Life as a foreign correspondent often is portrayed as dangerous, sexy work for a journalist.
But it also can be insular – you're a stranger in a strange land, often dropping in with little knowledge about history, culture and context. That can inhibit the breadth of reporting presented to the world, a glaring flaw when it comes to reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former Associated Press Jerusalem correspondent Matti Friedman writes in an article for The Atlantic.
Journalists monitor each other's work and tend to view human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well meaning do-gooders immune from scrutiny. "Are they bloated, ineffective, or corrupt? Are they helping, or hurting? We don't know," Friedman writes, "because these groups are to be quoted, not covered."
Over time, that arrangement helped entrench a narrative among foreign correspondents in Israel, writes Friedman, who reported out of the AP's Jerusalem office from 2006-11. It is the second essay from the veteran journalist on how the media covers Israel. In August, Friedman provided first-hand examples of stories which were spiked if they made the Palestinians look intransigent, or made Israelis look good.
A "distaste for Israel has come to be something between an acceptable prejudice and a prerequisite for entry," he writes in the Atlantic piece. "The Israel story" is "a simple narrative in which there is a bad guy who doesn't want peace and a good guy who does."
A New York Times editor unintentionally reinforced Friedman's point last month when he took to Twitter to admit his willingness to ignore Palestinian incitement and bigotry until "they have [a] sovereign state to discriminate with."
When events conflict with that narrative, Friedman writes, they are under-reported or not reported at all. So a 2013 rally at the West Bank's Al-Quds University supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and invoking Nazi imagery was widely known among Western journalists but generated little coverage until Brandeis University suspended a partnership program with Al-Quds.
Or, more recently: "The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby—and the AP wouldn't report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas. (This happened.) Hamas fighters would burst into the AP's Gaza bureau and threaten the staff—and the AP wouldn't report it. (This also happened.)"
Hamas understands this reality and manipulates journalists to further advance it. So some stories hint that Hamas no longer is wed to its founding, anti-Semitic charter and its calls for Israel's destruction. Others falsely cast Hamas as open to peace and moderation.
Friedman's essay is important because he writes from experience, not anger. It is packed with too much insight to fully capture here. To read the full essay, click here.