By Oren Rawls

Published June 06, 2003, issue of June 06, 2003.
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Hard Pressed: The return of CNN’s longtime Johnny-on-the-spot correspondent Christiane Amanpour to the Middle East this week left no doubt that the world’s attention has yet again focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After a several month hiatus in Iraq, international news organizations are chomping at the journalistic bit, pens and cameras ready to record each Palestinian rock thrown and Israeli rubber bullet fired.

As they chronicle the seemingly endless violence, Bruce Wexler asks in the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, is the media reporting or defining the news? “Amid all the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the press missing a certain kind of story that really ought to be reported?”

In the rush to report newsworthy items, argues Wexler, a psychiatry professor at Yale University, the press often goes for the easy story. Drowned out by the cacophonic voices of “partisan Palestinians and Israeli spokespersons” are the “‘underheard’ third voice of Israelis and Palestinians working together in mutual respect.”

In October 2002 a group called the Bereaved Families Forum, comprised of about 400 relatives of Israelis and Palestinians who have been killed during the conflict, toured the United States to spread their message of reconciliation. “No major newspaper or television station covered the forum’s meetings,” Wexler writes. “Have you heard about it?”

In September 2002 a joint peace proposal was issued by Ami Ayalon, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet general security service, and Sari Nusseibeh, formerly the Palestine Liberation Organizations’s representative in Jerusalem. “Why haven’t the editors of most American newspapers and television news programs considered this more newsworthy?”, Wexler asks.

In January 2002 the “First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land,” which condemned the use of violence and pledged religious tolerance, was issued by prominent Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders. “How many Americans have heard anything of the declaration?”, Wexler asks.

(Forward readers, of course, have heard about the Bereaved Families Forum, the Ayalon-Nusseibeh peace proposal and the Alexandria declaration. They were reported in 2002 in, respectively, our March 22, November 8 and March 29 issues.)

Rock-throwing youths, M-16-toting soldiers and invective-spewing preachers make better headline material than coexistence speaking tours. The result, Wexler argues, is that “press coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict creates, reflects and sustains a sense of irreconcilable difference that leaves little reason for hope.”

“A free press in a free-market economy seems to prefer to cover the all-too-frequent acts of violence and hatred, instead of efforts to build bridges between the two sides,” he writes. “Is this a minor flaw in a generally outstanding system of reporting? Or is it a serious lapse that needs correcting?”

* * *

Impressed: While reportage on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has Wexler calling for a de-emphasis of violence, the coverage of the Iraq war has one embedded journalist calling for closer cooperation with the men and women in uniform.

“During the Vietnam War, many in journalism developed the vile notion that journalists should be neutral when their country is at war,” Jack Kelly writes in the June 2 issue of The Washington Times, a conservative daily. “The experiences of the embedded reporters may very well change that.”

The embedding process, proposes Kelly — a former Green Beret who served as deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force during the Reagan administration and now writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — “may cause a sea change in the attitude of journalists toward soldiers.”

“Journalism is dominated by people who were Vietnam War protesters, and I suspect it came as a shock to many of the embedded reporters to learn that soldiers and Marines are bright, tough, skilled, brave and humane,” he writes.

The armed forces, he reports, are leading the way on many of the issues — race relations, female empowerment, educational opportunities for the underprivileged — that top today’s social-justice agenda.

“The college professors and students at prestigious universities who protested the war in Iraq imagine themselves to be America’s best and brightest,” Kelly writes. “They’re not. America’s best and brightest are those who are wearing the uniform of the their country. We should be as proud of them as we are grateful to them.”

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