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From AJR,   August/September 2004

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In "Caught in the Crossfire" (June/July), Barbara Matusow states, "NBC and CBS are seldom criticized in part because they do so little coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict." Clearly, your editors thought these words were noteworthy: They displayed them in a banner that ran across an entire page of the article.

For the record, according to Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report (which chronicles the content of the network evening news programs), here are the total minutes each of the weekday network programs devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the years 2000 through 2003: NBC, 655; CBS, 637; and ABC, 583.

While Matusow was wrong about the amount of our coverage, she was right when she said it is seldom criticized. We believe there's a very good reason for this: Our coverage goes to great lengths to portray with balance and fairness the complexities of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Lest you think this statement is merely self-serving, these are the very qualities mentioned in the citation that accompanied the award of an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University silver baton in January 2003 to NBC News and Martin Fletcher for coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Bill Wheatley
Vice president
NBC News
New York, New York

Regrettably, Barbara Matusow's article lacked even passing reference to the many substantive concerns raised by the public. Instead, the author caricatured critics generally as self-serving propagandists assailing blameless journalists.

In characterizing the work of CAMERA, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, the author mentioned a side-note of an in-depth study of National Public Radio. She omitted the central conclusion of the survey, which is prominently stated and illustrated with graphics NPR's disproportionate reliance on Arab or pro-Arab speakers.

Though she asked in an interview what I considered to be the single greatest shortcoming of the media in reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict, my answer was also omitted from the piece. For the record, this is what I said: In the decade since the signing of the Oslo agreements, the arrival of Yasser Arafat in Gaza and the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the media have overwhelmingly failed to report the indoctrination of the Palestinian public in beliefs antithetical to peace. Arafat promptly turned every apparatus at his disposal to the teaching of hatred and rejection of Israel as a sister nation. Television, radio, newspapers, schools, mosques, summer camps, soccer tournaments, public rallies all became vehicles for the message that Israel and the Jewish people have no historic, legal or religious rights to any of the land and, in fact, are thieves to be driven out.

The lethal role of hate education in fostering a generation of youth unwilling to compromise and coexist with a non-Muslim nation in a Muslim-dominated region is still unreported.

Matusow's focus on the frustrations of journalists besieged on all sides by critics is a fair topic for discussion, but to suggest that criticism is off-limits and that every journalist is wrongly faulted is absurd.

Andrea Levin
Executive Director
CAMERA
Boston, Massachusetts

I wish to commend AJR and Barbara Matusow for reporting on the perverse PR war over Israeli news coverage. Media critics on both sides go too far, but there are also many shortcomings in the coverage.

Bad press was inevitable because both the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership, among others, have committed so many incredible blunders. Instead of reassessing their own dysfunctional attitudes, the press critics only seek out more people to blame.

However, news coverage in mainstream American dailies and Jewish weeklies has been wanting. The dailies were initially lacking in perspective, but I have noticed in past months that coverage has improved markedly. I can't speak for all local Jewish weeklies, but the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia has often ignored or underplayed important stories which unfavorably portrayed the Sharon government.

Reporters who tailor their stories to preclude criticism should consider a career change. They should certainly take legitimate criticism seriously, but they should just do the best job possible regardless of how anyone responds. Readers deserve factual and insightful accounts, not politically correct versions of the news.

Bruce S. Ticker
Publisher
CRISIS:ISRAEL (www.crisisisrael.com)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In her recent article, Barbara Matusow critiques our organization among others that advocate balanced coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Unfortunately, Matusow omits any mention of the countless corrections and significant improvements in coverage that our organization has been responsible for, and for which Mideast correspondents themselves often express appreciation. Perhaps worse, Matusow maligns responsible news outlets such as CNN that have devoted resources to improving balance in their Mideast coverage, claiming editors there are merely bowing to the "intense pressure."

"One newspaper reporter," laments Matusow, "acknowledged in an interview that she has balanced the number of quotes in her dispatches to ward off criticism." Our understanding is that balanced quotations are a desirable practice when covering a conflict. Why does Matusow consider this an unfortunate result of media monitors?

Indeed, Matusow's tendentious piece is precisely the type of journalism our organization seeks to correct.

Michael Weinstein
Managing editor
HonestReporting.com
Jerusalem, Israel

Ah, gee, all those poor little misunderstood journalists, all of whom are really so neutral, and they have to put up with all those nasty people who see bias in their reports. You really gotta feels sorry for them when they all work so hard and never show their bias as they report all the facts, all the time, perfectly. How could they show a bias when they don't have any? How dare anyone even think that an organization like NPR would hire any but the most neutral, well-educated, knowledgeable reporter, never with an ax to grind?

Oh me, oh my, Barbara Matusow sure has a way of making heroes out of bagels.

Jerry Steinman
West Nyack, New York

I have never been happy with the easy assurance that if both sides object to one's writing then one must be doing it right. Most presentations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are grounded in the immediate present, without the insight that comes from historical perspective.

First, the media seem unaware that about 40 percent of Israeli Jews can trace their origins to Arab countries or Iran, places where they would not be welcome back. Palestinians are presented as the only refugees, where what you really have is a people swap.

On the other side, it should be noted that the experience of watching another people come in and take over what had once been your land is never well received. It was not well received by the Serbs who saw Albanians taking over Kosovo or the Turks who saw Armenians taking over Anatolia.

Finally, I will accept regarding Hamas as "militants" rather than "terrorists," provided that al Qaeda is similarly regarded. Otherwise, the suggestion is that such tactics are more acceptable when directed at Jews.

William A. Baker
Santa Barbara, California


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