Whom can we trust?

Whom can we trust?

We believe in a free and unfettered press. We just do not believe in a dishonest one, but that is what the mainstream media seem to be these days.

When it comes to news from the Middle East, the need to separate fact from fiction is not merely an annoyance; it is a dangerous trend with potentially explosive consequences. The volatility of the region requires that the reporting be as accurate and as free of bias and spin as possible.

Yet name the media outlet and evidence of distorted and inaccurate reporting is there to find, from the left and the right. Much is said, for example, about how the Israel-Gaza fighting came about because Israel killed the leader of Hamas’ military wing. Because of that action, Hamas launched more than 1,000 missiles into Israel in the last week or so.

Nothing, however, is said of the nearly 700 missiles that Hamas launched against Israel before it moved against the chief perpetrator of that murderous barrage, Ahmed al-Jabari. There were 171 missiles in October, 80 of them in a single day. Nearly 140 fell in the first half of November, before Operation Pillar of Defense was launched.

We read and see and hear much about how Gaza’s children must stay in shelters, but little to nothing is said about, say, the 40,000 school children in Beersheva who are in shelters, or about how the people of Sderot live under a daily threat of missile attacks.

One CNN anchorperson, when asked a rhetorical question about how she might react if Cuba sent missiles daily into Florida, responded with words like “But I’m not occupying anyone else’s country.”

Some media, in the name of “fairness,” give each side’s claims equal weight. It is as if in reporting on the murder of a shopkeeper in Queens, say, the reporter first tells us that police allege that the perpetrator shot the shopkeeper in cold blood, but then adds that perpetrator insists the shopkeeper deliberately stood in the way of a bullet as it exited aimlessly from the perpetrator’s gun. It is absurd. Applying such a “fairness doctrine” all too often results in dishonest reporting, however unintentional.

Then there is the current reality of television and print reporting. Dramatic footage or photographs are much preferred to words spoken or written, even if the images distort truth. Israel’s missiles more often than not directly land on their Gazan targets. The results unfortunately are images of injured children, grieving family members, and the like. They make for great television but terrible reporting.

Another lack is the sin of omission. We are shown bombed-out civilian homes and are treated to the warnings by the United Nations Secretary General to Israel against causing civilian casualties. Little or nothing is said, however, about how Hamas callously uses civilian homes and innocent Gazans as shields, so that their homes may be damaged, and they may be injured, or killed. Hamas understands the propaganda value of such images to shape world opinion. The media need dramatic imagery; Hamas sets it up, and Israel, reluctantly but necessarily, accommodates.

In the print media, a dramatic photograph of a bloody child trumps a missile in an open field any day.

Is there anything anyone can do to change this?

We hope not.

One of the great strengths of any democracy is a free and unfettered press. We do not want to see any diminution of the First Amendment, no matter what the excesses or the failings of the media may be.

We do believe, however, that these excesses and failings of the mainstream media underscore the need for and the importance of the English-language Jewish media. By its nature, the Jewish media have a pro-Israel bias, or at least we hope they do; we do not suggest that we are any better than our mainstream counterparts. We do try, however, to paint a more complete and honest picture.

More to the point, we deal with the kinds of information that Jews need but the mainstream media will not supply.

People do not need a New Jersey Jewish Standard or a Philadelphia Exponent or a Los Angeles Jewish Journal to review films, or cover sports events, or report on fashion trends, although it is nice to get a Jewish slant on such things now and then. They do need a Jewish newspaper, however, to cover their world and to alert them to issues that have an impact on their lives and the lives of their communities.

The New York Times may be the newspaper of record, but it will not record how the Jewish community fared during Sandy or what its needs are in the superstorm’s wake. Fox News may be “fair and balanced” way over on the Israel side of the report, but it will not provide viewers with information on how they can help Israel in this time of crisis. NPR may do 12 minutes on the sex lives of salamanders, but it will not report on what Chanukah events are available this year.

It is easy to dismiss the Jewish media as “not real journalism,” or as wannabe newspapers staffed by amateur reporters who cannot tell the difference between an ad and an adverb. For sure, most Jewish media lack the financial resources available to their mainstream counterparts, but for the most part they are professional organizations that make the most of the resources they do have, so that their audience can get the best available perspective on the news that affects them as Jews.

How sad it is that it takes a crisis of the Operation Pillar of Defense variety to get us all to appreciate how important that is.