By Jamal Kanj
Last week I referred to Edward Said’s scholarly work on Western media coverage of Muslim and Arab countries, shaped by discreet cultural biases or political motives. This fact couldn’t be more pertinent than in recent coverage of protests against the film deriding Prophet Mohammed.
For days, the media was fixated on protests and the ensuing senseless violence.
US presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s knee-jerk reaction to protests in Libya and Egypt was to admonish the Obama administration, blaming the violence on field ambassadors for condemning the movie and not "standing up for American values".
The same media and candidate (until his speech last week) all but ignored the more than 30,000 Libyans who took to the streets of Benghazi, protesting the attack on the US consulate.
At least 10 Libyans were killed as they ransacked offices of the group allegedly linked to the assault on the consulate, but the Western media downplayed the sacrifices of Libyans fighting the suspected killers of the US diplomat and staff.
The cultural bias in reporting is prevalent in major US media outlets. For example, on October 1, US news station NBC reported that "three US soldiers" and "several Afghanis" were killed in a suicide attack in Afghanistan. Viewers were not told that the "several Afghanis" were actually 11 humans, including four police officers, an interpreter and six civilians.
This pattern of reporting exemplifies a subconscious cultural bias, where the loss of American or Israeli life is more important.
Americans and Israelis are considered actual people, while others are "collateral damage" statistics.
The cultural bias is complemented by self-motivated reporters, who manipulate the Middle East news narrative relayed to unsuspecting Westerners.
For example, many international correspondents in Jerusalem are reserve duty officers or have children serving in the Israeli army.
Jonathan Cook, British journalist based in Nazareth, said: "It is common to hear Western reporters (in Israel) boasting to one another about their Zionist credentials, their service in the Israeli army or the loyal service of their children."
The New York Times never disclosed that its Jerusalem bureau chief between 2010 and 2012, Ethan Bronner, was an Israeli citizen, with a son serving in the Israeli army.
Nor did National Public Radio reveal that its correspondent Linda Gradstein was married to an Israeli military sniper.
Other media pundits, including Joel Greenberg, once a New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, have served in the Israeli army and been on reserve duty. Mitch Weinstock, national editor of the Union Tribune in San Diego, is an Israeli military veteran.
Wolf Blitzer, otherwise known by his Israeli pen name Zev Barak, hosts a major CNN news programme, but was once the Middle East foreign policy analyst and editor for Near East Report, an organ for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the strongest US foreign lobby.
News correspondents, veterans or reserve army officers with conspicuous national allegiance cease to be objective, especially when reporting on their own military units or governments. Reporters with predisposed opinions are advocates incapable of being neutral.
The combination of a formidable Israeli lobby charting US foreign policy in the Middle East, juxtaposed with special interest reporters manipulating America’s public opinion, suggest more US involvement in new, Israeli-contrived adventures akin to the invasion of Iraq.
– Jamal Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) writes a weekly column on Arab issues and is the author of “Children of Catastrophe,” Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published by the Gulf Daily News newspaper.)