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May 11, 1984 - Image 15

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-05-11

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

than with machine guns." Taken in
sum total, the press did a good job in
Lebanon, Lipsky feels, because all of
us know whatever we know about the
war from the press — not any one
newspaper or news show or magazine
but a combination — and we all tend
to feel we have a pretty good under-
standing of the situation." Lipsky
said it is time to "stop trying to blame
the messenger" for Israel's political
problems.
Ambassador Evron, normally a
reticent man, told the group that he
was "provoked" by a number of re-
marks made at the opening session
and he stressed that most American
correspondents in the Mideast lack
knowledge of the area and its prob-
lems and "are not the best." He said
that during his three-year tenure in
Washington virtually every govern-
ment leak that reflected poorly on Is-
rael was reported in the press.
In my experience," he said, the
fascination, even the obsession of the
press with Israel, went over the
boundaries in an effort to distort, and
I had no one to appeal to to correct
this imbalance."
But Terence Smith of the New
York Times and David Greenway of
the Boston Globe responded by
suggesting that neither Israeli
spokesmen nor American JewS in
general had ever been reticent about
correcting mistakes or making their
opinions known to editors — a prac-
tice that they hastened to add was
positive and necessary.
Again and again the .conference
participants spoke of Israel's increas-
ingly negative image, though Evron,
Eizenstadt and others cited polls that
show Israel's popularity among the
American people to be consistently
high (now about 70 percent) despite
the treatment she receives in the
press.

M

Art by Lisa Fisher-

any of the journalists
noted that Israeli society
has grown more sophisticated and its
government more hawkish and com-
batative under the Likud leadership
during the last seven years, but few
suggested that this was the only rea-
son Israel's image has changed. Sev-
eral journalists acknowledged that
the press loves the underdog and,
rightly or wrongly, Israel is no longer
perceived as the underdog in the
Mideast. That role now belongs to the
Palestinians who are depicted as dis-
placed and homeless. In addition, the
U.S. viewpoint itself has changed
post-Vietnam. Americans are more
anxious than ever to stay out of over-
seas military involvements.
Lou Cioffi, the ABC-TV news-
man in Jerusalem, noted that while
"Israel has changed, American inter-
ests have also changed. People want
to know why we are always on the
verge of war because of Israel." And
Prof. Elihu Katz of Hebrew Univer-
sity suggested that "Israel's image
has not so much changed as nar-
rowed, and thus the image problem.
The human interest story by the
foreign press in Israel has disap-
peared — the stories about medical,
agricultural and scientific achieve-
ments — and what we are left with is
a total preoccupation with Israel's se-

curity."
Dr. David Sidorsky, a philosophy
professor at Columbia University,
added that with its predilection for
covering Israel in such detail, the
American media treats the Jewish
state as a local story, delving into its
internal political, social and reli-
gious squabbles. He warned that no
society can sustain the intensity of
local coverage from a foreign press."
Why this deep and abiding
interest in Israel? Prof. Daniel Pipes,
a Mideast expert at Harvard,
suggested in his paper prepared for
the conference on "Journalism as a
Rough Draft of History: U.S. Media
Coverage of the Middle East," that
American journalists are interested

"Journalism should be
judged for what it is
rather than for what we
might want it to be,"
argued Bob Chandler of
CBS-TV.

in only two topics in the Mideast: Is-
rael and the United States. "What-
ever takes place related to those two
countries is amplified and broadcast
to the world; whatever does not is
virtually ignored," according to Dr.
Pipes.
The key problem, he said, is not
one o _ f falsehoods but of distortion,
with the whole Mideast conflict seen
through the prism of Israel.
"Israel is always portrayed as
the main factor in every Mideast
problem and solution, and that is
wrong," asserted Dr. Pipes, whose
most recent book is In The Path of
God: Islam And Political Power.
He argued that the PLO is a rela-
tively unimportant group but is
given great media attention because
of its struggle with Israel. Egypt, he
said, was in the media limelight in
the late 1970s because of its relation-
ship with Israel and has since re-
ceded. Now Syria and Lebanon are
the focus of world attention because
of their conflicts with Israel.
Dr. Pipes asserted that Israel is
undoubtedly the best known of all
foreign countries to Americans, who
know the names of more Israeli lead-
ers than they do the leaders of any.
other country outside of the United
States. "Israel has a prominence in
the U.S. media that is out of all prop-
ortion to its size or importance," Dr.
Pipes stated, adding that American
news organizations have more corre-
spondents in Israel than in any other
foreign country. Nothing concerning
Israel, it seems, is too small for
coverage the United States, he
said.
Dr. Pipes asserts that while this
scrutiny is not wrong per se, it fun-
damentally leads to distortions. In
truth, he believes, the Israel-Arab
conflict is but a symptom of the major
conflicts in the Mideast dealing with
the forces of Islam, modernization,
oil, economic imbalance and more.
Dr. Pipes noted that in a course he
teaches at Harvard on the modern
Mideast, he devotes only one of 22

Friday, May 11, 1984

15

classes to Israel.
Dr. Pipes also stressed that this
constant media attention leads to the
application of "impossible moral
standards" to Israel.
"Israelis themselves insist on
being held to account according to the
loftiest principles, for they accept the
same standards as the Western
democracies and they aspire to live
up to the moral code contained inthe
Jewish religion." He made an impor-
tant point when he said that "Israel
looms so large for the media, and its
enemies so small, that it gets judged
not in relation to them or other states
but in relation to abstract ideals. The
rest of the world is seen in the context
of its time and place; Israel is viewed
in isolation."
Reaction to Pipes' thesis was for
the most part positive, though one
Israeli editor, in a masterful put-
down, said he agreed with the main
points that Pipes made because they
were "self-evident." But there were
those who disagreed as well.
Bob Chandler of CBS-TV News
was one. "Journalism should be
judged for what it is rather than for
what we might want it to be," he said,
suggesting that it was only natural
and not at all surprising that Israel
receives a great deal of coverage be-
cause "there are important American
interests in Israel — it's appropriate
and necessary." Chandler said that
"we (journalists) get paid to tell our
audience what our government is
doing and if those actions are appro-
priate or not. Our responsibility is to
focus on those issues." He said he was
amused at "this handwringing over
how much coverage Israel is receiv-
ing when she used to constantly say
they, look at us.' Well, we're looking
now."
Lou Cioffi of ABC also took ex-
ception to Dr. Pipes' views, saying
that journalists are not historians,
"but history will show that the major
conflict in the Mideast is the Arabs
vs. Israel, and that's what we're
covering."

R

oger Starr, a member of the
editorial board of the New
York Times, provided the most con-
troversial thesis in his presentation,
"What's Fit To Print?", which dealt
with working journalists and what
motivates them. According to Starr,
the influence of Marxism on Ameri-
can elite thought, including univer-
sity professors and members of the
press, is very strong. "I don't mean to
sound like I'm red-baiting," said
Starr, a warm, outspoken man who
spent most of his career in public life
in New York. But that is how he
sounded to many of the participants.
Soviet influence is indirect,
Starr maintains, creating an atmos-
phere of dissatisfaction with America
and a vague sympathy among jour-
nalists for what they like to think of
as the little man, or underdog. They
also tend to be suspicious of govern-
ment and any "establishment."
Journalists now perceive Israel as
the establishment, said Starr, so they
apply their critical standards of sus-
picions to the government in
Jerusalem.

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