Saturday, March 13, 2010

How Bad is the Quality of Media Coverage? A Small Example

Here's an example of just how bad media coverage is. I'm not writing this as an example of anti-Israel media bias but of just poor reporting which applies to lots of other stories.

1. Lack of understanding

Shas is a populist party whose constituency is poor Orthodox Jews of Middle Eastern origin. A Shas minister announced housing construction in such a neighborhood. He couldn't care less about international issues or the fact that it was five blocks across the pre-1967 border. He just wanted to show his constituents he was providing apartments for them.

Failing to understand this, prestigious Western media outlets claimed this showed how Israel was thumbing its nose at the US by the timing, Israel didn't want peace, etc. They didn't understand what was going on despite their highly paid correspondents, local stringers, pompous belief in their own brilliance, etc.

If they can't understand party patronage politics in a democratic society how the heck are they going to cover societies far more different from their own?

2. Short memory

A few weeks ago, Israel announced it was going to continue construction in east Jerusalem while stopping it elsewhere. The U.S. government cheered this step as a major concession. Now the media has basically forgotten about the content of this deal in accusing Israel of doing something outrageous. (The timing can be criticized, of course, but not the step in principle.)

All of this reminds me of an exchange in "Seinfeld," the comedy show. When Jerry Seinfeld confides in a priest (don't ask, it's a long story) that his dentist is telling Jewish jokes very badly, the priest says:

"And this offends you as a Jewish person?"

Seinfeld responds, "No, this offends me as a comedian."

In other words, what is so often irritating about this kind of coverage--thousands of examples can be provided--is not so much that it is an example of anti-Israel bias but that it is just pure unprofessional and low-quality work. It offends me as a journalist and a policy analyst.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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