As reports of Israeli war crimes continue to emerge, the U.S. refuses to alter its stance of support for Israel, instead placing nearly all the blame on Yasir Arafat. President Bush has refused to do more than issue some harsh words to Israel that, by the White House's own admission, were never intended to stem Israel's war against the Palestinians. I
t was in response to such misguided foreign policy that between 75,000 and 100,000 Americans converged on Washington D.C. last Saturday, Apr. 20th. The largest pro-Palestinian rally in U.S. history protested Israel's 35-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as ongoing corporate hegemony and globalization.
But far from viewing such a huge groundswell of opposition to U.S. foreign policy as something worthy of extensive coverage, the mass media in America deemed it necessary to misrepresent and underreport the facts. Part of a continuing effort to sanitize news coverage of events in Middle East and the American response to them, the press in the U.S. seems to be more interested in toeing the official line than in honest journalism.
As always, the most influential newspaper in the U.S. provides the best example. Depending on which edition of The New York Times you read, you may have heard different things about Saturday's rally. If you happened to buy an early copy of the Sunday edition, you wouldn't have found any coverage of the rally at all.
But if you're a late-riser, you might have chanced upon a short article - less than 400 words - on page 15. Rather than focus on a massive democratic rally as it unfolded, the Times preferred to offer "news analysis" on its front page, printing a headline that read, "Israel Winning Broad Support from U.S. Right."
It isn't that the Times thinks massive democratic protests are unimportant. On Monday, Apr. 15th, the Times ran a front-page headline that read, "Over 100,000 Rally in Washington in Support of Israel." The article continued for just under 800 words, effusively noting that the gathering "bridged social and religious differences." By contrast, the Times wrote that the pro-Palestinian protests were "disparate and disjointed," although the paper's basis for this conclusion is left to the reader's imagination. An analysis of descriptions is perhaps overkill in light of the fact that the Times objectively misreported the sizes of the respective protests. According to the Washington Times, the organizers of the pro-Israel rally themselves "estimated the crowd was between 20,000 and 40,000." Where did the New York Times' widely reported figure of 100,000 come from?
Nobody is really sure. In fact, the article itself mentions only "tens of thousands," and the figure of 100,000 appears only in the headline - the Times never explains how it arrived at that number, or why there is a discrepancy between the headline and the article itself. We can be certain about at least one thing: D.C. police said they had to keep more police officers on duty for the pro-Palestinian protests than they did for the pro-Israel rally because there were simply more protestors at the former.
The Times is not unique in its non-reporting. The way in which the media skewed the facts when the protest was reported at all was exemplified by the Washington Times, which described the turnout by saying, "More than 30,000 protesters who brought a variety of grievances to the District yesterday paid only brief homage to their demands before joining forces with a large group of peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrators."
Readers were left with the impression that the number of protestors was closer to 30,000 than 75,000 or 100,000. To top things off, a 20,000-large sympathy protest in San Francisco was universally ignored by the east coast press. No such mistakes were made with coverage of the pro-Israel rally on Apr. 15th, whose numbers were greatly inflated by the Times and then repeated elsewhere.
The increasingly slanted coverage is in no small measure the result of developments in the Middle East. Of late, death and destruction have exclusively been inflicted upon the Palestinians. Currently there is a U.N. inquiry into reported atrocities in Jenin. Amnesty International's preliminary findings upon their visit to Jenin report that,
"What was striking is what was absent. There were very few bodies in the hospital. There were also none who were seriously injured, only the 'walking wounded'. Thus we have to ask: where are the bodies and where are the seriously injured?"
IDF war crimes, combined with a recent respite in suicide bombings, have tended to place the focus squarely on the brutality of Israel's operations.
The consequence has been that the mainstream press has undertaken a massive P.R. campaign in order to shore up Israel's image in America. It is in the context of the one-sided slaughter of Palestinians that Thomas Friedman confesses in his Sunday column that,
"Lately, whenever Middle East stories come on CNN or MSNBC, I reach for the remote and switch to the Golf Channel. Everyone needs a break from the all too real suffering that surrounds this story."
Friedman had no dearth of things to say three weeks ago after a spate of suicide bombings, when he told us that Israel needed to "deliver a military blow that clearly shows terror will not pay." Presumably, he is ecstatic about reports emanating from Jenin. And now that the only victims are Palestinians, Friedman tells us to take "a break" from the suffering; apparently we need only pay attention when Israelis are dying.
One can only wish the Palestinian victims of IDF atrocities had the luxury to take "a break" from their "all too real suffering" by "changing the channel," as Friedman does.
Tragically, Friedman is in lock step with his employer and the news media in general. The propagandistic popular press in the U.S. is a grave threat, both to our own democracy, the lives of innocent Palestinians and even the world Jewish population. Public opinion polls consistently show that most Americans support the establishment of a Palestinian state - but the mainstream press never informs Americans that U.S. policies have been designed to frustrate the creation of such a state.
Instead, we hear about the noble role of the U.S. as mediator - when in reality the U.S.-backed Oslo agreement led to an influx of 200,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza during the 1990's. Worldwide anger with Israeli policies - made possible by U.S. support - has culminated in attacks on synagogues on France, and the specter of a new wave of anti-Semitism looms large in the minds of Jews worldwide.
There is only one thing accomplished by the biased reporting of the U.S. mainstream press, and it is the subversion of democracy. Under such a system, Bush and the U.S. government need not censor the press in order to conduct their oil-driven and morally bankrupt foreign policy. Self-censorship suffices.