Is Rula Jebreal right about US Media Bias against Palestinians?

By Juan Cole

Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal points to the overwhelming bias in US media against the Palestinians, calling NBC to account for having tried to remove an Arab-American reporter from Gaza after he reported the Israeli navy’s deliberate killing of children on the beach. She also points to the stranglehold the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby has on congressional politics toward Israel. She doesn’t mention but should the pressure organizations like CAMERA, well-heeled and powerful fanatics devoted to punishing American journalists who tell the truth about Israel and Palestine. I actually think NBC is better than some others on this issue, so it is a little unfortunate that they should take the brunt of Jebreal’s understandable frustration.

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I don’t think either of the people she was talking to understood the problem. The show begins with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and promises more of him. No Palestinian leader is interviewed or apparently considered for an interview! It is alleged to Jebreal that her being allowed to complain on air at all is a mercy (she isn’t actually allowed to say much about the war). It is also alleged that just reporting on all the children the Israeli military has killed is somehow even-handed; in fact if the killings are represented as necessary that isn’t true. Almost no US media admits that indiscriminate fire in civilian areas is a war crime. (Rula comes in at about 7 minutes, below).

Ronan Farrow, MSNBC

There isn’t actually any doubt about US media bias against the Palestinians. Yousef Munayyar looked at CNN’s coverage of the 2012 Gaza flare-up.

Mohamad Elmasry summarizes the study:

” It revealed that a total of 45 Israeli officials were interviewed by CNN, compared to just 20 Palestinian officials. An ongoing, but incomplete, analysis of this year’s [2014] violence by the Palestine Center shows that this is happening once more. Between 30 June and 9 July [2014], CNN interviewed a total of 17 Israeli officials, but just one Palestinian official.”

As Greg Philo notes below, it isn’t just a matter of who is interviewed and how often, though that is important. It is also a matter of history and context. From most American media you would assume that the Israelis were minding their own business and the Palestinians of Gaza just irrationally started firing rockets at them. With rare exceptions, we aren’t told that most truces have been broken by Israel, not Hamas. We aren’t told that over 70% of Gaza’s population used to live in Israel and was ethnically cleansed and left penniless. We aren’t told that Israel has a blockade on Gaza that does not allow it to export most of what it produces, that this blockade has thrown 40% of the working population into unemployment and left 56% of families food insecurity (just on the verge of going to bed hungry). We aren’t told that Israeli occupation has left 90% of [the strip's aquifer non-potable] people in Gaza without potable water. * We aren’t told that Gaza’s Palestinians demand an end to being kept in a big concentration camp. If Israelis were being treated as the Palestinians are, what do you think they would do about it?

There are some exceptions. See the brave and informed and Arabic-speaking Richard Engel on Hardball last night– he told it like it is, including disputing Israeli claims of care not to hit civilians and explaining the conditions in Gaza that cause people to reject mere restoration of the status quo (comes in at 2:35):

And, I should declare my interest by saying that MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes had me on to discuss the issue last Thursday:

Here is a vigorous and informed discussion of the question of over-all media bias:

MiddleEastMonitor: “Greg Philo – ‘Do the Media Aid Israel?’ Amnesty International London”

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*The original wording here, now crossed out, was an error pointed out to me by Politifact. Juan Cole regrets the error.

57 Responses

  1. It is absolutely outrageous how organizations like AIPAC and the World Jewish Congress have convinced Congress that they are the spokesmen for Jews in this country, whereas in fact there are thousands of Jews like myself who hold diametrically opposite views, and are utterly appalled at the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the inhumane Israeli blockade of Gaza, and the dreadful current Israeli massacre of Gazans. Tikkun recently quoted an American rabbi who said that his congregation would have no problem if he criticized God in addressing them, but that he would lose his job if he dared say one word critical of Israel. Our Congress has been sold a bill of goods to the effect that poor Israel wants nothing more than peace and now has to fight for its survival against the Hamas terrorist onslaught, necessitating the slaughter of hundreds of Gazan civilians and unbelievable destruction of the impoverished and barely functioning Gazan infrastructure including hospitals and water supply. What an utterly shameful state of affairs. Our heartfelt thanks to Juan Cole for his efforts to present a truthful view.

    • I am thrilled that at long last, Chris Hayes, Rula Jebreal and a few others in the media are speaking up to give the Palestinian side of the conflict with Israel. The powerful behind the scene’s Zionist lobby in America does all it can to suppress the other side and to get only pro Israel politicians elected to Congress and the Senate. I am a gentile and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the few outlets for my balanced views. I hope to start a chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace in Scottsdale, Az. where I live.

  2. I listened appalled this morning to UK PM David Cameron telling Parliament that Hamas was firing rockets into Israel “unprovoked”. At least one Labour MP (David Winnick) spoke up: “If shelling a hospital isn’t a war crime, then I don’t know what is.” Imbalance was soon restored, with a short, unmediated, soundbite of Netanyahu lying his head off.

    • I look forward to Jonathan Cook’s reporting about the daily harassment of Arabs in Palestine to make it into the mainstream media flow here in the US. It’s the next step and it needs to happen.

  3. One thing that also goes unmentioned is that the tactics used by the fighters in Gaza are typical of asymmetrical warfare (not anomalies employed only by Hamas).

    When fighters have no gunboats, submarines, tanks, F-16 fighter planes, and the like, the only possible way to fight is to use guerrilla warfare and the only way to survive is to fight out of the areas that Israel is less inclined to hit. Israel (and supportive media) imply that such a tactic is monstrous and bestial and shows that Palestinian fighters are “less human” than Israeli fighters.

    But this kind of fighting is par for the course among any groups where the playing field is uneven. Israelis should know this as their fighters used guerrilla tactics against the British back when their forces were vastly inferior.

    The media’s bias shows when pundits don’t discuss the normal differences between fighters of vastly disparate strength and what that means for trying to end the combat.

    • Maybe a lot of those dead and wounded IDF warriors were, like a lot of GIs, invested in unshakable belief in the notions of the supremacy of their tribe and the threat of the “others.” But there would not even be 13, or 37, or 45 dead IDF warriors if it were not for the cynical, destructive “policies” of their rulers, sending them into harm’s way to do what, again? “Mow the lawn?”

      Just like there would not be millions of dead “gooks” and “Hajjis,” along with tens of thousands of dead US troops, from all “our” wars of choice, from Korea onward, guys and gals who were sent in to kick down doors to win the hearts and minds of the people cowering behind them, and to walk or drive out on patrol to “draw fire” or “trigger ambushes” or “set off IEDs.” When “the mission” is futile and stupid, and “the orders” are idiotic and obscene, one would think that the cognitive dissonance would become sufficiently overwhelming to overcome even the basest and sneakiest propaganda, wouldn’t one? Oh, wait — that actually seems to be happening, even in Israel where a lot of present and former IDF troops have been “Breaking the Silence,” link to breakingthesilence.org.il .

      Some of them, in addition to empathic scruples and personal revulsions, apparently are bothered by being taught that they are to practice “purity of arms,” link to en.wikipedia.org, and then as with the Marines in Fallujah or Kandahar, discovering the moral bankruptcy, not to mention the tactical and strategic idiocy, of what the Brass was ordering them to do, praising them for their courage and and professionalism patriotism and all that. Of course, as with military chaplains who call on God to bless the troops in their holy killing (you are supposed to KILL for your contry, not DIE for it…) and to comfort and persuade back into combat any troops who doubt or have reservations about it all, there’s a couple of John Yoo-class sophists in the IDF orbit who have come up with the “all human beings were equal, but now some are no longer human and among those who are, some are more equal than others” text to pray from: link to bureauofcounterpropaganda.blogspot.com

      But as should be plain, a modest number of dead IDF troops, and of course our own Imperial troops, is necessary to keep the wailing and lamentations at the right pitch and intensity so the Rulers can get on with the business at hand…

  4. I actually think NBC is better than some others on this issue,

    Make that “NBC is not as bad as others.”

    Apropos from Mondoweiss:

    Dear American media, I’m asking you to simply tell what’s happening in Gaza by Emily Manna – link to mondoweiss.net

    and

    CNN headline: “100 people killed today in Israel, Gaza fighting” by Adam Horowitz – link to mondoweiss.net

  5. In and amongst the drama, the propaganda driving matters gets lost. This is the stuff that precludes meaningful progress toward resolving the underlying conflict.

    With all due respect to Rula for even broaching the subject so directly, she and others become so (understandably) indignant that there message gets lost. NOT so the relentlessly coordinated PR offensive of Israel. In watching the 3 panel split screen between Host, Lake, and Rula, notice how sagely the Host nods his head as the Israeli apologist makes the case for Israel’s forbearance (and remember, he is NOT even an official spokesperson).

    But the clip from Greg Phil is terrific if you have the patience to bear with his initially rambling delivery, which starts hitting home at about 9:00. In fact, it may be more effective to have him slowly lure in his listeners with his does. From then on his delivery is positively enlightening, especially at minutes 16 and 18 when he is able to describe precisely how pressure is applied in the case of BBC to distort their coverage, and his conclusion around 21:00.

    • Philo’s presentation was “positively enlightening,” especially when he explained the methodical way Israel tests every word for audience reaction before that particular word is used. Only the ones that generate an effective response are used and then repeated over and over.

      It’s almost like a game show…

      Now watch Netanyahu defend his attack in Gaza. He says the same thing again and again, almost word for word.

      “HAMA ROCKETS made us do it. No country would tolerate HAMAS ROCKETS attacking Israel and it’s citizens.”

      Now watch Obama…”As I’ve said before, no country would tolerate HAMAS ROCKETS being fired on Israeli cities. Having said that,”…..

      As Philo explains, the key is repeating the message and not mentioning the Palestinian people. What is left out is just as important as what is said. No mention of the blockade, prisoners or anything that might show them in a positive light or even a sympathetic one.

      Pictures oF dead Palestinian children?—–HAMAS ROCKETS were the real cause.

      Repetition is the key to BRAINWASHING.

    • You are so right. Philo is THE MAN!

      I’m going to attach that link to every post I make on this subject from now on….

  6. This is especially important to Hamas , as its what they are holding out for…the world to give them relief from the blockades by land and sea….

  7. Do not forget the extreme pro-Israel bias of CNN’s anchor, Wolf Blitzer, formerly of the Jerusalem Post.

    It is pretty clear from his many remarks, introductions, summaries, etc that his perspective is that of an Israel.

    During the era of Palestinian suicide bombings, in the early 90′s, CNN would provide all day long stories and pictures of the scene of the bombings, continually coming back to these scenes throughout the day, while the many more Palestinian deaths carried out by IDF under Ariel Sharon were ignored.

    Nor was there any context given for these suicide bombings which were usually responses to IDF assassination of Hamas leaders, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, head and founder of Hamas, and his successor, Dr Rantissi.

    Some saw in these assassination, a strategy of Ariel Sharon of intentionally provoking such Palestinian responses such as suicide bombings in order to reap political benefit knowing the CNN and other media would giver full coverage to the deaths or injuries of civilians in Israel while ignoring the provocations for it or the many more Palestinian deaths at the hands of the Israeli army and air force.

    • I think Mr. Blitzer’s reporting is more nuanced than this description implies. He actually is among the few anchors who makes sure to interview prominent Arabs, and his long experience with the region is often an advantage. We all have our biases but just reading off people from their background is glib.

      • Absoulutley right, blitzer is as even handed as possible,fact is he pushes the Israelis on the civilian deaths in gaza every chance he gets…his religion and background not withstanding

      • Well, part of his background, Juan, is that he is thoroughly committed Zionist. There are a number of Youtube videos of him defending the establishment of the State of Israel and it great value to the world.

        I have never heard of him giving any defense of a Palestinian state or anything Palestinian.

        He is a polished professional. But both he and CNN have a pronounced bias.

      • Regardingwolf blitzer, I had read over the years of his ties to Israel, Zionism, etc. But a week or so ago, he reported (from the Israeli side of the border, on his knees on the ground, ducking for his life, it seems) of teenage IDF soldiers seen crying and weeping over the Hamas rockets, implying, to me anyway, that that is where his viewers’ sympathy should be placed. I wrote off CNN as a credible station for unbiased reporting at long last after that.

        • Go watch Blitzer’s debate with Norm Finkelstein. Blitzer has been protecting Israel and the I lobby for years. Has only made a small shift over the last five years. The spotlights are on him and the media. Trying to hop on the better late than never bus to cover his covering for Israel over the years.

          Blitzer has also repeated Israel’s propaganda about Iran.

  8. Ten years ago a documentary called “Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land’ explored US media failings on the subject of IP, partly by comparing coverage of the same events here and in Europe.

    It is still relevant.

    link to mediaed.org

  9. Not much of a TV watcher, but today I flipped on CNN before leaving the house. The slightly pro-Israel Madelaine Albright was followed by the extremely pro-Israel John McCain.

    • … the extremely pro-Israel John McCain.

      No surprise there. McCain would feel a kinship with any warmonger whose friends donate to his political campaigns. Then there was the time when his father helped to cover up the attack on the USS Liberty by the Israelis.

  10. The problem is not only that pro-Likud people and their allies get so much face time on television, but it is compounded by complicity of anchors who let Israel’s mouthpieces get away with their distortions. Has any anchor on the fawning corporate media ever responded to “Israel has a right to defend itself” with “Don’t the Palestinians have a right to resist oppression”? Or, “What would the people of Israel do if they were under the jackboot of some repressive regime”?

    • Pick-up the Philo interview at minute 17-18:00, where he talks about how pressure is brought to bear on individual people. If a guy like a Tom Brokaw was incensed enough to call Israel out publicly, the appropriate quality and quantity of pressure would be brought to bear to put him back in his place. It is hard to imagine ANY one reporter, producer, or anchor, who’d stand-up to pressure that can be modulated as high as it needs to go, both directly AND indirectly. Said reporter would find himself very, very cold and alone. This is very evil stuff.

  11. We in Scotland feel ashamed to be part of great Britain. The Scottish gov came as close to criticising Israel as any by offering medical help to any Palestine people hurt in fighting. Meanwhile the leader of UK expresses unconditional support for the killing of children.

    The media bias is endemic even in uk reporting. The uk equivalent of aipac has been busy bribing politicians

  12. Identifying “truth” in the context of seven decades of Middle East dispute is made easier by committing time and concentration to as many news sites as can be accessed. It seems the voices and attitudes manifest in this setting are reasoned, enlightened and to be taken seriously. Between the black and white exists the vast gray reality of half fact, non fact, hyperbole and mere supposition. The more you know the more you know you don’t know, you know?

  13. It isn’t just national news organizations that slant things Israel’s way. Here is the short account of the huge pro-Palestinian demo in Chicago last Sunday from WLS-TV (ABC), in front of whose studios thousands gathered to protest. Note the gratuitous inclusion of what I would call Jews in danger news, having nothing to do with the demo…

    CHICAGO (WLS) — Members of the Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine staged a rally downtown Sunday afternoon, marching to the Israeli Consulate in the Loop.

    Earlier they staged a “Die-In” outside Tribune Tower to commemorate the Palestinians killed in Gaza.

    Tensions overseas also spilled into the North Side Peterson Park neighborhood, where police were called to the 6300 block of North Monticello Saturday morning after anti-Israel letters were found on six cars.

    An ABC7 Eyewitness News viewer says the letters threatened to bomb Jewish residents in the neighborhood if Israel continued to bomb Gaza.

  14. Imagine this were about Liberia.

    Liberia has some interesting parallels with Israel, having been set up (a century earlier) as a nation for a group who had been enslaved and survived. Liberia was a unabashedly settler colonial project. There were indigenous people there too, who probably didn’t much like the colonists (whose heritage would have been from West Africa but not from the area of Liberia particularly) but had little power to do anything about it. The Americo-Liberians of the 1800s evidently admired their former oppressors, and lorded it over the indigenous people for a hundred years. Their dominance ended in 1980, and the following years were not pretty. But today they are a normal country with credible elections, where nobody seems to know or care whether the President is Americo-Liberian or not.

    The above is true. But imagine some things which are not true. What if Liberia had been the State of the Americo-Liberian people? Imagine the media in the USA (not only African Americans) cheering on the Liberian Defense Forces as they bombed their countrymen and women, bombing people who had Liberian citizenship or residency but not Liberian nationality, because they were not Americo-Liberian. Imagine critics of Liberia debating about the 1848 borders versus they 1867 borders, but nobody daring to suggest that Americo-Liberians and indigenous Liberians should simply be equal citizens. Well, maybe some expatriate Americo-Liberian klezmer player would suggest that, but everyone would denounce him.

  15. It seems that Rula Jebreal is paying the price for her disobedience to ADL & AIPAC; this is what she tweeted:

    “My forthcoming TV appearances have been cancelled! Is there a link between my expose and the cancellation? what about you @EliLake ?”
    link to twitter.com

  16. RT journalists resign, which shows that at least RT hires people with some ethics and backbone.

    The rest of the MSM, not so much.

    • MSNBC hired Cenk Uygur, but when he showed some ethics and backbone he was fired. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are long gone in the mainstream media.

  17. She is 100% correct! Very brave and very smart lady. She speaks as a true american would, freedom of speech, democracy and the press…

    I wish more of my fellow Americans would wake up, open their ears and eyes to what’s happening to our once great country.

    I am still an American, however, I am ashamed at what my country has become :( a money hungry shameful fraud.

    I look forward to seeing and hearing more about Rula Jebreal! I look forward to seeing my once great country actually stand for what’s right not for what’s the denomination :(

  18. On so many other issues, the media has been criticized (and rightfully so) for going out of their way to provide “balance.” Often this supposed balance has the effect of giving equal legitimacy to each of two differing points of view (e.g., if two climatologists are given airtime to discuss the reality of global warming, they must be “balanced” against two climate-change deniers, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of experts in the field agree that global warming is real).

    Putting the above example alongside media coverage of Israel/Palestine, we can see the glaring difference with respect to their purported efforts to provide balanced coverage.

    “Balance” via equal airtime for two divergent viewpoints seems to be the norm only when it can be used to influence public opinion. Coverage that is heavily skewed in favor of Israel is done for the same reason. A more equitable coverage, which in the case of Israel/Palestine is merited, would be antithetical to their unstated goals.

  19. Alternat affirms Rula Jebreal’s account: her contract was not renewed, and an NBC producer suggests Greenwald’s account of Ayman Mohyeldin’s removal from Gaza was closer to the truth than the NBC version of events.

  20. Tina McGugan

    @rulajebreal We need this debate! Protocol has always been “Israel can do no wrong”. W/this conflict, they’re *slowly* waking up.

  21. Ms Madwoman

    @rulajebreal Hell yeah. The news is reported as if Palestinians are not human. The death toll alone is alarming

  22. Rula was spot on. Although could have drawn a distinction between NBC’s and other outlets very recent shift reporting about the I/P conflict in a much more accurate way than ever before. Juan not sure where you came up with that NBC has been better than other outlets. I am a news junkie and watch many outlets as well as reading from the right left and center. NBC has not touched the issue accurately…but times are a changing. Eli Lake chose to ignore decades of evidence which backs up Rula’s point. Ronan Farrow, Joy Reid , Melissia harris Perry, Chris Hayes have been willing to shine the spotlight on the latest and serious flare up far more than Ed, Sharpton, Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’ Donnell not sure if this is a generational thing to the older host have seen others go down if they touched this issue in the past. Times are a changing in the news. But on the ground seems to be only getting worse for the Palestinians

    • The day after Rula called out Andrea Mitchell’s complicity by only having guest on who support Israel Andrea had Yousef Munayer on. I thought Rula would lose her job for pushing and calling Mitchell out.

  23. Fortunately for Israel the MSM is busy right now helping to rewarm the Cold War. Surfing the headlines one would conclude that Putin ordered the east Ukraine ethnic Russian rebels to shoot down a civilian airliner. Won’t be happy until Putin does a perp walk at the Hague.

    But Israel is being helped by the alarms raised about the Gaza tunnels. Sure, Israel has nukes, but Gaza has TUNNELS!!!!!

  24. It is so disheartening to see recent news:
    Both the House and the Senate passed UNANIMOUS support for Israel.
    link to tinyurl.com
    Moreover, congress has now doubled the amount sought by Obama for defense appropriations for Israel—$621 million for Israel missile defense. This is in addition to the annual $3.1 billion welfare package to Israel.
    Sequestration, fiscal discipline, nada to children at the border, repeal health care—all step aside as America cheers for the occupation and slaughter of Palestinians.
    When it comes to Israel, the Tea Party, Party Poopers, Libertarians, Liberals, Conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, left wing, right wing…everybody in America has nothing but love, love, love for Israel.
    Yes, Gaza killing R U.S.

    • Well said. These unanimous votes make the senate and the house complicit in the slaughter in Gaza. Instead of calling for a diplomatic resolution, Congress essentially said, “Go ahead and do your thing” knowing full well what Israel’s “thing” would be.

  25. Prime Minister Netanyahu has shown obvious and often rude preference for Republicans in the US. He extends this prejudice toward Secretary of State Kerry who is trying to stop the carnage in Gaza. Time for Israel to be concerned about living conditions in Gaza. Also time for Hamas to back down on their hatred of Israel and admit they can not destroy Israel. The solution is not military so stop the killings and begin to talk.

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