Friday, June 30, 2006

He Said, She Said. AIPAC said?

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom--The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace [presumably in the middle east] recently had their advocacy days in Washington. A whole bunch of progressive folks showed up to lobby their elected leaders in DC and I assume hashed out policy proposals and did trainings of various sorts.

The JTA (federation's answer to the AP) offered a poor article.

Peace prospects may look bleak,
but dovish group still pushes talks

By David Silverman June 27, 2006

As the Bush administration looks for ways to resuscitate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a dovish group claiming to represent a fresh voice in the Jewish community feels it’s gaining momentum. [emphasis mine]
You are a journalist David. You shouldn't hedge your bets as to whether they are gaining momentum or not. As a journo your job is to verify claims. Don't just report that they say they are gaining momentum, figure out how one could quantify it or not and then report whether the claim is correct. Has their membership changed? Scope of operations? Number of meetings with congressfolk? Petition Signers? Change in staff size? Investigating these possible changes could help the momentum claim be more than a feeling.

...Brit Tzedek, which bills itself as a pro-peace, pro-Israel movement, insists on a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. In the four years since it was founded in the midst of the Palestinian intifada, the group claims to have grown to more than 34,000 supporters in more than 30 chapters nationwide.
Here we go with the lazy fact hedging again. What qualifies as a supporter? Is this a correct claim? you be the journalist David.

“We believe that there’s no way you can resolve a conflict between two peoples by one people dictating the end of the game,” Steve Masters, national chairman of Brit Tzedek’s Advocacy and Public Policy Committee, said of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan for a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank.
Nice quote Steve.
Brit Tzedek presents its approach as a departure from the view represented by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but AIPAC spokesman Josh Block said the pro-Israel lobby long has supported a negotiated, two-state solution. However, that approach has changed since the Palestinians rejected Israeli peace offers and launched the intifada, then elected terrorist group Hamas to lead the Palestinian Authority.

Whoa there David. Ahh, finally David vets a claim. Presumably The AIPAC guy said something like "after the arabs rejected peace offers, well we changed out approach". Here is the problem, that isn't quite a fact. There is a lot of debate over what happened at the Clinton-Arafat-Barak series of peace talks. Though I am peeved, reporting facts instead of hedged-fact-alternatives is probably progress.

According to Benjamin Murane, chairman of the Brit Tzedek Campus Committee, the result is a black-and-white paradigm. “The Jewish community in general is very, ‘Here is our opinion on these issues, and that’s the way you are going to take it.’ You are either pro-Israel all the way or you are anti-Israel,” Murane said.

This one probably isn't the journalists fault, Ben probably just wasn't using talking points or pre-designed sound bytes.

Others say that’s simply not the case.

“Even today in the American Jewish community there are a range of Jewish voices — some to our right and some to our left — and they reflect different perspectives,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. “The notion that there is no debate is really a cheap shot and on closer examination does not jibe with the facts.”

Umm, given Ben's quote it seems reasonable to talk to someone from the established jewish community. I suppose that guy was David Harris. Um, Mr. Harris a closer look indicates that people who are critical of Israeli policies are often labeled as anti-semites and that people who are actually doubtful about the state of israel in general are forbidden from holding significant jewish roles of various sorts, like the presidencies of hillels. If there are any cheap shots it is not at the jewish community but by the jewish community. Another major question here is what constitutes the jewish community. I hope MahRabu will address this claim in his ongoing series on the way the jewish press reports and reinforces frames.

Rather than silencing voices like Brit Tzedek’s, most groups simply reject their approach as simple-minded, several Jewish leaders said.
You have to be kidding. This is disgusting. There is one guy on the record with an attack quote. Bad enough, but still probably within the bounds given that he was attacked in a vague way. Several Jewish leaders who won't go on the record. The reporter is allowing anonymous lashon harah. Untenable. There approach isn't simple-minded so perhaps this is rechilut. Though i suppose it is hard to prove that are or are not simple-minded but whether it is anonymous lashon harah or anonymous rechilut it has no business in JTA story.

Sloganeering about peace is one thing, but achieving peace is another,” Harris said. “It may be a feel-good exercise to claim you’re on the side of peace, but peace with whom given today’s reality?”

Still, some lawmakers on hand for Brit Tzedek’s Capitol Hill reception welcomed the diversity in the Jewish voice.

“One of the things that I’ve discovered is that there’s a rich diversity of opinion among supporters of Israel and the Jewish community,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). “Too often in Congress we are dealing with bumper stickers, we’re dealing with slogans, we’re dealing with the lowest common denominator. This is providing the context, the nuance, the challenging ideas.”

Hmm, who knows more about the quality of debate in washington and who is adding or detracting from it--Harris or Representative Earl Blumenauer? My monies on the guy elected by the people of Oregon.

Brit Tzedek showed its mettle earlier this month by engaging AIPAC in a grass-roots battle over a U.S. House of Representatives bill restricting aid to the Palestinians. The group swamped congressional offices with calls and letters opposing the bill.

Ultimately the House backed the measure, 361-37. The result may reflect the distaste lawmakers and many Americans feel for Brit Tzedek’s policies since Hamas took power in the Palestinian Authority.

This would have been a great chance to speak with some people in the House offices to figure out why they voted the way they voted and how AIPAC and BTVS impacted their views.


In general my beef with this article is that it is a he said/she said piece. The writer gets quotes and then shopped them to people he thought would disagree and writes their point of view. This is alarmingly common. Instead of debunking Bush's Iraq claims the media just reported the press secretary's statements and then a token Dem response rather than analyzing either viewpoint in light of the facts.

senator James Inhofe has claimed climate change isn't occurring but that it is in fact a great hoax. The media should be slapping him around for it. Rather the media has been reporting on climate change as an issue with two sides. In fact, the vast majority of scientists think there is only one reasonable side. For instance take this analysis from Wired:

About halfway through [an inconvenient truth], Gore cites two studies to explain why so many people remain so skeptical about global warming. The first looked at a random sample of almost 1,000 abstracts on climate change in peer-reviewed scientific journals from 1993 to 2003 and found that exactly zero doubted “that we’re causing global warming.” The second surveyed a random sample of more than 600 articles about global warming in popular media between 1988 and 2002 and discovered that 53 percent questioned “that we’re causing global warming.”

Good journalism likes two sides to every story. Lazy journalism fails to distinguish between objective sources and interested parties – and this issue has interested parties aplenty, from ­industry-funded think tanks to hired PR firms, feeding the press the disinformation it needs to make the story sound balanced. This is the media’s own inconvenient truth – that the institution charged with reporting the facts is so easily manipulated by those whose “salary depends upon [our] not understanding” the facts (to reuse Gore’s favorite Upton Sinclair quote). The result is the perfect storm for obfuscation. You can’t buy the story outright, but you can twist it enough that the truth is no longer recognizable.

The JTA article is clearly a case of lazy journalism. That said, I'm glad there was coverage as so-so as it was and I am assuming the reporter was on a tight deadline and will do better next time. I am always happy to suggest research methodology approaches that help avoid the lack of clarity and point hedging, so shoot me an e-mail if you get stuck Mr. Silverman.

2 Comments:

At 7/05/2006 , Anonymous Steve Masters said...

Zach - truly great media critique! Thanks for devoting the time and care to peel off the layers of this story.

 
At 7/06/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

glad you enjoyed it Steve. Keep up the fantastic policy work brother!

 

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