The Quiet Clues: Noting and Interpreting Bias in Presentation

In a radio interview yesterday, I mentioned as an example of the skew of MSM handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict that while pictures of Palestinian children grieving over their dead family members killed by Israel were common, now that the bloodletting has Palestinians killing Palestinians — including children, intentionally — you don’t see those pictures any more. If you will, a discreet silence. But upon viewing the NYT, I thought I was suddenly disproved by the paper. There, on the front page, was a classic piece of what would normally be a classic Palestinian theme: a girl mourning over her dead father, killed by Israelis.

pn girl mourns

Oh, I thought, I was wrong. The Grey Lady herself has printed on the front page a picture of Palestinian suffering inflicted by Palestinians (whom, as readers of this blog know, I consider the main contributors to Palestinian suffering). But then I read the caption.

Eyad Albaba/Associated Press
A girl mourned over the body of a militant who was killed Wednesday in the Gaza Strip. At least six Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank.

Turns out, according to the original caption, presumably supplied by the photographer, Eyed Albaba, it was Israelis who did the killing:

A Palestinian girl mourns over the body of militant Ahmad Al Abdullah, who was killed in an Israeli army raid, during his funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, June 20, 2007.

Of course, it’s probable that the only such shots Palestinian cameramen take of mourning people involve those killed by Israelis. For example, of the five photos available on one list from AP that depict mourners and funerals, all of them are of Palestinians killed by Israelis. Indeed, would any Palestinian show such public pathos at a funeral where she might get in trouble for expressing the wrong sympathies?

But my guess is, that even with some photos of people mourning Palestinians killed by Palestinians, it would be hard for the Grey Lady to put them on the front page. It would violate too directly the image that they persistently pitch, of the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian David. So here, in the midst of a bloodfest between Palestinians, they not only get a hold of a photo of someone killed by Israelis, but put it on the front page. Nor did the article discuss such gruesome matters as the forms of Hamas’ “economy of violence.”

This problem of “balance” — which is actually a profound imbalance, since the media has no hesitation showing and discussing Israeli “crimes and massacres” without any need to refer even to Palestinian provocation — permeates the world of anti-Zionism, making “progressive” voices, so full-throated in their denunciation of Zionist crimes all of a sudden grow frogs when it comes to denouncing Palestinian sins. In a well-documented essay, Dexter Van Zile discusses how the “mainline” Protestant churches fall into this pattern:

Churches that have been quick to blame Israel had a frog stuck in their collective throats when three children of a Palestinian Authority official were murdered outside their school in late November 2006. These same churches remained silent when the violence began again in earnest on June 11 and said nothing when Hamas claimed victory on June 14. Instead of speaking about the violence on their own, they have for the most part, relied on statements issued by Christian leaders in Jerusalem and by the the World Council of Churches to serve as their “prophetic witness.”

This might be tolerable if the statements from the Christian leaders in Jerusalem and from the WCC were authentic and truthful responses to Hamas’s brutal takeover of the Gaza Strip, but predictably, the message from both groups is, in effect, “It’s Israel’s fault.”

I thought about both this image and the Protestant Churches again as I read the following exchange in the comments at my blog:

A comment Joanne made to a post fisking Augustus Norton brought out one of the dimensions of the problem.

As for his critique that the Bush administration was warned about pushing for elections too soon, I think the Bush administration was indeed foolish. Here Norton is right. But it’s interesting to see how Norton takes a swipe at Israel here. He says that Bush was warned not to hold the election by “key regional allies.” Not surprisingly, Israel was among those giving this advice:

Notice how Norton doesn’t mention Israel directly as sharing credit for this wise advice. He avoids giving credit to Israel by retreating into vague language. This is a small point, and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but sometimes these small omissions speak volumes about someone’s biases.

This all reminds me of when I shopped Pallywood and al Durah around to the MSM. “No appetite for this… we couldn’t do just this, we’d have to do something on Israeli manipulation of the media too…” In other words, showing the data in a way that starkly exposes how morally repugnant Palestinian behavior somehow sticks in people’s throats. It has to be “balanced” by what Israel does wrong, or it will somehow “tip the balance,” as if, in a case of vicious asymmetrical warfare, the job of the media is to keep the balance from tipping, to compensate for the “weak side”‘s weakness by propping up it’s PR.

In the case of Norton, the silence on his sharing the same opinion as the Israelis is interesting. He could, after all, have said: “even the Israelis warned Bush…” Or alternatively, he could have presented the Israelis as having an anti-democratic agenda… [but then that's also his position]. If it’s an unconscious move to avoid open association with Israel, then I’d explain it as follows. Israel is the kid that everyone in the schoolyard picks on right now. If you dump on them, it’s hard to go wrong. This is particularly true of the playground where the Arabs play (Norton’s actual field of scholarly endeavor), where by even saying something remotely favorable (or not sufficiently critical) of Israel can alienate people whose ears are attuned for insult. So the last thing someone like Norton wants to do, is to seem to favorable to the pariah state.

But as Joanne asks: “Is this reading too much in?” After all, it could rather just be shorthand for “Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.” And, to be generous, this may possibly the case with Norton.

But another commenter, Eliyahu agreed with Joanne, and pointed to the interesting if not compelling circumstantial evidence — namely that it reflects the dishonesty by ommission that permeates North’s analysis:

Norton either cannot see this or he is simply inventing excuses for besmirching Israel and helping to put Israel in an inferior geostrategic situation. And I think that Joanne may be right about Norton’s significant omission.

In other words, consciously and/or unconsciously, in both his advice and his prose, and like his British colleagues at the UCU, and the Protestants at the WCC, Norton has already begun the disappearing of Israel that his subjects of study have demanded of him. To take Israel’s side, even in something as small as sharing the same assessment of a policy, may be just to much of a “bad show,” in Arab circles where Norton clearly feels most at home.

Dhimma in academia? Good question.

Truth to power? Fuggedaboudid.

6 Responses to The Quiet Clues: Noting and Interpreting Bias in Presentation

  1. Joanne says:

    “After all, it could rather just be shorthand for ‘Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.’ And, to be generous, this may possibly the case with Norton.”

    Yeah, I had thought of that, too. So before finishing my comment last time, I did a quick Google search, though I concentrated on Egypt and Saudi Arabia, not Jordan. That’s how I came across the one link I put in that comment. I didn’t find any references to the US’ ARAB allies warning against having elections.

    I tried another Google search this time, again not all that extensive but longer than the last time, and this time I included Jordan. But I still found nothing about Arab allies. There were some articles about what Egypt and Saudi Arabia had to say to Hamas AFTER it had won power, but I didn’t open those.

    Here are three further references I did find, and I’ve included brief descriptions:

    http://www.jcpa.org/brief/brief005-8.htm
    Dore Gold mentions in 2005 that the Israelis opposed letting Hamas participate in the Palestinian elections. You’ll find that in the first sentence of the piece.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4548282.stm
    I just skimmed this article, but I found two relevant references to Israel right next to each other: The article says that Tzipi Livni had said it was not in Israel’s interests to oppose Hamas’ participation. But then you read: “Israeli officials have warned that the peace process will end if Hamas becomes the dominant Palestinian political party.”

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/01/26/news/vote.php This is from the International Herald Tribune. The article says that the Mideast was “stunned” by Hamas’ victory. It said that Israelis warned the world not to indulge in wishful thinking and assume that Hamas will suddenly change its goals. The only reference I found regarding Arabs warning against a Hamas victory was in this article. It says that the Fatah prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, had warned President Mahmoud Abbas against holding the elections.

    So that’s what I found. Only one warning, and that was from a member of Fatah.

    Please don’t regard this as conclusive; it was just a shot in the dark. I am still inclined to believe that Israel’s wasn’t the only government in the region that warned against the election. Still, I’m puzzled that I found nothing. Maybe the Arab governments spoke to members of the Bush administration privately while hedging their bets in public.

  2. fp/http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/ says:

    And you are still optimistic?

    We’ll see how at home Norton will feel in the arab world as a real dhimmi. Nothing but that is the antidote to his quasi-analysis.

  3. Richard Landes says:

    i don’t know how poetic, but it’s justly deserved. a recent poll indicates that the public has less confidence in their MSM newsproviders than in either the president or congress.
    civil society cannot survive without trust. trust must be earned. civil society only survives by merit.

  4. fp\http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/ says:

    yes, but for some reason i don’t think their distortion of the ME/islamism content is the cause for loss of trust. but no matter.

    PBS had a frontline about the print media: the general thrust of mgmt is profits and how they could improve the bottom line by focusing entirely on local news: where to go buy things, sales, when kids should go play soccer, etc. iow: if now society is ignorant and dumbed down, just watch what happens in a few years of this.

    i’ve been buying the SF chronicle weekends for several years and it has continuously deteriorated to the point where it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to read except all sort of mindless puff crap. after realizing i was buying it for the tv schedule only, i stopped and am using the online schedule.

    there is no longer serious print media in the US and, what is worse, no audience for serious information. hence my claim that the us is going down the drain. it’s this weakness on which the barbarians pound.

  5. Bruce Kodish says:

    Gee, I sure feel glad that there’s no anti-semitism anymore!

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