Former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman outlined a behind-the-scenes look at what he considers media bias against Israel in a presentation sponsored by the American Jewish Committee in Newton, MA on February 3rd.
Friedman recently published two stories about the media coverage of Israel titled, “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth” in Tablet and “What the Media Gets Wrong About Israel” in The Atlantic.
“The narrative of Israel is very carefully engineered,” said Friedman at Temple Emanuel.
Both stories received viral positive and negative attention. The overarching theme in both articles states that journalists craft their stories in the Gaza Strip to fit a single narrative of Israel as the ultimate perpetrator.
He lists several examples of publishing certain stories against the Associated Press’ code of conduct as long as they fit the Palestinian side of the story.
One of his examples is refusing to quote a pro-Israel NGO called Monitor who had made concessions about Israel’s war crimes, but accepting pro-Palestinian anonymous sources against the Associated Press ethics code.
The Associated Press issued a press release on Dec 1, 2014 refuting these claims.
“His [Friedman] arguments have been filled with distortions, half-truths and inaccuracies, both about the recent Gaza war and more distant events. His suggestion of AP bias against Israel is false. There’s no ‘narrative’ that says it is Israel that doesn’t want peace; the story of this century-long conflict is more complicated than that.”
The Director of the American Jewish Committee, Robert Leikind, introduced Friedman as “telling a different kind of story about Israel.”
Although the majority of the approximately 200 attendees were Jewish, many brought up varying viewpoints on Friedman’s claims. Some audience members nodded their heads in agreement fervently, others chose to leave early, and a couple dared to directly question him.
One attendant contested Friedman’s claim that the Associated Press’ Jerusalem Bureau hired up to 40 full time staff to make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the most important issue in the Middle East. Friedman’s peg was that the Associated Press only had 1 part time stringer in Syria, where thousands of more people were dying.
The attendee, who asked not to be named, directly refuted the claim and asked whether or not that could be seen as a safety issue rather than clear cut bias.
Despite the intensity of the discussion, Friedman stayed strong through the hot spots. He went as far as admitting fault on his part as a Jewish reporter.
“During my time at the AP, I was overcorrecting not to show bias,” Friedman said.
Friedman didn’t rest all blame on the press corps, though. He raised the point that no prior knowledge is required to cover conflicts such as these and gave the example of his coverage of the Russian invasion of Georgia.
“When you have a lack of knowledge, you’re more susceptible to group think,” said Friedman.
He also raised a concern about college students’ perceptions of Israel a few times throughout the event.
“Those are the ones that are going to be journalists and congressional aides. They’re the ones witnessing Israel being portrayed as a pariah,” he said.