Wednesday, September 17, 2014

‘The Most Important Story on Earth’ and its critics. Matti Friedman responds.

...Failing to report bad things that Hamas does, and good things that Israel does, which is what these examples show, creates the villainous “Israel” of the international press. That these failures mislead news consumers is clear. But they also have a role in generating recent events like a mob attack on a Paris synagogue, for example, or the current 30-year-high in anti-Jewish incidents in Britain. There are several causes behind such phenomena, and editorial decisions like these are among them. But this is one subject about which the AP bureau chief, for all of his Jewish ruminations, has nothing to say. The press corps is obviously not “teeming with anti-Semitism.” But neither is it teeming with responsibility or introspection, and the kind of thinking that has taken hold there should have all of us deeply concerned.

Matti Friedman..
Tablet Magazine..
16 September '14..

My essay “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth” touched a nerve far beyond my expectations—I didn’t think that in our times a 4,000-word essay would be shared 750 times on Facebook, let alone 75,000. A second essay will appear here soon.

The article drew a series of interesting responses. Richard Miron, a veteran of both the BBC and the United Nations, published a reflection on his own similar experiences. In Jerusalem the Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg, from the left side of the local political spectrum, called it a “must-read, must think about,” and Rick Santorum endorsed it on Twitter from Pennsylvania. Some accused me of being an apologist for the Israeli right, and worse. A few former colleagues thought practicing journalism on journalists was a kind of betrayal; others were discreetly thrilled. I have made friends and enemies I’m not sure I need.

There has been no serious public response to the piece, however, from inside the system I’m criticizing—no denials of the examples I gave, no explanations for the numbers I cite, no alternative reasons for the problems I describe. This uncomfortable silence is an admission.

Here I would like to reply briefly to the closest thing to an official explanation that has emerged so far. This is a short essay published by Steven Gutkin, the AP’s former bureau chief in Jerusalem, in the paper he currently runs in Goa, India, and highlighted here at Tablet last week. The article is important for reasons I believe its author did not intend.

Steve, who chose to identify himself as one of the editors who appeared anonymously in my account, responds to my concrete examples with generalities, musings about the human condition, anecdotes, and much discussion of his own Judaism. He seems to believe this is about character—he is an experienced journalist, he writes, and is a Jew, albeit one who believes most in “humanity” (as opposed to the ones who, you know, don’t). We should thus believe him when he says my essay is “hogwash,” even if he can’t be bothered to actually disprove anything. I was a junior member of the staff, we are to understand, and spent less time in the international press corps than he, and I am Israeli. Of course all of this is true. But so what? I’m making a case about the coverage. Anyone hoping to dispute what I wrote has to provide, as I do, concrete information about the coverage.


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