Saturday, December 3, 2011

What is it with American news media?
by Fred & Gloria Strickert

"What is it with American news media?" the question was addressed to me by an American tourist this past week.  Visitors often raise similar questions.

"We never hear about these things in the newspapers or on television news."

"We have seen it with our own eyes.  The wall.  The checkpoints.  The inequalities.  You never hear about this back home."

"Why is American news so slanted?"

Every week I meet with visitors from the States, who come to hear about the work of the church in Jerusalem.  Usually by the end of the conversation a hand goes up.  "But what about the political situation?"
or "This trip has been an eye opener." 
"What is it with our American media?'

I don't attempt to answer the why question.  I'm not an expert on media.  I simply affirm these visitors' perceptions, relating that my experience with the media over several decades has been much the same.

I encourage them to go online and to try to read a number of sources.  "Multiple perspectives are always good," I usually tell them.  I always point them to where a person can quickly see that in Israel a healthy debate can occur in a single newspaper, something rare in American sources.

I get up each morning before 6:00 a.m. to read several news sites online.

This morning on I saw the headline
"'Get to the damn table,' Israel told."
Now that's rather strong language.  Who might be saying that?  Someone from the UN? the European Union? Jordan? 

If you are familiar with the CNN main webpage, there are a few photos with feature pieces in the center of the page and a list of headlines for major stories going down the left side of the page.

"'Get to the damn table,' Israel told" was the lead headline in a list of 15.
This was clearly considered an important story.

I clicked to see a photo of Leon Panetta, U.S. Secretary of Defense, looking rather exasperated.

Photo: Getty Images

CNN caption: U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has urged Israel to get to the "damn table" in peace talks

The story included this important quote from Panetta, "The problem right now is we can't get them [the Israelis] to the damn table to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences."  He was talking about peace talks with Palestinians, and then went on to talk about their refusal to enter diplomatic discussions with Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan.

What a surprise!  From my perspective, it seems like such accusations from the Obama Administration and from both houses of Congress are always aimed at the Palestinians, betraying the U.S. government as anything but "an honest broker."

This time it was addressed to Israel: "Get to the damn table."

The story was not written by an intern or a reporter from a Middle Eastern city, but by Jen Rizzo CNN National Security Producer.

So what's the problem?  Doesn't this mean that CNN is out there doing its job reporting both sides of the story?
Not exactly.

The story is missing from the U.S. edition of the CNN website.
It's there in a prominent position on the International edition.
But if you are an American clicking on CNN US edition, you might never know about this piece of news.

It surely isn't a matter of space.  The U.S. edition included 23 headlines more than the 15 headlines on the International edition.  Although admittedly the U.S. edition had to make room for
"The week's top 10 Celeb Quotes,"
"Gun-themed purse delays teen flier,"
"Student smashes window with butt"
Yet there still was not room for this rather significant headline, and if there is no link, how will the browser ever find the story? 

Scrolling down the CNN webpage  (, I find a few more secondary headlines divided by topic:
U.S. news:  not there!
World news: not there!
Poitical news: not there!
Video stories: not there!

But if you look at the International edition, it's the top story.

This is not an isolated story.   As background, note two particular stories that have been front and center in these last weeks-- perhaps they have been reported in the States, perhaps not:

1) Haaretz reported from Israeli government sources that the Palestinian Authority already submitted to the Quartet on Nov. 14 their proposal for boundaries based on the 1967 green line with 1.9 % designated for land swaps.  This came in response to the Quartet's request to restart talks when President Abbas applied for statehood at  the UN.  In other words, they have complied, while the Netanyahu government refuses to comply and has no interest in restarting the peace talks-- as stated in the Haaretz article.

2) Leon Panetta himself has made several trips to Tel Aviv in the last month appealing unsuccessfully for Israel to give assurances that it will not act unilaterally and secretly against Iran, and he and the US military have been reported as growing impatient with lack of cooperation by the Israeli Defense Minister.

You can just imagine Mr. Panetta uttering those words, "Get to the damn table."  It wasn't a mistake.  It wasn't a mike left on. It wasn't a misquote.  It's clear frustration.  And so it's news.  News that needs reporting.

The story was posted  Saturday monring 05:42 GM -- that's 7:42 Jerusalem time.
As I write, it is now 4:30 p.m. and the article still does not appear on the U.S. edition
of America's 24/7 Trusted News Source.  Hopefully it will eventually appear, but one would think in this fast-paced world of technology, they could just push a button and link the story.

Within a half hour of the posting of the story on CNN International, Haaretz had a watered down headline on their website, "Panetta urges Israel to 'reach out' to Turkey, Egypt, and Palestinians."  At least they reported on the gist of the discussion.

What is it with the American news media?

A number of years ago I was interviewed by a reporter for Newsweek or Time, I don't remember. A week later I received an email from a missionary friend in Tanzania who told me he had read the article including my quotes and was impressed by the balance in the presentation of Palestinian and Israeli sides of the story. "Maybe Americans are starting to wake up." he wrote. Not really. The article never appeared in the American edition of the weekly newsmagazine. It only appeared in the International edition. Again, it should be emphasized that this was a balanced piece, yet it did not appear in print in the States. 

It seems that the American media know how to report the news, they just filter it for American audiences.
And this may explain a lot when one wonders why America stands apart from much of the world.

As far as the discrepancies between CNN US edition and CNN International Edition, it's become obvious since the day we arrived in Jerusalem.  My laptop at home is my personal laptop-- set to the CNN US edition, but the laptop in my office at church is set to the International edition of CNN.  It didn't take long to notice, that the news stories that I would read on the latter were not the same as those when I'd check at home first thing in the morning.

On May 15, when Palestinian refuges in commemoration of the Palestinian al-Nakba (the catastrophe) tried to cross the border from Lebanon and Syria and dozens were gunned down by the Israeli army, there were two totally different stories, both presented by CNN, one based solely on official Israeli Defense Force sources and the other including IDF sources and reports on the ground by witnesses and medical personnel.
The former was posted on the CNN- US edition.  The latter on the CNN- International website.

The IDF wised up years ago that what matters most is getting their version of the story out first, irrespective of the truth.  And it seems that's the version that gets reported in the States while the serious journalists take a bit longer to get the real story--sometimes too late for short attention spans.

A similar thing happened at the end of the summer.  August 25 came toward the end of a rather violent week. A terror attack had killed seven Israelis in Southern Israel--universally condemned.  Eventually, a number of individuals from the Sinai were found responsible.  The attack, however, was followed by Israel bombing Gaza, then rockets fired from Gaza against southern Israel.  Then more bombing.

When I checked the CNN website early that Thursday morning there were two totally different accounts, one on the US edition, one on the International edition.  When I checked at 8:25 a.m. it had not changed.

Under the headline " Israel warplanes strike Gaza," the US edition reported,
  • "Israeli aircraft were in action Wednesday morning in at least three strikes against militants who targeted Israelis, the country's military said. The Israel Defense Forces claimed a "direct hit" on Zadi Ismail Asmar, whom it said was a weapons smuggler affiliated with Islamic Jihad."
In fairness I must say that these are just the first sentences of a longer report  that described the attacks and deaths on Israeli civilians in southern Israel and reports that the bombing of Gaza was a response. The source of the report was the Israeli military, describing the attacks on "militants."

Under the same headlinee on the same day at the same time, the international edition reported,
  •         'Israeli warplanes struck several times Wednesday and early Thursday along the country's border with Gaza, killing three people and wounding several others, medical sources told CNN.  Early Thursday, an Israeli warplane shot missiles at a social club in northern Gaza, killing two people and wounding 20, including women and children, medical sources said.  On Wednesday, an air strike on a tunnel between Rafa and Egypt left three people seriously wounded, the sources said.  The Israel Defense Forces said that an Israeli warplane hit an Islamic Jihad militant from the city of Rafa who was involved in smuggling weapons "and sought the execution of terrorist activity in Sinai."
 Unlike the first report, this included on-the-ground sources.  It also noted that the victims included more than just "militants" but regular civilians gathered in a social club.  It would appear that this article was written later than the first.  Yet it is curious why in this age of technology, the story was not also posted on the US edition for an American audience.  I checked back several times during the day, but I didn't see the American story updated to show that ordinary Palestinians are also victims.  Maybe it was added later, but I didn't see it.

What is it with the American news media?

We've been asking that question for years.

Now we face that question each week from visitors who see a great discrepancy between the way the story is reported in the newspapers, on the nightly news, and by the large cable news networks.

The best solution is to seek multiple sources and to ask critical questions.  Check out international news media.
americans for peace now
Churches for Middle East Peace

And if you want to rely on CNN, go to the upper left hand corner of your website, and choose the International edition.  Of course, you might miss the latest on the Kardashians, Demi and Ashton, and Ms. Lohan. 

by Fred & Gloria Strickert