I had the privilege recently to speak with Joe Hyams, who directs HonestReporting, a media watchdog group specializing in the Arab-Israel conflict.
As one who obtained a journalism degree, and is fascinated by all things “Inky Wretch” (to quote the peerless Paul Greenberg), it grieves me to see so much media bias raging today. It always has, truth be told (the Sumerians were the same way, and just what the heck do you think “Mrs. Silence Dogood” was?), but one particular area today seems infected like no other.
When Israel transformed itself from a tiny, struggling nation-state with a lightning victory in the Six-Day War, international perceptions of the Jewish state took, shall we say, a turn for the worse.
Suddenly, Israel became perceived as the bully to the downtrodden Palestinians. Never mind the fact that an Egyptian terrorist named Abu Ammar was installed as the freedom fighter leading his people, the Palestinians. Decades of incitement in the Arab world have led us to a place where Mein Kampf is still a bestseller in the Middle East.
Sadly, Western journalists often fall right in line with the propaganda that it’s all Israel’s fault.
Into this complex situation steps HonestReporting, a group founded during the dark days of the Second Intifada. HonestReporting features a sophisticated team well-versed in the use of social media, to draw journalists back to the ethical standards with which they began.
Hyams, a Brit who spent eight years in Israel, recently came to the U.S. to head HonestReporting’s efforts here. Since this country has long been Israel’s best friend in the world, it seemed a natural thing to strengthen those bonds, especially at a time when Palestinian propaganda has moved into Evangelical Christian circles.
Hyams understands the task.
“What does a cartoon do to public opinion?” he asks rhetorically. “Well, it does a great deal to public opinion.”
Indeed, anti-Semitic cartoons are ubiquitous in the Middle East, but have also made their way into Western print media. As a former advertising and marketing executive, Hyams knows the damage that can be done from a single image.
“Classic print and broadcast has evolved into recognizing our social media and harnessing it…this is a very new way of moving people, and we’ve seen that in the Arab Spring,” Hyams says.
HonestReporting has made dramatic progress in not only making the public aware of the issues, but also in garnering retractions, apologies, and corrections from leading media outlets. Hyams maintains that most journalists aren’t malicious in their reporting of Israel, but in many cases are grossly misinformed.
For example, I know from staying in Arab hotels in East Jerusalem that journalists are targeted by propagandists who teach them Arabic and offer tours to “Occupied Palestine.”
Due to its diligence, successes, and growing influence, HonestReporting is now fielding 1,000 media inquiries each year, a trend Hyams sees continuing.
“Journalists themselves are called upon to be more than columnists, but tweeters and bloggers, to think quickly and respond in real time.”
It is into this volatile field that HonestReporting provides an invaluable service.
Check out their work at www.honestreporting.com, and prepare to be amazed!