Monday, October 25, 2010

How Bad is the Media, Summary

I thank all the participants who chipped in to the discussion about how bad the media really is or isn't. Here's my response.

First, I accept that my frustrations show through, and that this isn't helpful. I don't promise I'll be able to restrain myself forever, but I'll try for a while.

Second, Dukas Horunt unwittingly demonstrated a fundamental problem, when he demanded that I cite online newspaper articles to prove my theses about Israel (he then went off onto a series of theses of his own, many of which I've dealt with over the years on this blog, and will undoubtedly return to).

The fundamental problem is the assumption that complex reality can be known by reading online newspapers. It can't, of course. If you wish to understand a society and gauge its potential policies, following the media is perhaps better than nothing but that doesn't say much. You need to know the language, and the codes in the language, and the body language (which can't be reproduced in the media at all, not even on television, unless you already know how to read it). You need to read the literature (as in novels, not professional literature), stand in line at the bank, interact with officials and medical personnel, and go to some weddings and funerals. In other words, you need to live there, as part of the society you're trying to understand; and you need to keep in mind that other people around you who are doing the same may well understand the same society in different ways, depending on who they are and where they're coming from.

Or, if you can't do that, perhaps because you've got your own life to live where you are, or perhaps because the society you're trying to understand is dead and gone, then you'll have to work long and hard, and accept that your success will be limited.

Once upon a time I really wished to understand why the Germans did what they did to the Jews. It took me 15 years to learn enough to be satisfied, during which I learned the language, lived there for a while, read perhaps hundreds of thousands of pages of books and documents, interacted in German with hundreds of people on many levels of discussion - the large majority of whom were born after Nazism, and were themselves not Nazis in any way...

Did I really have the answer, after all the effort? Not in any final way. But eventually I did feel the working hypotheses I was using were reasonable. No more than that.

Is it reasonable to expect that the media have that level of understanding about the material it presents? Perhaps not, when it tells us the dramatic tales such as rescuing Chilean miners. But for the basic stuff: why not, actually? Is it too much to expect that a journalist who explains the economic stories have a good grasp of economics? That the military correspondents be well grounded in the practice of war? That the diplomatic correspondents have a reasonable grasp of how diplomacy works, and how so? Is it too much to demand, that the reporters who tell us about matters we don't have the time to delve deeply in ourselves, themselves be experts?

Though of course, even if the reporters were experts, newspaper articles won't tell the full story, nor can they be expected to. Most of life isn't reflected in newspaper stories. My original thesis, however, by which I still stand, is that most of the reportage about Israel not only doesn't reflect the full story, but it doesn't even offer a proximate abridged version. Individual pieces may be better or worse, but the cumulative effect is a profound distortion.

On being pro-Israel or telling the Palestinians' side. Of course I'm pro-Israel. I never suggested otherwise. That's the whole point of the effort. As to telling the Palestinian side: how could I? Honestly? I don't speak Arabic, I don't do those things described above, I don't know much about the Palestinians. Sometimes I respond to specific moves made by their leaders, or spokesmen, or their armed men, but I never claimed to be able to represent their side of the story. The media feeds me it's opinions on the matter all the time, but since most of the journalists who do so know even less about the matter than I do, well, I do allow myself to dispute their tales.

Actually, I've been working on a way to rectify this ignorance of mine, but I'm not yet able to tell about it. By and by, I hope.


Lee Ratner said...

According to Ynet, Cambridge University recently had a debate regarding whether Israel is a rouge state. The students found in favor of Israel (that Israel is not a rouge state). It apparently started out rough but Israel earned favor when pro-Palestinians pointed out three things. One Israel has a good record on LBGT rights, especially for the region and even by most world standards. Two, Israel gives asylum to Darfurian refugees while Egypt shoots them. Three, Israel sent a senior diplomat to represent it's interests in the debates and it was unthinkable that China, Iran, or even the UK would sent a senior diplomat to such a debate. It went well.

Anonymous said...

Here's another reason to learn Hebrew and decry the sorry state of today's news organizations:
Haaretz published an op-ed by the Education Ministry's pedagogical secretariat, Zvi Zameret, about his ban on the book "Learning The Other's Historical Narrative."

Rather than translate the Zameret's op-ed, Haaretz published an English language op-ed arguing the other side.

And neither provides a link to the text itself:


Anonymous said...

as to How Bad is the Media:

here is a piece on Kashmir which, even though it mentions Pakistani actions every now and then, leaves me with one huge question mark:

how are Kashmiris living under Pakistan's sovereignty faring?

Nothing is said about it and so I will remember from this piece only that Indians are doing bad things in a conflict that given that there are atomic weapons on both sides certainly'd deserve a bit more informative reporting, especially since the piece mentions that there are scarcely any Hindu left in Indian Kashmir. How come????

(btw. Tariq Ali who publishes long pieces on Kashmir quite often, does the same. Also he claims in one piece that it is all somehow due to a clandestine visit by Lawrence of Arabia ;-)


Anonymous said...

Haaretz has finally translated Zameret's op-ed