Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Arrogant and Uninteligent Journalists

Two years ago this week The Media Line staged an event for the enlightenment of the citizens of Jerusalem. They put together a panel of 8 journalists, two of them Israeli, one an Arab (the head of the local Al-Jazeera office), and the rest Americans and British: Steven Erlanger of the New York Times, and some fellows from the BBC, CNN and others. With the exception of the host there were no women on the panel, which caused an interesting diversion by some peeved feminists. The point of the exercise was to give us a better understanding of how the media operates at a time of war, and how the Israeli establishment doesn't help. The context being the rather widespread impression that while the recently waged war between Israel and Hezbullah had not been one of Israel's finest hours, the media didn't have much to be proud of, either. The Media Line folks wanted to see if they could fix that.

They mostly failed, of course. Jerusalemites aren't fools, generally speaking. What struck me the most was the degree to which most of what the journalists had to say was, quite simply, not intelligent. So the next morning I wrote some questions and sent them to the woman who had organized the event; she responded immediately, thanked me for my time and effort, and said she was forwarding my questions to all of the panelists - so I think it's a safe bet they all saw my mail. None of them ever responded, of course. As a general statement journalists don't feel any need for discussion with their public: their job is to tell us things, while our job is to imbibe and shut up.

So it occurs to me that in honor of the 2nd anniversary of the glum event, maybe I should post my so far unanswered questions, in the hope that perhaps, who knows... naa... it'll never happen...

Hi -

Your panel last night was quite interesting. I would appreciate hearing the response of some of the panelists to the following:

1. Access (1). A number of the speakers felt it to be very important, and they were disturbed that they weren't given it by the IDF. But isn't being with the grunts on the field of battle the worst place to be, if you want to understand a war? All the soldiers see are their immediate surroundings - and even that from a severly limited perspective. The most one can expect to learn from that vantage point is about the ambience of soldiers. And for that, one would need to know the soldiers' language.

2. Access (2): How can one ever achieve true access, if one doesn't speak the language? Yet none of your foriegn-press people seemed fazed in the slightest by the fact that they don't speak the language. Isn't this limitation in their abilities far more severe than any limitation the IDF can impose? (In which context it was fascinating to see that al-Jazeera, of all foriegn groups, has resolved this issue best. And also the only one that made absolutely no pretension of striving for a balanced story).

3. Balance: War is the second most extreme behavior in which a community can engage, because its essence is that one determines to kill people so as to achieve one's goals, while taking the chance of being killed oneself. Only mass murder and genocide are more extreme, because in them the community decides to kill people for their purposes, without the risk of getting killed themselves. Yet just as with genocide, it would never occur to us to seek a balanced description, so the glaringly obvious question not dealt with yesterday evening was, if one is engaged in describing a war, why would one strive for balance? Admitedly, there have been wars in human history where both sides were equally wrong, but the norm is that there is an agressor and a defender. Wouldn't the task of journalists in a democratic society better be defined as the search for the aggressor and the defender?

4. Steven Erlanger spoke at one point about a "legally proportionate war". When asked if there ever was one, he mentioned Kosovo and Chechnya, but what he meant were other cases where the journalists found disproportionality. The question remains, however: has there ever in the annals of war been one that was waged "proportionally"? I think not, but perhaps you will enlighten me.

5. Relevance: Danny Rubinstein spoke of the criteria for newsworthiness: that it be interesting and important. Steven Erlanger spoke of what interests him. I was struck by the fact that truth was not mentioned at all. Shoudn't that be the first criteria? Matter of fact, if one is seekng to understand events, it would seem to be the primary criteia. Do journalists think otherwise? And if they think otherwise, shouldn't they then change their narrative, and be honest about the fact that what they're telling us is not the truth, but rather what interests them?

And note, that all my questions are general, and not specific to the war we just had.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Dr. Yaacov Lozowick

5 comments:

Philo-Semite said...

Great blog! I read you frequently. Please keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

FROM CAROL HERMAN

I think, however, you forgot the "visual."

After the first bulldozer attack, the video of it went around the world. Yes. The drivers in both cases were Palestinians. Who worked this heavy equipment in Jerusalem.

Have you ever wondered why Jewish kids don't drive bulldozers? (Or heavy equipment in Jerusalem?) Ariel Sharon was a famous bulldozer driver; so it can't be that Jewish men can't drive bulldozers.

But in Jerusalem is there something delicate? A lot of men eschew working heavy equipment? Why would that be? Men. And, work. Sort'a goes together, when you think of people working hard to make a living.

The other thing about Jerusalem? Alas, because it has been so overtaken by the religious; who can sit in the middle of the streets on SHabbat, forbidding traffice to pass. Because there are Haredim who terrorize storekeepers. And, of course, because pork can't be sold. You've come to a city that has lost 17,000 families per year; who pay taxes. And, prefer to live outside of Jerusalem. Dictating religion to others really doesn't work all that well.

Even the journalists; who much prefer an assignment in Israel, to one, say, in gaza; or even Cairo. Will still tell you the prefer Tel Aviv. Heck, or Haifa. Before they'd want to live in this city which isn't thriving on par with the way cities thrive when they beacon (like New York City did), all comers.

Anyway, the journalists you mention don't hold sway with the public.

On the other hand, when Barack Obama was at the Wall and put a note inside the ancient stones; what happened next?

Did you not think people who have never been to Israel, would think everybody in Israel runs around looking like the Haredim? Because at the Wall, they seem to own the property.

The fabric of Israeli society has been rent. Ripped. Why?

Anonymous said...

I "like" best the journalists' habit of "upholstering" their reports with history-soundbites which as a rule sound pretty impressive unless you happen to have been lucky enough to have read the original source of the quote or Info-bite or any other more comprehensive history book or even historical novel about the subject. If so, you realize that the majority of them are just pretending to have a broad education by augmenting their stories with probably Wikiquote-sourced bits and bites - in short, they are peddling their ware at the level of snake oil vendors or are just agents of disinformation and propaganda.

Anonymous said...

FROM CAROL HERMAN

What happens when you look at a score card?

Japan got started following her utter surrender to MacArthur. Aboard the Missouri.

What about Singapore? Doesn't reach nation status till 1960.

What does it take to make a nation great?

Oh, and what holds a nation or state back?

Forget the "feel good" policies. That's just bullshit.

Forget the academics. They don't run anything, successfully.

Forget womenn's lib.

Or any of the other stuff. About as useless as communism.

Alas, what happens when you're stuck with the thuggery of socialism?

No, Israel is not growing "more Jews." Ya got what ya got.

And, those who visit? They bring their bad habits? Or some idea that CAPITALISM is good?

Even if you go, city by city, you'd see Jerusalem taken over by the very religious. (Yes. Olmert "played with them" when he was mayor.) But at what price?

You mean you didn't know that the ultra-orthodox DICTATE?

Why, just today, in the Jerusalem Post there's an article that KOSHER RESTAURANTS aren't "kosher enough" because they didn't pay off the rabbinical mafia. You know, it's a tragedy.

It's a tragedy that the ultra-orthodox can keep metal chairs chained to the lamposts, and then on Friday, sundown, sit in the streets. Making it impossible for traffic to pass.

They also intimidate store keepers.

You think this is winsome?

I think it is crazy.

All it does, really, is turn a city into a backwater. Real people leave.

As you know I just finished reading a book dedicated to container shipping. A way of global shipping that changed the way the world works.

Back in the old days? The longshoremen's union controlled. And, they basically wouldn't unpack a container ship. So guess what?

All those old ports are dead now. San Francisco, New York City, and Brookyn, New York. London. Liverpool.

Do you know how?

To get around the "labor problems" companies found other ports. And, states that had no ports, DREDGED THEM OUT. Without being compromised by the heavy-handedness of the unions.

Time marches on.

Eventually, historians go over everything with a fine tooth comb.

Some people learn. Not all.

That Israel will be blessed with a messiah? The perfect man? Well, after Arik Sharon listened to his doctors, I thought "not a chance, ahead, for another one."

Anonymous said...

FROM CAROL HERMAN, again.

To tell you the name of the book, and it's author: THE BOX, by Marc Levinson.

Know the most interesting fact of all?

1965. LBJ escalated in Vietnam.

Vietnam had no port! So, we sent soldiers IN. But supplies couldn't reach them.

This is when container shipping got born. OF DISTRESS.

You'll also notice this is before Japan got a toe hold in the automobile market. (That doesn't happen until OPEC choke-holds the price of gas.) 1974.

Also, the bursting forward of the electronic age. Japan will even overtake the Swiss and the Germans on Camera Lenses.

The other thing to learn is that behind all the old warves; were factories.

So, in today's world, you're not only looking at the lost longshoremen's union. You're looking at how other things rise up. And, change the very world under your feet.

Thanks for listening. I kid you not.