US media coverage of Gaza is deeply flawed, both sides in conflict say

While they disagree on which side is favored by the media's Gaza coverage, many on both sides say a better understanding of the issues that separate the two peoples is needed.

By , Staff writer

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    Palestinian Suma Abu Mahsen, 7, stands by a damaged wall of a house in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, July 15.
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Constant coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is keeping the escalating battles on the front burner of the global media diet.

However, despite the widespread exposure, many say the media just aren’t getting it right – and for some, this is causing real suffering for them and their families.

Many Israelis say reports that emphasize the mounting Palestinian death toll create an emotional bias against Israel as well as themselves personally. At the same time, other supporters of a better understanding of Middle East politics say the Palestinian cause has been slighted and misrepresented by what they call a long-term Western media bias toward Israel.

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While they cannot agree on whose position is actually favored by media coverage, many on all sides suggest that better understanding of the issues that separate the two peoples is needed.

“I don’t want people to support Israel just because that’s what America has always done,” says Sahar Zaytoun, an Israeli-American contractor in Los Angeles. “I want them to support Israel because they actually understand what is really going on in that country and agree with what we need to do,” he adds.

The understanding gap has become personal, says Mr. Zaytoun. His wife is a student in a local college and she says she feels embattled.

“People come into her class and ask her questions like, ‘Why are you killing those women and children?’ ”

They say these things, Zaytoun says, because of what they see on TV every night.

If they understood that for years Hamas periodically has bombarded Israeli communities with rockets for days on end, perhaps they would take a different view of Israel’s need to defend itself, he adds.

Others, however, suggest the angle emerging from media coverage is far more pro-Israel.

“The narrative being pushed on the American public is very biased, extremely one-way, and significantly tilted in favor of Israel,” says Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sanjay Goel, an Indian-American who is the founder of the global news network Oximity, which uses social journalism to break news and deliver local reports from around the world.

Mr. Goel maintains there are practical reasons for this alleged bias. Israel is easy to access and mainstream media rely on access to resources to do their job. Beyond that, most people in Israel speak English, making it very easy to get their side of the story out clearly and effectively.

Goel says one of the important functions of his site is a translation application. “This allows anyone to file in their native language,” he says, and the software will translate it into English – or whatever language the reader requires.

Standing outside a local coffee shop, 48-year-old comic actor Dannon Green thinks most Americans have already made up their minds. He says he can tell by watching TV news accounts that the situation has escalated but says the politics are too complicated to make an informed decision.

“I think you have to be an expert to really have an opinion on that, and I’m no expert,” says Green. “And I don’t think the expert analysts are getting their picture of what’s going on by watching the news the rest of us watch.”

Indeed, mainstream media tend to take the easy way out, Abraham H. Foxman, an ardent supporter of Israel who is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says via e-mail. There is little effort to get beyond the narrative of “both sides are to blame” and “cycle of violence,” he says, or the comparison of victim data, which he says is not illuminating.

But persistent media coverage, however inaccurate, does have the virtue of pushing at least some to seek out deeper information.

Once these people reach a critical mass of information from mainstream sources, they feel the need for more and search outside the big outlets, says Kamy Akhavan, president and managing editor of ProCon.org, an LA-based news site devoted to the principle of presenting the arguments on both sides of important issues of the day. The site taps some 400 experts to pen articles on both sides of such topics as medical marijuana and gay marriage.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has simmered at mid-point in the list of the top 50 issues trending on the site’s global news agenda for most of the decade that the site has been in place, says Mr. Akhavan, who was born in Iran but grew up in Louisiana. But in the past few weeks, he says, as the situation has heated up, it is now one of the top five being searched by consumers eager to read more widely.

Experience has shown that new readers often come to the site simply to confirm what they already believe, Akhavan allows, but adds that a survey his site conducted of its users in 2013 had some surprising results.

“We wanted to know if people actually changed their opinions based on what they read,” he says, noting that he would have been happy if even five percent said yes. Instead, he says, a whopping 36 percent indicated that what they read on the site actually caused them to change their minds.

Monitor staff writer Daniel B. Wood contributed to this report.

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