Bangert is right about the connection between events in Gaza and those in Ferguson, Mo., but it is not exactly the one he had in mind. Both represent examples of journalistic malfeasance, the manufacture of a false narrative based on emphasizing certain facts and eliding others. In Ferguson, the narrative was that of an innocent black teenager gunned down by a white cop; in Gaza, one of Israel brutally bombing innocent Palestinian civilians.
The media described Michael Brown as a â€œgentle giant,â€ who was on his way to his grandmotherâ€™s house, just a few days short of the start of college, when he was shot six times by Officer Darren Wilson, despite being unarmed. Brownâ€™s companion at the time of the shooting described him as fleeing or as having his hands up.
That particular version of events did not long survive. The autopsy commissioned by Brownâ€™s family showed that he had been shot from the front and the point of entry of the four bullets in his arm made clear that his arms were not up. Indeed, the autopsy was fully consistent with the testimony of another witness that Brown was charging head down at Wilson when he was shot. The four bullets that struck the fleshy part of his arm would not have stopped a person of Brownâ€™s size. Only the sixth bullet through the top of the head would have done that. Those findings did not stop Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, however, from demanding Wilsonâ€™s prosecution or aging race hucksters Jesse Jackson Jr. and Al Sharpton from descending on Ferguson to fan the flames.
The â€œgentle giantâ€ turned out to not always be so gentle. A video camera from a nearby convenience store ten minutes or so prior to the shooting caught Brown and his companion stealing a box of cheap cigars and Brown roughly tossing aside the much smaller store clerk. CNNâ€™s Wolf Blitzer labeled release of the video a â€œsmearâ€ totally irrelevant to the real issue. No doubt he felt the same about the finding that Brown had marijuana in his system at the time of his death, and the information that the cheap cigars he stole are frequently used for ingesting other drugs.
A New York Times reporter apologized on behalf of the paper for describing Brown as â€œburly,â€ on the grounds that the word has racial connotations. In fact, it has none. The real apology was for calling attention to Brownâ€™s size, since it would clarify why the much smaller Wilson feared for his life and required six shots to fell Brown. Reports that Wilson suffered a broken orbital bone under his eye in an initial physical confrontation with Brown, after he instructed him and his companion to stop walking down the center of the road, further explained why Wilson feared for his life.
THE REPORTING OF THE RECENTLY CONCLUDED fighting in Gaza involved a similarly constructed narrative, most egregiously by theNew York Times, which summarized everything its readers needed to know in a simple chart of Israeli casualties versus Gazan casualties. Never mind that Hamas could have brought the hostilities to a close at any moment by stopping its rocket fire or that the placement of its tunnels and rockets in built-up civilian areas effectively ensured that civilians would be killed when Israel responded to indiscriminate attacks on its cities and towns.
Photos of the damage to Gaza from Israel military action dominated the Times front pages, but the paper of record and the rest of the mainstream press were apparently unable to photograph Hamas firing rockets at Israel from schools, mosques, hospitals and private homes. Only TV crews from Finland and India managed to do that. Apparently, no one told them of the agreed narrative â€“ brutal Israel kills innocent Palestinians. Nor were they clued in on Hamasâ€™ orders to journalists not to photograph its rocket fire.
In a must-read piece in Tablet, Matti Friedman, who served in the APâ€™s Jerusalem bureau from 2006 to 2011 as a reporter and editor, dissects the tropes of reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and shows how the Gazan reporting was part of a larger pattern.
In the dominant narrative, Israel is the only party with agency; the Palestinians are irrelevant. The media has decided that the Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, and so it takes for granted that they do. In that narrative, Palestinians are always moderates and Israel the perpetually recalcitrant party. Anything that does not support that narrative is suppressed. Thus, in 2009, two AP reporters produced a major scoop, replete with maps, of then Prime Minister Ehud Olmertâ€™s generous peace offer and the Palestinian rejection, but the top editors refused to print it.
The Hamas Charter is seldom mentioned in reporting about Gaza, for it belies the Palestinian desire for a two-state solution and links Hamas to the radical Islamists happily chopping off peopleâ€™s heads in Syria, Iraq and Nigeria.
When the APâ€™s Jerusalem news editor submitted a story about Hamas intimidation of journalists, his higher-ups refused to publish it. Friedman relates how she once excised from a story she was editing mention of the fact that Hamas fighters wear civilian clothing and are counted as civilian casualties in order not to endanger AP reporters in Gaza. While the AP relentlessly pursues every chink in Israeli society, Friedman was told that a proposed piece on Palestinian Authority corruption was â€œnot the story.â€
Coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict typically omits all regional context. The mere name Israeli-Palestinian, rather than the Israeli-Arab or Israeli-Muslim conflict, is a distortion, for it pits powerful Israel against weak Palestinians, rather than a beleaguered Israel surrounded by hostile neighbors on almost every border.
By ripping the Israeli-Palestinian dispute from the larger Middle East context, Israelâ€™s position dwelling on the slope of a volcano of Islamic fanaticism is obscured. Thus, the media has largely ignored the emerging Israel-Egypt-Saudi alliance to combat some of the most volatile forms of Islamic fanaticism, and the extent to which Egypt was a silent partner in fighting Hamas.
WHY IS THE MEDIA DRAWN to simplistic morality tales? One answer is the desire to avoid thinking about problems far more serious and intractable. The way Michael Brown died is rare, but young black lives are cut off prematurely every day. In 2012, Chicago experienced over forty murders per month â€“ almost all of it black-on-black killing. But that barely raises an eyebrow. Increased policing can bring that rate down, as Chicago has done over the last two years, but we have no answer to the endemic violence and low regard for human life of Americaâ€™s inner cities. So better not to think about it.
Unless one believes that Officer Wilson would have acted differently if a 6â€™4â€, 300-pound white man had been barreling at him, his actions had nothing to do with racism. But saturation coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown is more pleasant than contemplating the fact that blacks are 25 times as likely to commit crimes against whites as vice versa, and the ratio grows the more violent the crime.
Israel, too, receives obsessive news coverage. The APâ€™s Israel bureau of forty staffers is far larger than the China or Russia bureaus. Until the outbreak of civil war, the AP had only one reporter in Syria. Yet, in 2013, the Israel-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives, while the Syrian civil war has claimed nearly 200,000 to date. Of the 11 million Muslims killed in Middle East wars since 1948, .3% have been killed by Israel, yet it is that sliver that gets all the attention.
After decades of proclaiming the Israel-Palestinian conflict the key to all Middle East deformities, even President Obamaâ€™s former Special Envoy to the Middle East, Martin Indyk, admitted in a Foreign Policy interview last week that America today has no â€œstrategic interest in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.â€ It has far more important matters at hand, like a self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate holding vast areas of Syria and Iraq, while training thousands of Western jihadis, and with operatives reportedly operating on the other side of the United Statesâ€™ porous southern border. But who wants to think about that?
Simple morality tales provide the purveyors with confirmation of their essential goodness. For those who live in gated communities and rarely interact with a black person not of their social class, lamenting Americaâ€™s endemic racism puts them back at the vanguard of the civil rights struggle. And this in a country that twice elected as president a black man, without a drop of relevant experience, who has proven to be a complete duffer in every way.
The narrative of Israeli brutality and â€œgenocideâ€ against the Palestinians provides a different sort of salve for the consciences of European nations, who either participated or were complicit in the Holocaust: The Jews are no better. And for many Jewish liberals eager to proclaim their growing alienation from Israel, judging their Israeli brethren in the harshest possible light serves as a moral badge of courage.
And finally, there are the more malevolent explanations. TheNew York Times headlined this week that a high black turnout is the key to Democratsâ€™ hopes of retaining the Senate. And the subhead set out the means for doing so with remarkable frankness: â€œMove to Channel Anger.â€ No group has fallen further behind in the six years of the Obama presidency than blacks. Nothing like a little faux racism to distract them. No wonder serial inciter Al Sharpton became the White House â€œgo-to guyâ€ on race relations.
As for Israel, Matti Friedman sums it up well: â€œWhen the people responsible for explaining the world to the world, journalists, cover the Jewsâ€™ war as more worthy of attention than any other, when they portray the Jews of Israel as the party obviously in the wrong, when they omit all possible justifications for the Jewsâ€™ actions and obscure the true face of their enemies, what they are saying to their readers . . . is that Jews are the worst people on earth.â€