By Arthur Solomon
Big story news coverage is supposed to be the hallmark of cable TV. Now it’s the protests in Ferguson, Mo. But for the past several weeks it was the reporting on the Israeli-Gaza war that once again showed big story reporting is also cable’s Achilles heal because getting it first is often more important than getting it right.
Journalism has always had its share of inaccurate reporting, sometimes because of rushing to meet a deadline, sometime because “reliable sources” that reporters trusted proved unreliable.
For decades erroneous reports were swept under the rug by newspapers. It is only recently in the journalistic time line that corrections are now promptly published.
But the same is not true of cable TV reports. Too often the rush to get it first instead of getting it correct is the result. Unlike newspapers, where at least one editor reviews stories before they are published, live TV reports of major stories are what cable TV news is about, resulting in viewers hearing reports often colored by the biases or fears of on-the-site reporters losing access to interviewees, like Amnesty International that managed to equate what is happening in Ferguson to the Gaza situation as the reporter remained mute.
It’s a little early for media watchers to detail all the wrong information and biased reports that will emerge from the Ferguson reporting.
Not so the examples of faulty reporting from anchors and front line correspondents covering the Gaza war. Tough questions are continuously asked of Israeli spokesmen by the reporters and condemnation of Israel’s army conduct is a constant. Scant mentions are uttered that the destruction of the Jewish state is in Hamas’ charter and that Israel is fighting for its survival.
The biases of cable TV reporting on the conflict are seen 24/7. Footage of the devastation of Gaza is continuously repeated on CNN. Instead of just reporting the news, CNN continuously provides a propaganda platform for Palestinian and Hamas supporters. Missing are the tough
questions by CNN reporters and their challenging erroneous statements.
United Nations spokespersons also are allowed an open anything goes mike by CNN, resulting in additional anti-Israel propaganda. Missing also are the tough questions by CNN asking why the U.N. permits Hamas to store its rockets in U.N. schools. (CNN is now focusing on Ferguson, at least for a while, but that is sure to change the moment things calm down there.)
While the latest examples of shoddy reporting are from Gaza, cable TV has a history of journalistic errors on important stories.
Example: Less than a year after misreporting the Supreme Court decision on President Obama’s health care legislation on June 28, 2012, CNN (no longer the most trusted name in news) and Fox News Channel(never fair and balanced) co-opted Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did It Again”and mistakenly reported that either an arrest was made or a suspect was in custody for the Boston Marathon bombing of April 15, 2013. So much for the reliability of their trusted inside sources.
Example: During the wall-to-wall coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, after so much inaccurate reporting on April 18, the race to report unconfirmed news continued the following day with reports that a woman tipped off the police to the hiding place of the younger bomber. Wrong again. It was a man who noticed something amiss with the boat in his back yard after the police had issued its “all clear.”
Repeating information from “reliable” sources, which turns out to be unreliable, can have unfortunate consequences for individuals.
Example: On April 21, 2013, the New York Times reported that a young man, who some news organizations mistakenly thought looked like one of the bombers, resulted in his sister receiving 58 harassing telephone calls from reporters between the hours of 3 a.m. and 4:11 a.m.
The excuse that cable reporters give when disseminating inaccurate information is that everyone has “reliable sources” that have to be trusted when reporting on a fast-breaking story. However that does not excuse shoddy journalism. Journalism’s mission should be to get it correct, not get it first, which seems to be the rule that NBC’S Pete Williams follows.
In my opinion, he is the best in both reporting the news and putting it into context. Chuck Todd’s The Daily Rundown on MSNBC, which he’s leaving, served the same purpose for political junkies. But unfortunately he kept silent when an Israeli spokesman on his show said that an inaccurate report by an NBC reporter regarding the Gaza conflict merited a correction. Todd ignored the request without replying. Not good journalism.
The “Opinionators” – print columnists and TV pundits – show their anti-Israeli biases by bemoaning their fear that if Israel continues to defend itself the country will surely evolve into a war-like society resembling Sparta, the ancient city-state of Greece (or maybe the U.S.–- that has never seen a war anywhere that was not in our national interest –- and Palestinians?)
But these journalistic worriers fail to mention that there would not be an Israel if it didn’t continuously fight off attacks by Arab countries since its founding in 1948, or that the Hamas charter calls for the elimination of Israel.
The biased TV coverage of the Gaza conflict is also evident on none news show. Jon Stewart, long an Israeli critic on his The Daily Show, once again showed his biases by faulting Israel’s defense of its citizens. His mockery of the situation, which resulted in thousands of deaths over decades, showed how lame his take is compared to the master of political satire Charlie Chaplin, whose movies are still available on TCM.
What is especially interesting is that when French and India TV provided footage that Hamas was launching its rockets right next to supposedly “off-limits” humanitarian targets the resulting media coverage was similar to a twig falling off a Redwood.
Getting it wrong doesn’t seem to be the only problem with cable TV’s reporting on the Israeli-Gaza war. Lack of asking tough questions by journalists is important in order to prevent their networks from being nothing more than a propaganda outlet. But that’s TV show biz.
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Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles on national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com” firstname.lastname@example.org