The differences between those in the media who support and those who oppose Israel have never been clearer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean readers and viewers have gotten a better picture of the current conflict with Hamas.
Although I don’t like to criticize my conservative colleagues in the media, talk-radio hosts and television analysts have created a dichotomy of good versus evil. In the 35 years since I arrived in Lebanon for Newsweek, I have tried to provide a more nuanced view than that.
Radio host Michael Medved promoted his viewpoint that Israel stood for all that is good and Hamas for all that is evil. I decided to call the show to provide my analysis of why Hamas had decided to take on Israel.
Hamas had lost the support of Egypt while the organization’s other allies, Iran and Hezbollah, had turned their attention toward Iraq and Syria. By provoking Israel, Hamas stood to gain international and regional financial support and recognition. That’s exactly what has happened. But Mr. Medved stuck to the good-versus-evil scenario. The actions of Hamas of putting Palestinians in Gaza in harm’s way are cynical, but evil? That’s overly simplistic and provides little understanding about the conflict.
On the other side of the media aisle, some pro-Palestinian viewpoints have spewed forth.
Jon Snow, a prominent television journalist from Britain, provided a moving, yet far from balanced, account of the injuries and deaths of civilians, particularly children, in Gaza. His commentary included video of two seriously injured young girls.
“I can’t get those images out of my mind. I don’t think you can either, because they’ve been everywhere. They are the essence of what is happening in Gaza,” he said in a commentary on Channel 4. “We cannot let it go on.”
A variety of troubling incidents have occurred in the U.S. media, particularly among the major television networks. For example, Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC, tweeted the following last week: “This is no precision war against #Hamas. It’s punishment. #Israel’s way of telling #Gaza: If you fire rockets, your neighborhood will face devastation. WATCH my report.”
Earlier, NBC pulled Ayman Mohyeldin, who had been in Gaza, reportedly for his pro-Palestinian views. The action seemed particularly odd because Mr. Mohyeldin and his team had just gotten some disturbing video. He had played soccer with four boys who were killed moments later by Israeli fire. A week later, Mr. Mohyeldin, an Egyptian-American based in Los Angeles, was sent back to Gaza.
At CNN, Diana Magnay was reassigned to Russia after a tweet in which she labeled as “scum” a group of Israelis who cheered missile explosions in Gaza.
What conservatives and liberals generally agree upon, however, is the lack of influence the Obama administration, particularly Secretary of State John F. Kerry, has to stop the battle between Hamas and Israel.
Israeli newspapers and government officials railed against Mr. Kerry’s attempt to involve Qatar and Turkey, two supporters of Hamas, as brokers of a cease-fire while ignoring Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, which oppose Hamas. The firestorm swept through the Washington media, with Mr. Kerry pointing out at a news conference his “devotion to the protection of the state of Israel.
What seems clear, however, is that he and a variety of media analysts have lost their role as impartial observers in the current war — a position many have found themselves in when it comes to the Middle East. As a result, the public unfortunately has no greater understanding of what is going on and its importance to the U.S. and the world.
• Christopher Harper teaches journalism at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @charper51.