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CNN Features Viral Article on Biased Reporting About Israel

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Matti Friedman's essay for Tablet magazine. Photo: Twitter.

CNN’s Reliable Sources recently brought attention to a viral article, written by a former Associated Press correspondent, that criticizes the media’s biased focus on Israel.

“Israeli actions are analyzed and criticized, and every flaw in Israeli society is aggressively reported,” Matti Friedman wrote in an essay for the Jewish magazine Tablet. “In one seven-week period, from Nov. 8 to Dec. 16, 2011, I decided to count the stories coming out of our bureau on the various moral failings of Israeli society… I counted 27 separate articles, an average of a story every two days.”

“This seven-week tally was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories about Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas, that our bureau had published in the preceding three years,” he added.

In his essay Friedman also asked, “Is there anything left to say about Israel and Gaza?” and then went on to critique the amount of attention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is given by the media.

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When working as a correspondent for the AP, the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories, which, he said, is significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined.

“News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic, and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand,” Friedman wrote. “They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.”

Friedman also pointed out that the death toll of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “absurdly small” compared to the war’s prominence in media coverage. In all of 2013 the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives, which is roughly the monthly homicide rate of the city of Chicago, he said. In contrast, an estimated 190,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict in the past three years — about 70,000 more than the entire number of casualties in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.

In an interview with Reliable Sources, Friedman further explained that the way the media covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like an “obsession that skews the way we understand the world.”

There is “an objectively disproportionate focus on a country that I think if you look at it with dispassionate eyes isn’t all that important beyond the emotional connection some people feel with it,” Friedman said. He added that most international media organizations “adhere to a very strict script” that portrays Israel “as the aggressor and Palestinians are passive victims.”

“You almost never see Palestinians as agents of their own fate. As adults. People who are making decisions about how to act in the world,” Friedman concluded. “The Palestinians are passive victims of the party that people really care about, which are the Israelis.”

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