What can we possibly add to the billions of words shed on the topic of the Israel-Hamas conflict? If this paper is in your hands – or you’re reading this on our new website or in our affordable and environmentally friendly e-edition – you probably already know where we stand.
If you are on social media, you probably know where every one of your friends stands on the issue as well. There has been a barrage of posts, tweets, emails and media pieces on every conceivable aspect of this conflict, its causes, its potential solutions, the actors, the victims, the sound and the fury.
There has also been a vast amount of analysis of media coverage of the events. It is fair enough to call out media for consistently biased reporting. But it does seem excessive sometimes to catalogue every instance of poor or malicious reportage. Media outlets we have never heard of before are getting widespread attention for bad journalism. The irony is that in the PR biz there’s an old saw that there’s no such thing as bad publicity as long as they spell your name right. Some newspapers and broadcast outlets that would be best ignored are instead going viral for all the wrong reasons.
This is not to say egregious reporting should go unchecked. Organizations like CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, PMW, Palestinian Media Watch, and the acronym-deficient Honest Reporting, do a bang-up job keeping reporters’ feet to the fire and illuminating journalistic atrocities around real-world atrocities.
In one of the most imaginative volleys, some anti-Israel brainiac took a still from the Hollywood horror film Final Destination 4, depicting grotesquely mangled human remains, and alleged that it was the work of Operation Protective Edge. Other “evidence” of Israel’s inhumanity turned out to be photos from the Syrian civil war.
For a few hours last week, there was an online rumor that the murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir was not the work of Jewish Israelis, but an “honor killing” by his own family allegedly because he was gay. Such a scenario would have reassured us of the uprightness of our side and the baseness of the other, but the facts came out and, sadly, did neither. In either case, a boy is no less dead.
There is certainly cause for concern over fair reporting, and false accusations and misrepresentations should, of course, be challenged, but is this where so much of our energy should be going? We live in a wired world where access to information is almost beyond the human imagination of just two decades ago. No matter on what side of an issue people fall, they will find data and stories that support their views. This is what the internet does well: it provides information and makes it accessible to almost everyone. What people do with that information, if anything, is up to them.
People in some parts of the world do not have the access we do to electronic information, which makes it easier for their powers-that-be to control the message, to propagandize. In North America and Europe, though, anyone who is undecided about an issue and who truly wants to learn more has the opportunity to do so from millions of articles, blogs, newscasts and other sources. This is a good thing. We should be vigilant when major media outlets skew the facts, but we should not expect them to take our position simply because we think we’re right. (We are.)
Instead of being fearful and demanding more regulation of ideas, the reality of this still-new electronic world is that we need to learn – and we need to teach our children – to be effective media critics who can tell good sources from bad. We have the freedom to engage in dialogue and we should. For the most part, we can’t control how others present themselves and their views, but we can choose to present our own wisely and with civility.