The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, April 23, 2002  

The Truth Is, It Doesn't Exist

The Rittenhouse Review has never been a big fan of Robert Scheer. So we are somewhat uncomfortable finding ourselves drawing attention to his column for the second time in two weeks.

But Scheer’s essay in today’s Los Angeles Times, “The Palestinian Side Must Be Told,” is important for its direct take on a raging debate: Whether or not the media’s coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is biased in favor of the latter.

“Is there media bias against Israel?” asks Scheer. “The claim, hotly expressed in thousands of angry e-mails and subscription cancellations, that the U.S. media are anti-Israel is so absurd as to suggest hysteria.” [Ed.: Emphasis added.}

Scheer is right about this. At some American newspapers there are days when virtually every letter to the editor deals with the subject. Rarely do any of the letters have anything new to say and more often than not the writers rely on direct quotations or paraphrases of materials published by various interest groups.

War, armed conflict, and terrorism are detestable events. All are deadly, mean, ugly, messy, complicated, and confusing. The most deplorable outcomes include intentional or unintentional deaths of non-combatants, death of combatants by friendly fire, the destruction of large portions of cities and towns, among much else.

Painful truths may also emerge: the sordid motives of military and political leaders; the exposure of ethnic, racial, or religious prejudices; and the attempt to conceal the mess on the ground.

The evidence of anti-Israel bias in the American media is scant, in our opinion. We attribute the prevailing expressions of hostility to these painful truths. As Scheer puts it: “Are American Jews in such deep denial about the brutality of Israel's recent actions that they would damn those who report the truth?”

Scheer maintains that coverage of the Middle East in the American media is “balanced.” We’re not certain we agree, but he is certainly correct when he observes that Jewish journalists who maintain the necessary professional balance in their reporting are subject to attacks that are particularly nasty. “[T]he convenient denigration is that a Jewish journalist who dares disagree with the more hawkish actions of Israel must be consumed with self-hate,” he writes.

“It would have been irresponsible for the media, Jewish or not, to fail to report . . . that the Israeli onslaught was aimed at destroying all signs of civic life as well as the stated purpose of rooting out terror,” argues Scheer.

This is itself a painful truth, but one that we believe has not received the attention it deserves. The destruction of the nascent infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority is the most deranged aspect of Israel’s assault on the Palestinians. More than that, it is degrading and humiliating -- and deliberately so -- to the Palestinians.

It is also self-destructive. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon maintains that the army’s action was aimed at destroying an infrastructure of terror based in the occupied territories. Once this task is completed, Sharon maintains, Israel will be able to negotiate a resolution to the conflict with a new leadership of moderate Palestinians.

Now, having heard from Israeli apologists for decades now that there is “no such thing as a moderate Palestinian,” we’re left wondering who Sharon believes will occupy the political vacuum he seems hell-bent on creating.

Or should we be wondering whether Sharon hopes there are no Palestinians ready, willing, or able to step into this role? Given Israel’s treatment of Yasir Arafat, the list of potential candidates must be short, if it exists at all.

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