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Cultural bias in the US media

January 28, 2014 at 6:58 am

Edward Said’s scholarly work on Western media coverage of Muslim and Arab countries showed that it has been shaped by discreet cultural biases or political motives. This fact couldn’t be more pertinent than in recent coverage of protests against the film deriding Prophet Muhammad.

For days, the media was fixated on protests and the ensuing senseless violence. US presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s knee-jerk reaction to protests in Libya and Egypt was to admonish the Obama administration, blaming the violence on field ambassadors for condemning the movie and not “standing up for American values”.

The same media and candidate all but ignored the more than 30,000 Libyans who took to the streets of Benghazi, protesting against the attack on the US Consulate. At least 10 Libyans were killed as they ransacked offices of the group allegedly linked to the assault on the consulate, but the Western media downplayed the sacrifices of Libyans fighting against the suspected killers of the American diplomat and staff.

The cultural bias in reporting is prevalent in major US media outlets. For example, on 1st October, NBC news reported that “three US soldiers” and “several Afghanis” were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. Viewers were not told that the “several Afghanis” were actually 11 human beings, including four police officers, an interpreter and six civilians.

This pattern of reporting exemplifies a subconscious cultural bias, where the loss of American (or Israeli) life is more important than that of others. Americans and Israelis are considered to be real people, while the rest are “collateral damage”; mere statistics; or as Said put it, the Others.

The cultural bias is complemented by self-motivated reporters, who manipulate the Middle East news narrative relayed to unsuspecting Westerners. For example, many international correspondents in Jerusalem are reserve duty officers or have children serving in the Israeli army.

Jonathan Cook, a British journalist based in Nazareth, said: “It is common to hear Western reporters [in Israel] boasting to one another about their Zionist credentials, their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children.”

The New York Times never disclosed that its Jerusalem bureau chief between 2010 and 2012, Ethan Bronner, was an Israeli citizen, with a son serving in the Israeli army. Nor did National Public Radio reveal that its correspondent Linda Gradstein was married to an Israeli military sniper.

Other media pundits, including Joel Greenberg, once a New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, have served in the Israeli army and been on reserve duty. Mitch Weinstock, national editor of the Union Tribune in San Diego, is an Israeli military veteran.

Wolf Blitzer, otherwise known by his Israeli pen name Zev Barak, hosts a major CNN news programme, but was once the Middle East foreign policy analyst and editor for Near East Report, an organ of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the strongest pro-Israel lobby group in the USA.

News correspondents, veterans and reserve army officers with conspicuous national allegiances cease to be objective, especially when reporting on their own military units, ex-service or governments. Reporters with predisposed opinions are advocates generally incapable of being neutral.

The combination of a formidable Israeli lobby charting US foreign policy in the Middle East, juxtaposed with special interest reporters manipulating America’s public opinion, suggest that we can expect more US involvement in new, Israeli-contrived adventures akin to the invasion of Iraq.

* Mr Kanj ( writes a weekly column on Arab issues and is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. This article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.