This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for Marda Dunsky, an appropriate occasion to reconsider how the U.S. media portrays Middle Eastern political upheaval.
A former Arab affairs reporter for the Jerusalem Post and a national and foreign affairs editor at the Chicago Tribune, Dunsky discussed her recently published book Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict at the University’s International House Tuesday. Dunsky criticized the U.S. media’s approach to reporting the conflict, citing the media’s tendency toward decontextualization.
In her review of reporting on the conflict, Dunsky studied news reports from about 30 different media outlets, ranging from daily newspapers to news magazines, broadcast, and cable TV networks. Her study concluded that news reporting often portrays the conflict out of context by omitting key information.
“The average reader, from the coverage, would conclude that the Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting forever and that there is no hope for resolution, neither of which are true,” Dunsky said.
She argued that news organizations generally do not report the significant U.S. role in the conflict over the past several decades.
The U.S. has granted Israel $101 billion in aid from its inception in 1948 through the last fiscal year. In addition to this financial support, the U.S. also lends significant diplomatic support to Israel. Roughly one-half of America’s 82 vetoes of United Nations Security Council mandates were cast in order to protect Israeli interests, Dunsky said.
Dunsky also said that the power imbalance created by U.S.–Israeli relations increases the difficulty of successfully negotiating a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In researching her book, Dunsky explored media-reporting methods in interviews with 14 journalists who have covered the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. She found that many journalists rely heavily on official sources instead of conducting independent investigative reporting.
“There is a reluctance to question why the policy is what it is. Some more controversial State Department briefings sounded like a Gilbert and Sullivan opera; if it were not so serious it would almost be funny. The official would not give an answer, and that is where the reporter stopped,” Dunsky said.
Dunsky suggested that the U.S. media could remedy the current oversights in Middle Eastern reporting by broadening its source pool, analyzing U.S. foreign policy and its impact in the Middle East, and avoiding censorship on information.
“It may end up being more a matter of the media not leading but rather following the public discourse,” she said.