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Friday, September 05, 2014

Former AP bureau chief in Israel responds to Matti Friedman

I am sure that many of you recall the article I posted last week in which former Jerusalem AP correspondent Matti Friedman explained how institutional bias in the media leads to highly biased coverage of Israel. Now, Friedman's former AP bureau chief, Steven Gutkin, has responded.
It is true the conflict we covered can be framed in various ways: of downtrodden Palestinians facing off against powerful Israel, or of tiny Israel against the surrounding sea of 300 million Arabs. Often, I felt that attempting to “frame” it either way was not instructive. It was preferable to simply bear witness to what we saw unfolding before our eyes.
During my six-year tenure in Israel and the Palestinian territories, our staff was made up mostly of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims, with a smaller number of foreigners who belonged to neither or those two communities. Matti provided valuable, fair-minded input during those years, a voice that often helped ensure the Israeli viewpoint got a fair shake without belittling the other side. I was grateful for that, and for the other voices in the bureau who did the same for the Palestinians.
As bureau chief, I knew it was one of my key roles to fight bias in our reporting. Was this achieved all the time? I doubt it. But I know an honest attempt was made at all times. I always told our reporters not to deliver “milk toast” and to lay bare the raw passions of each side in all their glory, rather than trying to tone down the arguments. While fairness was of utmost importance, I told them, not every story had to be 50-50 (if you were reporting in 1930s Germany, I asked, would you be compelled to give half the space to the Jewish side and the other half to the Nazis?)
Matti states that the AP’s Jerusalem bureau – like all other major news operations based in Israel and the Palestinian territories – employs an inordinate amount of reporters because of this hostile obsession with the Jews. The truth is the story of Israel is that of a nation rising from the ashes of the worst genocide in human history, being attacked from all sides upon its inception.
Depending on your point of view, it’s also a story about the persecuted becoming the persecutors. All of this, of course, is happening to the people of the Bible, the descendants of the Hebrew slaves who were led out of Egypt by Moses and from whose ranks emerged Jesus Christ. It’s as if a new chapter of the Bible is being written in our times. Whether you think the Bible is mythology or the word of God is beside the point. The point is we are all human beings who love a good story, and this one is particularly good.
In his article, Matti states that I personally suppressed stories that did not fit my narrative of Israel being bad, implying that I was a part of this worldwide media conspiracy against the Jews. It’s a large statement, and of course could only be true if I hated myself. The truth is I am not a self-hating Jew or any kind of Jew other than just a regular one.
If an article didn’t appear that Matti thought should have, it was not because it didn’t fit a pre-ordained narrative or because we had it in for Israel. Deciding which stories to pursue involves news judgment, and rare events are more newsworthy than common ones. Reporters do not write about all the houses that DON’T catch fire, and corruption in Sweden is more noteworthy than it is in Nigeria. (Though it must be stated that Matti’s assertion that the AP ignores Palestinian corruption and other aspects of Palestinian existence is untrue).
Matti stated that a female reporter in our bureau had access to maps showing the contours of a generous Israeli offer of a Palestinian state, but that the bureau’s leadership refused to run the story. The map he’s talking about was indeed shown by a Palestinian official to one of our reporters. It affirmed a longstanding Palestinian proposal for a land swap that had been part of the Geneva Initiative, and was old news.
During my years with the AP and other news organizations, I reported from some two dozen countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Colombia, Cuba and Israel. I have been threatened, shot at and shelled, and I have been present when colleagues were injured and killed. Were there times when we decided not to report a given fact because we thought it would endanger one of our reporters? Yes there were, and one of these incidents occurred when Matti was on the editing desk. But these events were extremely rare – perhaps only two or three times during my entire six-year stint in Israel/Palestine – and we withheld the information only after concluding that it would necessarily be traced to the reporter in question, thus jeopardizing his life.
Read the whole thing. I found Matti Friedman's presentation to be much more factual than Steven Gutkin's. And I left out this sentence in the excerpt above, which is quite telling about whether the AP and the media generally are biased:
Depending on your point of view, it’s also a story about the persecuted becoming the persecutors.

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At 7:59 PM, Blogger Empress Trudy said...

I read that twice. These are the takeaways from Gutkin

I am not a bigot but I am biased
Bias is good
News shouldn't distinguish personal opinions from anything else
Criticism of Israel now matter how virulent and distorted is legitimate
I am fair, trust me I really am
I admit that news orgs can't hire Jews because that would be perceived as going against our own agenda
Israel the Jewish state really is that bad, maybe worse, maybe the worst thing in the history of people, ever
I am not a bigot but again, I am biased and bias is good.

At 11:19 PM, Blogger Abe Bird said...

The story is not about “the persecuted becoming the persecutors” but about how the persecuted gained much power to defend themself and hit back their Arab persecutors, whether they are a strong coalition of Arab states or small but deadly violent terror groups. The matter is not their size or strength, but their ideology, will and their final solution for the conflict. The Arabs in Palestine don’t recognize the rights of the Jews to have their own national state in the land of Israel. Their aim is to ‘free’ the all land and Judenrein it by killing the Jews and create a new entity fitting their extreme aggressive Islamic ideals.

It's very impressive that most foreign correspondents didn’t reveal the truth of this well-known dogma that Palestinian leaders have repeatedly saying it openly today, even in English or with the small help of Memri! One doesn't have to travel to Gaza at the newspaper expense, especially when ignoring the facts that surrounding him.

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Jose Angel said...

i have to agree with Abe Bird that the story it´s actually about a persecuted people who gained enough power to defend themselves. It´s funny how the Arab narrative went from "pushing the jews to the sea" to "Oh, we are victims of a rogue state".


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