| The Washington Times
June 5, 2002
Mark Regev, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Lord of the lies
Illustration: [Photo by AP]
For as long as the press have been attempting report on current events,
there has been a subsequent backlash of those who find this reporting
slanted. Recently, a charged debate emerged regarding the alleged
subjectivity of reporting on current events in the Middle East. In
response to accusations of anti-Israel bias in the pages of The
Washington Post, Ombudsman Michael Getler recently asked in his column
"Is it possible that so many major American news organizations are
getting this story wrong?" New York Times reporter Frank Rich similarly
noted that complaints concerning pro-Palestinian bias in major American
media are "so indiscriminate that the indictment seems the mirror image
of the Palestinians' charge that their case has been distorted by the
pro-Israeli slant of America's 'Jewish controlled' media."
I disagree. While I do not expect the press to be pro-Israel, I do
expect it to uphold its own standard of professionalism with truthful
and balanced reporting on events in the Middle East. Such
professionalism has been lacking because the press has created an
illogical and unjustified equivalence between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority (PA).
The media's challenge in covering activities in the region stems from
their disregard for the discrepancies that exist between Israel's
largely transparent society and the Palestinian's repressive, despotic
regime. The Israeli public regularly votes prime ministers out of
office and challenges its government through an independent judicial
process. The press challenges the legitimacy of Israeli government
actions. Palestinian society, on the other hand, does not allow the
same freedom to speak out against the leadership. There has existed no
rule of law other than the prerogatives of Palestine Liberation
Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian press is not
dissimilar to that of Syria or Iraq. The consistent theme of "the
leader is great, the enemy is evil" permeates the Palestinian news.
This divergent situation has been directly played out in numerous press
reports about the most recent flare-up in the region. Articles have
juxtaposed the openly critical, frustrated Israeli society with the
controlled and sanitized message of the PA.
In the absence of an independent civil society, journalists can always
find Palestinian officials, academics, and the proverbial "man in the
street" who will echo Mr. Arafat's regime, speaking forcibly about
Israeli crimes, and discuss alleged "massacres" committed by the
Israeli army. Due to a lack of regime transparency, such charges are
difficult to corroborate and refute.
Given recent documented Palestinian distortions of the events in Jenin
and Bethlehem, it is necessary to question why today's American media
still insists on granting credibility to Palestinian spokespeople. If
one considers other documented incidents of distortion - such as
denials of Palestinian involvement in the Karin A affair - one must
wonder why the words of official Palestinians are not given more
cautionary treatment. Unfortunately, assumptions of Palestinian
credibility have led to unreliable reporting on the part of
journalists, who have bought into Palestinian deceptions, accepted them
as fact and reported them as truth.
Many reputable media outlets initially reported Palestinian claims that
the IDF massacred more than 500 people, mostly civilians, in Jenin.
Reports of this nature were based upon statements from Palestinian
officials and alleged "eye-witnesses." Today, all independent reporting
of the events in Jenin has found no evidence to confirm the allegations
of a massacre. To the contrary, it has only confirmed Israel's
affirmation that the incidents in Jenin were no more than a
strategically planned counter-terrorist operation, implemented with
deliberate moderation to decrease the loss of innocent Palestinian
In addition, many media outlets reported faulty Palestinian claims
regarding recent events in Bethlehem. The Washington Post highlighted a
story in which the church's clerics erroneously stated that they had
invited the Palestinian gunmen into the holy site. In reality, the
clerics voiced their utter dismay and disgust with the deliberate
Palestinian terrorist hijacking of the historic church. Many in the
media ignored this outrage, though it received rare coverage on the
front-page of The Washington Times.
One must question why the press becomes manipulated by crude
propaganda. When journalists deal with totalitarian, closed regimes,
they know that officially released information must be met with a
certain level of skepticism. The media correctly took a very cynical
view of the celebrations in Iraq to mark Saddam Hussein's 65th
birthday, and is similarly skeptical of anti-American demonstrations
orchestrated by the Cuban regime.
Why is Yasser Arafat's regime - one that is internationally recognized
as being dictatorial, corrupt and collaborative in orchestrating terror
- not held to the same necessary level of skepticism? Why are the same
Palestinian officials who spread the Jenin massacre and Bethlehem
hijacking myths still considered reliable sources?
Why are the same standards of professional journalism that apply so
well to the despots in Damascus and Baghdad not applied to Ramallah and
Like other dictatorships, the PA is able to stifle criticism and enlist
the entire society in its propaganda efforts. The international
community is now calling for fundamental reforms that will hopefully
lead to a more transparent, open and democratic Palestinian Authority.
Until those reforms are implemented, journalists must apply the same
professional standards to the PA that are applied to other dictatorial
Mark Regev is a spokesman of the Israeli Embassy.