by Matthew M. Hausman
Media demonization of Israel and whitewashing of progressive antisemitism was the harbinger of its descent into anti-Trump absurdity.
In attacking Donald Trump and his supporters unrelentingly these last four years – and breathlessly promoting Barack Obama the previous eight – the American press has come to resemble the state-run media found in totalitarian society. Reporters who ignored Obama’s policy failures and antisemitic associations but trumpeted every anti-Trump collusion narrative totally abdicated the oversight function contemplated by the US Constitution.
Though many are now realizing how far journalism has fallen, the profession’s ethical fluidity has been apparent for years in its skewed coverage of Jewish issues and disdain for Israel.
The media’s role in democracy is to keep the public informed and monitor the affairs of state, and the Constitution guarantees freedom of the press to facilitate these very functions. The media cannot fulfill this mission, however, when it engages in advocacy, infuses reportage with commentary, and distorts or suppresses facts contrary to a political agenda.
In eighteenth century Europe, the press was dubbed the “Fourth Estate” to distinguish it from the “Three Estates of the Realm” consisting of the clergy, nobility, and commoners. The idea was that the press could impartially report on the doings of all segments of society by eschewing partisan affiliation and staying above the fray. In the US, this sobriquet denoted the press’s independence from the three branches of government and signified its role as the watchdog of government and guardian of civil liberties.
This function, however, is not served when journalists elevate partisanship over objectivity. Today’s mainstream news organizations do not hide the fact that they favor liberal politicians, progressive social causes, and ideological agendas and frequently present agitprop as reasoned analysis. News from traditional outlets often resembles political commentary barely masquerading as journalism. Over the last four years much of the mainstream media identified with the anti-Trump “resistance” and presented slanted coverage derived from anonymous sources that were neither vetted nor fact checked.
Though President Trump has used the term “fake news” to energize supporters and inflame critics – and has sometimes used it to discredit unflattering coverage he dislikes – the term is not without justification.
-Compare the media’s gushing, uncritical coverage of Obama’s Iranian nuclear agreement (despite his failure to submit it as a treaty for Senate approval as many believe was required by the Constitution) to its unhinged vilification of Trump during the Democrats’ politicized impeachment fiasco last year.
-Or its presentation of Democratic Party talking points as news during its four-year effort to invalidate the 2016 election with claims of Russian collusion.
-Or its refusal to cover Hunter Biden’s dubious Ukrainian and Chinese connections to protect the presidential aspirations of his father, Joe Biden.
Despite Trump’s penchant for personal insults and reactive hyperbole, coverage of his presidency has been governed by the media’s political orientation and visceral dislike for him rather than any objective professional standards. And the use of editorial subjectivity to manipulate the presentation of facts and news is not without precedent.
Just as the Spanish Civil War provided the rehearsal stage for World War II, so too the media’s demonization of Israel, use of anti-Jewish stereotypes, and whitewashing of progressive antisemitism provided a testing ground for its descent into partisan absurdity.
During the Holocaust, newspapers routinely buried news of the concentration camps on the back pages to avoid embarrassing FDR over his failure to act. As news of genocide gathered momentum, New Dealers in politics and journalism did their best to downplay eyewitness accounts of Nazi atrocities to prevent the American Jewish community from mobilizing and causing a “distraction” to the war effort. Moreover, they frequently characterized dedicated Jewish activists like Hillel Kook (aka Peter Bergson) as scurrilous, foreign-born radicals who had to be deported.
After the Six-Day War, the mainstream media began to turn on Israel when it was no longer perceived as “David” to the Arabs’ “Goliath.” In fact, Israel was increasingly portrayed as a belligerent occupier, though the 1967 conflict was existential and precipitated by real belligerents who expressly intended to annihilate the Jews.
Israel’s treatment in the press was marked thereafter by one low point after another.
-News consumers should question the integrity of a media establishment that initially tolerated the use of computer-altered pictures to falsely suggest atrocities, e.g., when plumes of billowing smoke were inserted into photographs to imply that Israeli planes had bombed civilian neighborhoods during the 2006 war in Lebanon.
-And of cable networks that hawked false reports of Israelis bombing schools and hospitals and shooting unarmed protesters in Gaza.
-And newspapers and magazines that evoked medieval slanders by publishing bogus reports of the Israel Defense Forces harvesting organs from dead Arabs.
Be skeptical of the media’s professed objectivity when it downplays Israel’s diplomatic breakthroughs with Arab-Muslim nations through agreements not predicated on validating or resolving Palestinian Arab claims. Though the Abraham Accords and their growing acceptance in the Arab world are certainly newsworthy, their significance is minimized by journalists who are vested in pushing the debunked myth that Arab-Israeli peace is impossible without a Palestinian Arab deal.
Furthermore, leftist antisemitism is routinely banalized by journalists who promote BDS, cast Hamas and Hezbollah as mere political parties, or use classical stereotypes to put Israel at the center of global conspiracies reminiscent of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
The problem is exacerbated when reporters artificially distinguish antisemitism from anti-Zionism, though both employ ancient calumnies reminiscent of the Blood Libel. Such distinctions are disingenuous as both terms reflect the same hatred. To say that the Jews – unlike any other people on earth – have no indigenous right to sovereignty in their homeland is to treat them differently and deny their history. This is surely antisemitic – and emblematic of the media’s use of revisionist disinformation to advance a partisan agenda.
The media’s scorn for Jewish institutions and Israel clearly resembles its disdain for Trump and Republicans in that both flow from the same progressive Weltanschauung. Indeed, the former may well have paved the way for the latter by routinizing the selective presentation of news to manipulate public opinion.
Journalists can certainly criticize any president or disagree with the policies of any nation, but they cannot engage in partisan advocacy without sacrificing their credibility or relinquishing their impartial oversight role as envisioned by America’s founding fathers. Do they care?
Matthew M. Hausman
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