Are the American media biased in favor of Israel, as some liberals claim? No, unless you define the American media as conservative commentators and columnists.
Admittedly, most conservatives, including those in the media, tend to be pro-Israel. Among the reasons are that they believe that Israel, the only democracy and reliable ally in the region, occupies the moral high ground in this conflict. Israel didn’t acquire the disputed lands in Gaza and the West Bank through unprovoked territorial aggression but in the process of defending herself from attack.
Conservatives are also more realistic in their recognition of the long-term goal of the Palestinians to exterminate Israel and of the dangers inherent in Israel forfeiting the very land that will facilitate that goal by making her infinitely more vulnerable to attack.
Christian conservatives, as a rule, are even more ardently pro-Israel. They take seriously God’s Biblically revealed promises to Abram/Abraham that He will make a great nation out of him, that the Holy Land will belong to the nation of Israel as an everlasting possession, and that those who bless Israel will be blessed while those who curse her will be cursed.
On the other hand, I admit to bafflement at liberalism’s inhospitality to the Israeli cause and even more so at the Jewish communities’ overwhelming liberalism and seeming unwillingness to hold liberals accountable for this slight.
But what about the media’s bias? On April 8, the Chicago Tribune ran a commentary asserting, "readers are likely to read stronger criticisms of [Israeli Prime Minister] Sharon’s policies in the Israeli than in the U.S. media."
The author cited a column by Nation magazine columnist Eric Alterman, who opined that "the punditocracy debate of the Middle East in America is dominated by people who cannot imagine criticizing Israel." Alterman offered a list of 62 American "columnists and commentators who can be counted upon to support Israel reflexively and without qualification." He only named five who are reflexively anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian, and seven who are neutral.
In his concluding paragraph, Alterman observed, "the entire anti-Israel contingent of the punditocracy does not add up to a single George Will or William Safire, much less a Wall Street Journal or U.S. News."
Apart from being implacably devastated at not being included on any of the lists, I must take exception to the thrust of Alterman’s piece. In the first place, the overwhelming majority of the pro-Israel 62, with notable exceptions such as Alan Dershowitz, are conservatives. So the list may say more about the predominance of conservatives among influential columnists than it does about the leanings of the media overall on the Middle East situation.
Next, with only two exceptions I could find, Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schlessinger, all are columnists -- not TV or radio commentators. Alterman omits from his lists and from his discussion in general any mention of the anchors and personalities on the major television networks. (For example, he makes no mention of Katie Couric’s conspicuous pro-Palestinian views or those of Peter Jennings or Dan Rather.)
Also, Alterman barely acknowledges any influence of the nation’s mostly liberal editorial boards on the issue. Those he does cite, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, he curiously places in the pro-Israel category.
More importantly, Alterman fails to factor in the selection, placement and slant of "news stories" on the major networks and in the liberal print media. These thinly veiled and unacknowledged biases are far more insidious because they pass for objective reporting. At least readers of columns or listeners/viewers of broadcast commentaries know they are getting commentary and can weigh that in their assessment of the opinions.
A cursory glance at the front page of April 8’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch illustrates the point. The lead story is entitled "Israel defies U.S. appeal to pull back." Just below it appears another story, under the headline "Multiplying Miseries in West Bank, Palestinians report shortages, Israeli looting." But front-page reference to a third article took the cake. The blurb read: "Suicide bombings are labeled a success: Leading Palestinian militants say they have terrorized Israelis and damaged the Israeli economy." The cumulative effect of these "news" stories is bound to be profound. This type of "reporting" abounds in the liberal print media throughout this country.
So while the pro-Israeli position is undoubtedly represented in the media, it is usually accompanied with truthful packaging. Most of the pro-Palestinian slant is comparatively covert. Media bias concerning the Middle East, then, turns out to be a microcosm of overall media bias. Just as the liberal mainstream media deny their bias in general, they deny their specific predisposition against Israel.
Somebody please tell Mr. Alterman -- and while you’re at it, get me on his list.