Ray Hanania’s Column
I was listening to NPR recently as the reporter provided an emotional description of the two young boys who were murdered the other day in the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The reporter gave us the names, the ages, where they lived and how the parents of one of the victims had immigrated to Israel to “find a better life.”
In the same story, the reporter quickly noted the death several days earlier of a “three month old baby.” No name. No details. Just another
This practice of the news media to dehumanize Palestinians while grossly exaggerating the tragedy of the Israeli victims is the fuel that feeds the hatred that keeps the two sides from coming together.
For example, the two instances were Palestinians allegedly dipped their hands in the blood of their victims was rightly included in the stories. But similar stories of Israeli settlers butchering Palestinians have been met with skepticism, in part because the Israelis have maintained intense media pressure and in part because many Western journalists base themselves out of Israeli media centers. Some reporters file stories about West Bank and Gaza Strip violence based almost exclusively in information fed by the well-oiled Israeli media services while seeking “responses” from Palestinian government sources.
Media assertions that the Israelis do not dip their hands in Palestinian blood may please their Israeli media handlers but is far from accurate.
It’s a fascinating aspect of the American and Western audience. Such grotesque acts seem to justify a practice of prioritizing killings, making the killings of Israelis more grotesque and therefore important than the killing of a Palestinian.
This media imbalance also allows a fanatic like Ariel Sharon not only to win an election as prime minister in a country that asserts the desire for peace, but that supports policies and practices that are anti-peace like the continued expansion of Jewish settlements, and the roundly denounced practice of “collective punishment.”
The media is not the cause of the conflict, but it plays a significant role in not only preserving the growing hatred and emotional rhetoric, but also creating the atmosphere where reason is victimized by political arrogance.
NPR is not alone in this phenomena of downplaying Palestinian deaths and emphasizing the most minute horror in the deaths of Israeli victims. The media as a whole is involved in this practice.
Journalists play to their audiences. Journalists also write to what they
know. That is, if you are Jewish, you understand by default the tragedy of the Jewish people. Diversity lacking, you might not appreciate the same aspects of the Arab people and their own tragedies and traditions.
This is not an intended bias, but it is a bias nonetheless. That is why there is a movement to bring diversity to many news rooms.
Unfortunately, the issue of diversity is limited to the kind of diversity most Americans are most familiar, involving African Americans, Asians and Hispanics. Little thought is given to adding the Arab voice to news rooms.
This lack of diversity among journalists who cover the Middle East results also in an inadvertent arrogance: that the audiences they report to are in fact like them. Many reporters report to themselves.
That is, they speak their own language to an audience of their own language.
They view Arabs as an audience outside of their circle, and therefore the details that would interest an Arab audience, such as the name and the background on the three-month old baby’s family, is not included in their reports.
This produces a lopsided coverage that tends to portray the Israelis as more acceptable victims, and the Arabs as cold, statistics.
Media audiences tend to interpret this usually unintended bias as a guideline toward forming their opinions about the surrounding events.
If the Israelis are more human, and the Arabs are just statistics, certainly, the sympathies of the reader will tend toward the Israelis.
When it comes to communications, there is only one overriding reality in American society. Perception is reality. It’s not the truth of an issue that weighs more on the minds of the typical American bombarded by messages every moment of their daily lives. It is how a message is portrayed.
The more they identify with the messenger, and the method of the message, the more they identify with the message itself.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American writer based in Chicago and a regular contributor to MMN. His columns are archived on the web at www.hanania.com)