At the beginning of their classic Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman pondered the proposition that “media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth, and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived.”
We all know how that story turns out. Media often functions as a propagandistic tool that turns the truth on its head. The best example of this upside-down image can be observed in the dichotomous journalism of Western media on Palestine and Ukraine.
By legal and international definitions, Gaza and Ukraine bear many unquestionable similarities to one another — from suffering daily air strikes to the bombardment of civilian targets and the obstruction of humanitarian aid by an authoritarian power that seeks control over both respective territories. In Ukraine’s case, the West and its media newsrooms instantly and unanimously came to the support of Ukrainians and the vilification of Russia. Yet, in Palestine’s case, Western leaders, supported by their legions of media outlets, have practically condemned everyone from Hamas to Iran but have continuously refused to hold Israel accountable for any of its actions.
In actuality, many Western media outlets keep on insisting that Ukraine and Israel are the victims that share similar aggressions from unlawful and heinous invaders. This narrative is sponsored by many Western leaders such as the United States President Joe Biden and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who have both attempted to paint Ukraine and Israel as two democracies in a struggle against evil. How is Western media creating this narrative and why is it invested in spreading it?
In Western countries, much of the public has been taken in by this media narrative, especially during the first stages of the war on Gaza. According to Amer Aroggi, a Palestinian residing in Ukraine, while Ukraine and Gaza were both under air strikes from Russia and Israel, many Ukrainians showed their support and empathy towards Israel instead of Gaza. Aroggi argues that it was due to “massive propaganda.”
While it seems incredible that media propaganda could distort reality to such an extent, the conclusion also seems unavoidable. In an interview on Sky News, Palestinian journalist Yara Eid confronted the Sky News reporter for her double standard and selective reporting on topics such as the aggression committed daily against Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank. There is nothing new about Western media’s tunnel vision. Back in 2008, throughout Israel’s Cast Lead operation, a study found that although Palestinians died at a rate “106 times greater than Israelis” “the New York Times engaged in a practice of media bias that resulted in coverage of only 3% of Palestinian deaths in the headlines and first paragraphs.”
Other features of Western media coverage are decontextualization and overgeneralization. In his second interview on the Piers Morgan Show, Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef criticized Western media on two major grounds — first, for their failure to contextualize events in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without this context, Palestinians come across as simple aggressors who abruptly choose to attack Israel. Second, he lambasted the press for their attempt to depict Palestinians as mere generic Arabs who should seek refuge in other Arabic countries like Egypt and Jordan, denying them their peoplehood.
Yet another characteristic of journalistic malpractice has to do with sanitizing language. In 2021, many journalists came together to publish an open letter condemning American news outlets for their refusal to use terms such as “apartheid”, “ethnic cleansing”, and “genocide” to describe Israeli actions in Palestine. According to the letter, experts agree that these terms are appropriate to describe what’s happening in Palestine, but editors avoid them.
And no wonder. Chris McGreal at The Guardian reported this week that the American cable news channel CNN has for years essentially allowed the Israeli government to censor and shape its coverage of the Mideast, to the extent that professional correspondents working at the channel privately accuse it of “journalistic malpractice.”
It isn’t only CNN. At the end of 2023, almost 1500 journalists from different newsrooms signed another open letter condemning the killing of journalists in Gaza by the Israeli military and the censorship and biased coverage of the war on Gaza by Western media. In this letter, journalists blame Western media outlets for biased reporting and spreading misinformation that, in their words, have “undermined Palestinian, Arab and Muslim perspectives, dismissing them as unreliable and have invoked inflammatory language that reinforces Islamophobic and racist tropes.”
All this isn’t even to take into account the way media shapes perceptions by simply not reporting important stories. Israeli indiscriminate bombing can kill hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza in a 24-hour period but this news may simply be ignored on channels such as CNN. If only 50% of Americans feel that Israel has gone too far in killing some 27,000 Palestinians after an attack that left a little over 1100 Israelis dead, it is in part because the 50% who do not feel this way watch channels such as Fox and CNN and have not seen the daily, intensive carnage, which is clearly visible on social media outlets such as TikTok favored by younger viewers.
These journalistic practices have distorted the conversation surrounding Gaza. But to say so still begs the question, why? What is the reasoning behind backing Ukraine and demonizing Palestinians?
To answer this question, we must revisit Chomsky and Herman’s book, where they claim that the Western media is conditioned to “Concentrate on the victims of enemy powers and forget about the victims of friends.” Hence, media outlets are not just reporters of what’s happening but “are subjective co-creators of the shifting global order in a bigger game of geopolitics”.
So as Eva Połońska-Kimunguyi points out,
- “When the aggressor is Russia, the pronounced enemy of the liberal West, the media message generates anger at the atrocities committed, sympathy and solidarity towards the victims. When the liberal West drops bombs on Middle Eastern and African towns and populations, information silence descends on the media”.
In this case, when Israel, the ally of the US and the West in the Middle East commits war crimes, editors at the big media corporations seem to feel that their job is to paper over these atrocities to protect an ally. Let’s not forget that old video showing President Joe Biden proclaiming in the Senate “[Israel] is the best 3 billion dollar investment [the United States] made…were there not an Israel, the United States would have to invent an Israel to protect our interests in the region (Middle East).”