What coverage of Biden can teach us about coverage of Israel

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden (The White House / Attribution 3.0 United States (CC BY 3.0 US))

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt

A recent column in The Washington Post about President Joe Biden’s declining poll numbers makes the case for Israel better than anything I have read in a long time.

Lamenting the president’s poor standing, Perry Bacon Jr. writes, “The mainstream media has played a huge, underappreciated role in President Biden’s declining support over the past year.”

He claims that Biden’s plunging poll numbers are the direct result of the media’s negative coverage of him. While he admits that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was not handled well, he does not attribute the public’s overwhelmingly negative reaction to the way it was bungled by the Biden administration, but to the way the story was covered in the press.

He contends that “mainstream news outlets do not coordinate their reports, but they take cues from each other and have similar coverage approaches.”

Sound familiar?

Those of us who follow the way Israel is covered in the media have been making this point for decades: Israel suffers from “pack journalism.” Reporters parrot and echo what they believe to be the prevailing perspective, and the unrelenting negative reporting about Israel contributes to negative public perceptions of the Jewish state.

Reporters who, more often than not, are unfamiliar with the history and complexity of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, and who usually do not understand the internal machinations and manipulations of Palestinian factions competing for power, have consistently portrayed Israel as being at fault for, well, everything. These reporters repeat Palestinian claims without verifying them. They provide “balance” by quoting left-wing Israeli sources who share the same biases as the Palestinians.

Worst of all, journalists frequently make no effort to understand the history of the conflict or the context of Israeli actions. They seem to be incapable of differentiating between defensive measures taken by Israel and indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists.

The result of the media’s portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians is a narrative that casts the Palestinians as innocent victims and Israel as the immoral aggressor. As a result, the Palestinians’ shirking of their responsibility for their predicament, as well as their terrorism and perpetuation of the conflict, are simply erased. Israel, the narrative holds, is always the bad guy.

Yes, Perry Bacon is right when he points out the connection between negative, distorted coverage and public perception. He is also correct when he concludes that such flawed coverage is a bad thing because “it results in a distorted national discourse that weakens our democracy.”

In fact, the remarkable thing is how well Israel is perceived despite all the negative coverage it gets. Imagine how well it would do if the press actually reported on it fairly.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt leads Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac and is chairman of the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition.


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