Consider yourself very lucky if you have never heard of “Comment is Free Watch” (CiF Watch), “BBC Watch”, “HonestReporting” and “Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America” (CAMERA).
Statistics collected by the Institute for Internet Nonsense suggest that these four blogs account for “ninety per cent of web-based pedantry” and have been awarded “Most Boring Analysis” in the I Don’t Care This Isn’t Journalism awards, sponsored by Valium.
These blogs claim to be all about ensuring balance in the media. As such, they think, and tell their legion of pro-Israel supporters, that Western liberal editors are anti-Semitic and that criticising Israel online means that you hate Jews. They also scare-monger on their own websites that Western journalists are conspiring to paint Israel in a bad light. They impose this nonsense on the world through writing pedantic blog posts, sending mass emails to editors and celebrating every time they get one word changed in an “errant” newspaper article.
Unless a journalist has a Star of David tattooed on his or her forehead and has declared undying love for Zionism, she or he can become a target. However, all of these watchdogs are riddled with hypocrisy, deliberate falsehood, bullying and shoddy journalism. In fact, they’re not about maintaining “balance” at all; they are propaganda tools, part of Israel’s incredibly well-funded “hasbara” programme.
HonestReporting.com once boasted that it brought down CNN‘s email servers by sending six thousand emails per day to executives. In October 2004, the group co-ordinated around a thousand emails being sent to the British Medical Journal, which had published a critical piece about the Israeli army based on an academic study.
An analysis of the emails received by the BMJ showed that about a third of them issued blanket denials, without offering any contrary evidence; twenty-two per cent showed direct evidence of being derived from the HonestReporting.com website; and roughly half could not be published by the BMJ because they failed to meet the webmasters’ criteria for public comments left underneath academic studies (which outlaw personal attacks and racial abuse).
Adam Levick, the managing editor and mastermind of these bullying strategies, has no professional background in journalism. He has spent his career working for various pro-Israeli think tanks, including NGO Monitor, a group that criticises charities which dare to speak out about Israel’s human rights abuses.
A favourite moan of Levick and his friends concerns readers’ comments beneath online Guardian articles, especially those which take an anti-Israel stance. They have a legitimate gripe as there are some genuinely nasty comments left on the Guardian‘s website, but HonestReporting [sic] always pushes for anti-Israel comments to be removed by site moderators.
Under my own published articles, I’ve been called a “well known crypto lefto fascist” (a title I’m secretly quite proud of), told that I have “blood on my hands” and that “judgement day is coming,” (a bit more ominous). And finally that I’m “retarded”. Did I ask for these comments to be removed from the website in question? No; I’m not nine years old and I can tell the difference between a lunatic with a keyboard and a lunatic with a gun.
Preachy CiF Watch mixes factual analysis and opinion on its own website, a practice known as “editorialising” and something which professional journalists frown upon. For example, its writers often use the term “radical” or “pro-terrorist” without any explanation; they are simply euphemisms to be deployed against any group or individual who is pro-Palestinian.
When they talk about award-winning journalist Robert Fisk, a figure who raises their digital hackles more than most, the bloggers use inverted commas around “award-winning” as if his awards for journalism are alleged or made up. The truth is that Fisk has won awards, but because CiF Watch resents this (and it hasn’t won any), it sneaks in some snide punctuation.
CAMERA is the American parent organisation of CiF Watch (as well as the similar BBC Watch), but it focuses on the US media, something that it has done since the eighties. Fox News is an interesting case study regarding CAMERA’s view of media “accuracy”. Instead of having dirt thrown at them, Fox producers have been singled out for praise from the “watchdogs”.
In fact, Fox is so good at producing balanced coverage, according to CAMERA, that they’ve never had to correct any of its content, something that cannot be claimed by almost every other major news outlet in America. That seems strange given that there have been at least seven academic studies looking at Fox News output and concluding that its audience is the most misinformed in America, presumably because of the fact-free reporting rather than them being stupid viewers.
At the time of writing, Fox is the subject of CAMERA’s latest fawning post, being credited for inviting comments from two “refreshingly honest guests”. Ex-mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg was one of them. In his interview with Fox, Bloomberg called for a disproportionate response to Hamas rockets and endorsed the high levels of civilian casualties. He also proclaimed that, “As Israel goes so will America.”
“This is the only democracy in this part of the world,” claimed Bloomberg. “This is an ally; we need them and they need us.”
Bugling after him was Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters, reportedly one of the best qualified and most admired strategic thinkers at the Pentagon. “The global media… Let’s be honest about this,” he said. “The socially acceptable form of anti-Semitism, of old fashioned, fourteenth century Jew-hatred, is to be anti-Israel, to criticise Israel. That’s safe.”
Yes, CAMERA targets, you naughty journalists are all “Jew haters”. Such extreme views were reviewed positively on the CAMERA website: “remarkable”, it purred.
CAMERA is disputing the veracity of the massacre at Al-Shifa Hospital, arguing that it was a Hamas stronghold so over sixty civilian casualties were justified. Its only source for this is an IDF spokesperson.
Five editors from CAMERA have already been sanctioned formally by Wikipedia for putting biased entries secretly onto the public website. An investigation into their dishonesty was published by Electronic Intifada in 2008 and was followed by an exposé in Harpers Magazine later that year. The reports led to an investigation by Wikipedia’s management. Commenting on the incident, Gershom Gorenberg, of The American Prospect, stated: “CAMERA is ready to exempt itself from the demands for accuracy that it aims at the media. And like others engaged in the narrative wars, it does not understand the difference between advocacy and accuracy.” His piece was called “The Middle East Editing Wars.”
Co-ordinators at CAMERA had even advised their members not to edit articles about Israel for a set period to evade suspicious site administrators, then bombard the site with pro-Israel edits. Even the Daily Telegraph in London, which is broadly pro-Israel in its editorial stance, covered the embarrassing incident.
In a YouTube interview with the blog “Elders of Ziyon” last year, the Chief Executive Officer of HonestReporting.com, British-born Boston resident Joe Hyams, tells viewers that he is trying to “raise journalistic standards.” That’s an interesting piece of condescending prattle, because Hyams has no professional background in journalism. He came from advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi, where he was a “strategic planner”.
According to the official website of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, which maintains a profile page for Mr Hyams and sends him frequently on speaking engagements, he “trains Israel supporters in the planning of campaign strategy and evaluation.” The managing editor of HonestReporting.com is Simon Plosker; he has spent time working in the Israel Defence Force’s Spokesperson Unit, and continues as a reservist, presumably in the same role.
Why would ex-advertising executives and reservists in the IDF’s Spokesperson Unit be appropriate guardians of media balance? Simple; this isn’t about balance, it’s about a “media war”, as Hyams himself puts it, which explains HonestReporting.com’s close alliance with the Israeli government. These watchdogs are simply another cog in the Israeli war machine.
In November 2012, during the eight-day Israeli offensive against the people of the Gaza Strip, CNN anchors interviewed forty-five Israeli officials, more than twice the number of Palestinian officials. Between 30th June and 9th July this year, CNNinterviewed seventeen Israeli officials and just one Palestinian.
In a study published by academic Mohammed El Masry in 2009, he found that the New York Times and Chicago Tribune coverage of the second Palestinian intifada was highly skewed in Israel’s favour. Similarly, a 2003 study by academic Matt Viser published in the International Journal of Press/Politics found that the New York Times personalised Israeli deaths, largely ignored Palestinian deaths and relied heavily on Israeli sources. A 2001 study by academic Seth Ackerman showed that National Public Radio covered 89 per cent of Israeli child deaths and only 20 per cent of Palestinian child deaths.
Far from defending Israel valiantly from anti-Semitic attacks or anti-Israel editorial bias, which these groups like to pretend is widespread, HonestReporting, CAMERA and their ilk are aggressors on the media scene, determined to push a skewed version of events taking place in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to the audience and readership in America and Britain. The poor record of CNN and other media outlets is quite possibly a successful result of their efforts.
General awareness of these groups, and their activities to influence media coverage, is relatively low other than amongst the super-engaged minority who focus on Israel-Palestine issues. Although there’s some cynical amusement to be gained from picking apart their pedantry, ultimately their role mirrors that of the Israeli military in pretending that Israelis are in mortal danger as a pretext for attacks on civilians, while spinning propaganda that distorts reality and supports Israel’s war crimes.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.