4-24-02 - On CAMERA: MSNBC Crashes the Truth


On CAMERA Column
by Alex Safian, PhD
Associate Director, CAMERA

MSNBC, the joint cable network of Microsoft and NBC, has been notably tilted against
Israel in its recent coverage, filling up hours of air time with hackneyed reports on topics
like the supposed difficulty of distinguishing "freedom fighters" from terrorists, and making grotesque comparisons between the "aging warriors" Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat. While the network does air some reports by NBC's Martin Fletcher, one of the best foreign journalists in Israel, the dominant news theme is of oppressed Palestinians, who, if they do awful things like suicide bombings, are driven to it by their cruel Israeli overlords. With one exception -- a report by Fletcher -- the network does not, for example, inform viewers that Palestinian schools preach to students a cult of "martyrdom" and suicide bombing, or that Palestinian society reinforces this message of jihad on a daily basis.

Unfortunately the problem is not just with the network's Middle East-based reporters, but
also with anchors, reporters and editors back home. A telling case in point -- the network's
coverage of pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel rallies. Before the very large pro-Israel rally in Washington on April 15th, which MSNBC could hardly ignore since it drew over 100,000 participants, there were smaller pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel rallies on the weekend of April 6th. The pro-Palestinian rallies came first, and MSNBC offered viewers extensive coverage, with multiple reports through the day, showing crowd shots and focusing on signs equating the Star of David with a swastika and other signs calling Sharon a war criminal. The one report of a pro-Israel rally in France seemed only to be a vehicle to describe the violence that occurred between "pacifists" and other demonstrators, falsely portraying French supporters of Israel as violence-prone.

The next day, Sunday, the network faced a test -- would it give equal coverage to large pro-
Israel rallies held in many cities across the country, in New York, first and foremost, but also in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere.

MSNBC failed that test miserably. It ignored almost entirely the pro-Israel rallies -- only
the rally in New York was even mentioned, and that just for mere seconds. And the network used a street level shot, making it impossible to see how many people were there. Finally, the report was at 11:18 in the morning, before the rally had even begun, and before much of the crowd had arrived. While this might have been unintentional, covering a rally before most of the demonstrators arrive is a known trick-of-the-trade when a reporter disapproves of an event's message and wants to erase its impact.

Compounding its dereliction, the network's scrolling text reports at the bottom of the screen were just as biased. On Sunday and even into Monday, well after the anti-Israel rallies had concluded, MSNBC continued to run text reports about them, telling viewers that "hundreds of demonstrators join peaceful rallies across the US to protest Israeli military action... rallies held in Crawford, TX, New York City, Miami Beach, FL, Columbus & Cleveland, OH, Los Angeles & San Francisco, CA."

The text report -- repeated over and over again -- was nothing less than disinformation, leaving viewers with an impression exactly the opposite of reality.  The network's coverage emanating from the Middle East has been just as distorted, and has only worsened since "star" reporter Ashleigh Banfield abandoned Afghanistan for Jerusalem. Witnessing Banfield's shaky grasp of the region's realities can be downright painful. In her March 7th broadcast, for example, she repeated -- almost
verbatim -- Arab claims that Israel has been allowed to flout UN Security Council Resolution 242, while Iraq faces sanctions for its refusal to honor supposedly similar UN resolutions:

BANFIELD: "...Resolution 242 ... reads like this ... : 'a withdrawal of Israel (sic) armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict,' clearly making reference to moving the Israelis out of  lands that they occupied after the 1967 war. Now that juxtaposed with this resolution, Resolution 687 from 1991 April, 'Iraq shall submit to the Secretary-General a declaration on the locations, amounts and types of biological and chemical weapons and agree to urgent, on-site inspection.'

... it seems that America is very, very quick to suggest that ... the ... resolution with regard to Iraq
needs to be adhered to ..., but when it comes to ... the Israelis need[ing] to withdraw to the 1967 borders, [America seems] more willing to look the other way. Is this hypocritical and because of
that, perhaps is an attack on Iraq the wrong thing to do?"

Banfield, of course, could not be more wrong. The intentional omission of "the territories" in the operative sentence, and the clause Banfield ignored calling for "secure and recognized boundaries," both point to the fact that the Security Council did not envision or require an Israeli pullback to the pre-1967 borders. Indeed, in the UN debate at the time the Soviet Union's representative, Vasily Kuznetsov, complained about just this point:

KUZNETSOV: "... 'secure and recognized boundaries'. What does that mean? What boundaries are these? Secure, recognized - by whom, for what? Who is going to judge how secure they are? Who must recognize them? ... there is certainly much leeway for different interpretations which retain for Israel the right to establish new boundaries and to withdraw its troops only as far as the lines which it judges convenient." (S/PV. 1373, p. 112, of 9.11.67)

Not surprisingly, Israeli figures have argued that by withdrawing from the Sinai, by area 80 percent of the territories captured in 1967, Israel has already satisfied Resolution 242. The Arab states, on the other hand, by refusing for so long even to negotiate, and by continuing to launch attacks against Israel, and even a full-scale war in 1973, violated Resolution 242, numerous other resolutions, and the UN Charter. Banfield, of course, mentions none of this.

Beyond Banfield's gaffes and omissions, her tone betrayed an evident exasperation with what she seemed to view as stiff-necked Israelis who refuse to make peace with their long-suffering Arab neighbors. In reality it is the viewers who are ill-served by Banfield's obvious bias and historical myopia.