incredibly stupid calculus, of course, to suggest that because more Arabs died, Israel is bad. It would be more accurate to state that since more Arabs died, Hamas is bad. Because Hamas uses human shields.

A child may die because Hamas is operating from an apartment three floors up from her home. Or a child may be taught to kill Jews at summer camp, where they learn Hamas Basic Training 101.
But the impact of the photos are priceless, as far as Hamas is concerned. So they make more and more photos of dead children to peddle to the New York Times, the Guardian, and CNN. Of course you actually have to have dead children to get those photos, so for them, it’s a mitzvah to help them get dead. The more horrible the death, the cuter the child, the better it is from their perspective. Anything to make the world help them to destroy Israel, and rid it of its tainted Jewish presence.

Well, as you can see, I’m pessimistic about this situation, even jaded. I’m losing my taste for corrections and clarifications. It’s like banging my head on the wall in a world where people just drink in stories like “They Were Only Children” without investing any critical thought into the equation. “THINK, People!” I want to yell at them. “Showering your ‘readership’ with death porn. Gazillions of tiny brown children who are no more. Who is fooled by this?”

Apparently, just about everyone. Here is the circulation of the New York Times according to Wikipedia:

·         5,496,000 news subscribers

·         4,665,000 digital-only

·         831,000 print

·         1,398,000 games, cooking, and Audm subscribers

That’s a lot of people to not stop and think, “Well, how did these children die? How many of them were teenage Hamas recruits? Was there really rocket fire on Israel? What was the timeline?”

And yet, we know that the media no longer appeals to the head, but to the eyes. Hence the human shields, the photos. The more photos the better. Because people can’t read anymore. That is if reading means asking questions as you read. Which it should.

So let’s say this piece, “They Were Only Children” left you unable to get those faces out of your mind, keeping you awake into the wee hours. Your hate for Israel is growing by the minute, by the second. Because of that piece, and your reaction to it, experienced through thoughtless emotion. Manipulated by the Gray Lady to hate Israel, the state of the people they hate, the Jews.

Maybe someday there will be a correction buried in the Times, like it buried the Holocaust, somewhere deep in the paper, where no one will ever see it.

This is how I feel on a bad day.

On a good day, I think: it has to be good that we expose the lies, even after the fact, even if few see it, because you’re putting the truth out into the ether, and that has to be a good thing. Always. And maybe if CAMERA keeps on keeping on, they’ll get sick of us nudging them, and stop telling lies. 

Tamar Sternthal, director of CAMERA’s Israel office, suggests that journalists will stop if they know they cannot get away with it. “A correction sends a message to the journalist that sloppy reporting will not be tolerated. Journalists would rather not have to correct their story, and thus will likely be more cautious the next time if they know they will be held accountable,” says Sternthal.

It’s also a smart and sophisticated way to handle a situation. By taking care of one news outlet, you take care of many, in one fell swoop. “We can leverage substantive corrections, especially from leading media outlets, to prompt correction of the identical error or falsehood at other media outlets, even in different countries and languages,” says Sternthal, offering a sense of scope to the broader media impact of a single correction.

As an example of how a correction can be used to leverage other corrections, Sternthal directed me to this AFP correction, prompted by CAMERA on July 5, which cited earlier corrections on the same issue by Bloomberg and the New York Times. “Corrections of wire stories during the same news cycle in which they are originally published are particularly helpful because they preemptively keep misinformation from appearing in secondary media outlets around the world,” added Sternthal.

CAMERA's Israel director says that such corrections are “essential." Corrections are the only way for the media to rectify the erroneous public perceptions it creates. Prompting such corrections is therefore imperative. “In that way, we can ultimately eradicate the error altogether, and thereby elevate the quality of coverage across the board," says Sternthal. "We managed to do exactly that in the summer of 2000, compelling the New York Times to correct three times in three months the falsehood that U.N. Resolutions require Israel to withdraw from all territory gained in the Six Day War, including the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem.”

Sternthal notes that there is no U.N. resolution requiring Israel to withdraw entirely from these territories. CAMERA kept driving that point home, and guess what? It worked. After that final correction in a series of three in three months(!), the New York Times stopped lying—at least on that particular score—and what was once a common media falsehood has, according to Sternthal, “virtually disappeared from Western media outlets.”

Then editor of the New York Times, Joseph Lelyveld, according to Sternthal, convened his staff after the series of corrections and said to them, “Three times in three months we’ve had to run corrections on the actual provisions of U.N. Resolution 242, providing great cheer and sustenance to those readers who are convinced we are opinionated and not well informed on Middle East issues. Look through the words to the facts.”

He was telling journalists to fact-check.

Tamar Sternthal offered another reason corrections are important. What happens on the ‘net, stays on the ‘net. “Corrections are critical because in the digital era reports linger on the internet indefinitely. So it’s very important to get these stories corrected.

“But print publications corrections buried in inside pages are also important because they are appended to the original article in news databases like Lexis-Nexis. As a result, researchers, journalists, and policy makers looking up articles even many years later will receive the correct information.

“Those of goodwill will not recycle the false information,” concludes Sternthal.

I know she's right. At the same time, it's hard not to think of the others. The ones who lack the goodwill gene. 
 





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