Veteran journalist and publisher of JPost.com, the online edition of the Jerusalem Post, Alan Abbey delivered a speaking tour in May throughout the U.S. This story appeared in the Buffalo News on May 28, 2003.
Journalist from Israel cites story wrongs
By ERIN SHULTZ
If you ask Alan Abbey, journalists get it wrong a lot of the time – especially when it comes to the war in Israel.
Himself a journalist and publisher of JPost.com, the online edition of the Jerusalem Post, Abbey delivered a speech titled “The War in Israel: Does Anybody Get it Right?” to a crowd of about 25 at Temple Beth-El in the Town of Tonawanda Tuesday night, talking about the media’s coverage of Israel, the factors that distort that coverage and ways to actively seek out the unbiased story.
“Does anybody get it right?” asked Abbey, who is originally from New York City, but moved to Israel nearly four years ago. “The answer is “no,’ and I’m not sure anybody could.
“The key factor is that it’s just impossible for the media to keep up with a story,” he added.
He cited a disturbance that occurred March 6 in Gaza, in which fire from the Israeli military killed several citizens.
Within 24 hours, there were no less than half a dozen different versions of the story printed in media sources such as the Los Angeles Times, CNN, MSNBC, the Associated Press and Reuters. The reported causes ranged from a missile attack to an explosion to varying numbers of tank shells. Reported casualties ranged from eight to 100.
“The story line was the same – Israel went out and whacked a bunch of people,” he said. “All the details were different.”
Later, the Israel Defense Forces explained the disturbance had killed eight and was the result of the military firing on terrorists.
“Was there a single story about the IDF research three days later?” he asked the audience. “Anyone want to take a guess on that one?”
The problem, he said, in addition to the sweeping undercurrent of anti-Semitism, is that newspapers are not equipped to cover the whole story, due to time constraints and the sheer amount of information necessary to accurately report on the war.
“I’m not blaming the media for getting it wrong,” said Abbey. “It’s the first draft of history, as we say.”
But what coverage like this has done is make Israel a Goliath and Palestine a David, he said.
“The constant drumbeat of slipshod coverage adds fuel to the fire,” he said.
But in the media, there is a pressure to get news first, yet also cover the same story as the competition, a practice Abbey referred to as “pack journalism.”
“You don’t want to be ahead of the pack,” Abbey said. “You want to be in the pack.”
Often the American media passes by the rich life that Israel offers, such as advances in science and technology. Abbey and his family took a trip while he was on sabbatical from the Albany Times Union and said they fell in love with Israel and never returned to the United States.
“There is a magic about the place that no amount of terror or war could eradicate,” he said.