Can We Trust the Media?
I am not the type that gets quickly (or even slowly) agitated. But an article in today’s New York Times agitated me to no end.
The article was about a victim of an assassination attempt, whom the editors coined, well, an… agitator.
Here is the opening lead of the article: “An Israeli-American agitator who has pushed for more Jewish access and rights at a hotly contested religious site in Jerusalem was shot and seriously wounded Wednesday night by an unidentified assailant in an apparent assassination attempt.”
What knee-jerk reaction did you have when reading this? As soon as you label someone with a loaded and inciting name like “agitator” — especially at the outset of an article — you have already declared him guilty in some way, and in effect prejudiced the reader.
Here you have a glaring example of slanting a story with one provocative term. By using the word “agitator” as the lead line, essentially, a reputable newspaper — no less one on the caliber of the venerated NY Times — is explaining, if not justifying, the attack After all, doesn’t an agitator deserve to be attacked? Didn’t he bring it on to himself?
By allowing its own biased perspective influence this article the great NY Times has become an agitator in its own right — imposing its position on its readers.
Would the Times dare describe a gay or civil rights activist (under attack) with the name “agitator”?!
Objective reporting would seem to dictate that you first report the facts (one man attempted to assassinate another) before commenting on the personality and character of the intended victim.
Would the Times ever dare open an article with stating that “a promiscuous woman was sexually attacked by a man,” suggesting somehow that the victim was at fault?! Never. It’s simply a form of yellow journalism to present a loaded case without allowing the reader to decide based on the facts.
Regardless whether you agree or disagree with Yehuda Glick’s positions, civil people can all agree that assassins, actual or potential, are the true agitators. As such an appropriate lead to the article should have read: Alleged terrorist or Muslim aggressor wounds Israeli activist.
This episode brought back memories from another “biased” NY Times story, which I personally witnessed. During the Crown Heights riots in the summer of 1991, when blacks were wantonly attacking Jews and vandalizing their stores and homes, culminating in the cold blooded murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, the Times covered the events in its own inimitable style. In the name of so-called fair and balanced reporting the Times wrote that first a car in a Jewish motorcade hit and killed a young black child, Gavin Cato. Then a group of blacks killed Mr. Rosenbaum– as if the two were identical events. In fact, they were as different as can be: The first tragic death was by all accounts an accident; the latter — a deliberate and per-mediatated murder.
In an attempt to set the record straight, I submitted at the time an op-ed article laying out the events of that evening as I personally witnessed them. Needless to say, the Times did not accept my submission.
It seems that my grandfather was right after all. Years ago, when I was a a teenager, he told me that everything written in the newspaper is a lie, even the date on the masthead, because the paper was printed last night…
At the time I argued with my grandfather, presenting my “progressive” perspective that he mistrusted all news outlets since he was coming from the primitive Soviet Union, where propaganda ruled the media, and a newspaper can call itself “truth” (Pravda in Russian means truth; the Communist Yiddish paper was called “emes” — truth in Yiddish, never mind that it was spelled ayin, mem, ayin, samech) — imagine a newspaper in the USA being called “The Truth.” But today, in the modern and evolved free world, where freedom of press is a divine right, we can trust the media. “Zeide,” I said, “we live in a new world. Today the media can be trusted.”
Never mind that his son-in-law, my father, was a journalist. On second thought, this may have been part of the reason why my grandfather was jabbing the media.
But today, as I have grown into a grandfather myself, I have come to think that my zeide may have had a point.
Lest you think that I have become a suspicious grouch or a conspiracy theorist, distrusting every story I read, let me assure that this is not the case. Much can be said for our open society and the free flow of information and news. But people are still people, and so are editors and writers, with all their prejudices and opinions. We must therefore underscore that we should take everything we read — even from established and respectable sources — with a grain of salt.
Part of our open media is that we can keep each other honest and accountable.
Let us all remember, and the media above all (due to the responsibility that they carry in delivering the news to the public): We are all biased and subjective, carrying within prejudices and per-conceived notions. The honest person, the man or woman of integrity, is not the one that is objective, but the humble one — the one that acknowledges his or her subjectivity, and feels accountable for presenting a skewed (even slightly) story, due to a personal or self-interest-based viewpoint. (Another example of this are those journalists and pundits that felt proud of their involvement in the Oslo talks, hoping to achieve glory, and when those talks failed, their injured pride caused them to dig in and maintain obstinate and untenable positions about Israel and the two-state solution).
And recognize that sometimes the ones accusing others of being media agitators may be the greatest agitators of them all.