Monday, January 26, 2009

U.S. media accused of racist Gaza coverage

The story the Washington Post doesn't want you to hear

The article below is a reprint from

Washington, D.C., demo at Washington Post for Gaza, 01-16-09 Protesters dump copies of the Washington Post at the steps of the newspaper's office building, Washington, D.C., Jan. 16.

"I would give most of the American media an F minus", says Brian Becker, the National Coordinator of ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). He spoke to me on Jan. 16th in Washington, D.C. at a protest ANSWER organized outside The Washington Post offices.

ANSWER (which tends not to do street theater but to hold fairly straight-forward marches and rallies) decided to "send a dramatic message that this is not acceptable" and so members brought a wheelbarrow full of copies of The Washington Post and dumped them all over the institution’s front steps. Click here. About 60 activists stood on the sidewalk outside the Post offices for a couple of hours at the end of the coldest day Washington had experienced in years, and accused the Post of extreme bias and racism against Arabs.

Though Becker criticized the corporate media as a whole for its coverage of Gaza and Israel-Palestine issues, the Jan. 16th protest sponsored by ANSWER and MAS (the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation) demonstrated at the Post in particular because, at the height of Israel’s assault on Gaza, four major protests against Israel’s actions took place in Washington and the Post did not cover any of them.

"Not one word has been written about any of the protests", Becker complained. While the Post is usually seen as one of the four most prestigious and influential newspapers in the U.S. and is expected to cover important national issues and debates on foreign policy, their news blackout on the protests also had a local component: "The Post prides itself on having very strong local coverage," Becker claimed. "The Arab-American community, which is an important part of Washington, D.C., came out in tens of thousands and were totally ignored by the Post."

The snub that instigated the "Dump the Post" protest was The Washington Post’s refusal to report on the large D.C. protest against the carnage in Gaza on Jan. 10th. That march drew about 30,000, one of the protesters, Renee, told me; and was part of a National Day of Emergency Mass Action coordinated by ANSWER and its coalition partners. Click here.

On that day, hundreds of thousands of Americans came out for peace in cities across the country I saw at least 10,000 participants of various races and walks of life rallying in Los Angeles, for instance, yet the Washington Post, which Becker alleges sent a photographer and journalist and interviewed him at the D.C. rally, pulled the article that their correspondent wrote even though the reporter had called Becker for a final fact-check.

"It’s as if the Washington Post can’t see Arab people, either the suffering people in Gaza or the Arab-Americans right here in D.C.," said Becker. "We think that is an act of racism and bigotry, the same way the African-American community, decades ago, was treated as an invisible force by the Washington Post."

"There’s a consensus within the media and the political establishment that Israel must be supported and defended always. Corporate-dominated media has been awful because they are just" repeating the U.S. government position, which Becker describes as: "Every time the Israelis attack Gaza it’s considered self-defense; every time the Palestinians shoot back it’s considered terrorism." Becker pointed out that at the same time, the corporate media "failed to cover" Israel’s 18-month blockade of the Gaza Strip, a blockade which "by all international standards is an act of war."

"That’s not news coverage, that’s propaganda."

Similar protests were organized against bias in media by other ANSWER chapters: in

California, the San Francisco Chronicle was picketed on Jan. 15th for grossly underestimating the number of people who turned out for that city’s Jan. 10th protest, ANSWER-SF issued a statement about the San Francisco Chronicle’s performance:

"On the day after 10,000 people marched and rallied in San Francisco on January 10 to demand ‘Let Gaza Live,’ the San Francisco Chronicle reported the demonstration had been just ‘more than 1,000 people.’…Immediately after the march…the Chronicle’s website featured the march as its top story under the headline, ‘Thousands Protest in San Francisco.’ By the time the Sunday paper was printed, however, the number of participants had been reduced to ‘more than 1,000.’"

ANSWER-SF also claimed the paper was sent "irrefutable video and photo evidence that they had massively undercounted the number of people" but the Chronicle did not correct their estimate. ANSWER-SF also noted that the Chronicle had promoted in advance the pro-Israeli counter-protest.

In Chicago, ANSWER protested the local ABC News station for what they saw as biased coverage of the Chicago protests. Becker criticized the Chicago Tribune’s reporting as well.

Becker believes that the media’s censorship and under-representation of the protests on behalf of Gaza is actually worse than the similar way the media downplayed the protests against the Iraq War. At least there was "some difference of opinion" about the Iraq War, Becker recalls, but on the issue of Israel’s right to do whatever it wants, "U.S. media is united."

Though Israel-defenders like the Anti-Defamation League criticize ANSWER’s protests about Gaza as if the protests were merely about Israel and therefore anti-Jewish, Becker, like ANSWER members and other activists I’ve spoken with at L.A. protests, holds the U.S. to be utterly complicit.

"Israel functions as an extension of American power," Becker explained, claiming that the U.S. "uses Israel as a bludgeon" against others in the Middle East "considered to be an enemy by the U.S." -- countries which, according to Becker, just want self-determination.

The blockade against the people of Gaza was a joint endeavor, he believes. "The US and Israel used food and medicine against the people for having voted the wrong way", in other words, for having voted for Hamas.

It was outrage at this ‘special relationship,’ as U.S. joint actions with Israel are officially called, that spurred representatives of Jews Against the Occupation and also of Partnership for Civil Justice (a legal organization for civil and human rights), as well as two-time U.S. Congresswoman and former presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, repeat presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and Rev. Graylan Hagler, the National President of Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice, to speak at the Jan. 10th protest rally in D.C.

Rev. Hagler is featured in the anti-war documentary Finding Our Voices: Stories of American Dissent, and his organization is the 1.2 million-member "clergy component of the mainline Protestant denomination United Church of Christ," a church which, according to Wikipedia, has had many famous members such as Howard Dean, Bob Graham, theologians Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, best-selling author Dean Koontz, and also Oprah Winfrey. In fact, even Barack Obama is on Wikipedia’s list of notable names connected with the United Church of Christ.

An argument could be made that some of that might be newsworthy, but the Washington Post begged to differ.

Interestingly, some Gaza protests outside the U.S. have also been ignored by American mainstream media. Even when Time magazine’s commemorative issue (Feb. 2) on Obama’s inauguration ran an article on Israeli peaceniks, "Lonesome Doves," its sub-title read: "After the Gaza offensive, Israel’s peace activists are losing heart, numbers, and influence." Its author, Tim McGirk, claimed that "inside Israel, peace demonstrations gathered only a few hundred protestors." And yet, reports from alternative sources such as the Jewish Peace News and Democracy Now! reported that 10,000 Jews and Arabs attended a demonstration on Jan. 3rd in Tel Aviv. This salient information has not been reported widely, and certainly not in that Time article; instead the article’s only photos of protesters showed a huddle of pro-war demonstrators holding giant Israeli flags.

Indeed, outspoken media critic Jon Stewart skewered the corporate media’s one-sidedness on the region early in the Gaza offensive, in a Daily Show segment that has circulated the web.

Back in L.A., ANSWER-L.A. held a teach-in on Palestine on Jan. 24th: "The U.S./Israeli War on Gaza & the Cease-Fire: The Real Aims Behind the Media Lies." About 75 activists attended to hear talks by Jerusalem law professor Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kervorkian, of the Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa; community organizer and UCLA Ph.D. student Rana Sharif, of the Palestinian American Women’s Association; and Yousef Abudayyeh, founding member of the National Council of Arab Americans and National Coordinator of the Free Palestine Alliance.

Several of ANSWER-L.A.’s most active organizers shared their thoughts on the media’s behavior toward Gaza. Longtime ANSWER-L.A. spokesperson Preston Wood explained that U.S. corporate interests reflected in the media "are united to oppress and dominate all of the Middle East," and that part of the U.S. mass media’s agenda is "to undermine the right of people in that region for sovereignty and self-determination."

Carlos Alvarez, candidate for L.A. Mayor on March 3rd in opposition to vocal Israel-defender, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, criticized the U.S. media for lopsided coverage and recalled that "very few media outlets did stories" on the Israeli bombings of U.N. shelters, when Israel "told people to go there, sent messages ‘evacuate your house within 20 minutes and you should go here’ and then they bombed the place they’d told them to go." He recalls that when the media did cover this, "we heard that rockets were being fired from there, but the U.N. denied that."

Muna Coobtee, ANSWER Steering Committee member and a presenter at the forum, was matter-of-fact about the unanimity of the U.S. media on Palestine. "It’s not a big huge conspiracy, it’s actually very overt. The line of the media is very much in line with U.S. foreign policy."

Coobtee noted that prior to Jan. 10th, the second National Day of Emergency Mass Action on Gaza, (the first having been Dec. 30th) there had been a "surprising" amount of coverage of the frequent protests, considering expectations people in the movement have about the corporate media. She believes such coverage happened because there was "such worldwide opposition", because "the protests were so widespread," and because of "the extreme nature of the attacks" by Israel on Gaza. At the same time, she noted, the U.S. media tended to "make 2,000 pro-Palestinian demonstrators equal 200 pro-Israeli demonstrators, or maybe even film from the side of the Israelis."

However, Coobtee says "there was very minimal coverage about Jan. 10th," which was the largest day of protest of all, when a total of hundreds of thousands came out in many different cities.

Alvarez agreed that "there was more than average coverage before Jan. 20th", though it was "problematic, because they often put a big fat equal sign between Israeli and pro-Palestinian protesters, even though there’d be thousands of pro-Palestinians and only a handful of Israeli" counter-demonstrators. Right at the peak of the protests on Jan. 10th, though, Alvarez saw "a complete suppression" of coverage; "suddenly you weren’t hearing anything about those protests."

Wood added: "it’s been a long-standing practice to try to ignore the expression of anti-war sentiment, to try to minimize dissent in this country." He thinks all people who care about peace and justice should be outraged that "the media in the U.S. have once again ignored the suffering" of civilians in the Middle East and downplayed the reality of the events in Gaza, which are particularly shocking" and include "the most flagrant violations of international law, such as use of depleted uranium and fragmentation bombs that literally rip the flesh off of children."

Although the ANSWER Coalition was one of the most central groups organizing these recent anti-war protests for Gaza (just as they also played a key role in pulling together the even more massive protests against the war on Iraq), they are by no means alone in continuing to be concerned about peace and justice in Gaza. The Bail Out the People Movement (which joins labor, Latino, and Black organizations working for the rights of ordinary people during the economic crisis) gave public talks in L.A. about Gaza on both Saturday and Sunday. Also in L.A. this past weekend, a benefit concert raised money for humanitarian aid to Gaza, as did a pre-ceasefire L.A. event featuring Cynthia McKinney, the former Congresswoman and the survivor of the Israeli-military ramming of her humanitarian-mission boat. (McKinney is part of the Free Gaza Movement, an international group of activists who for some months had been giving their time and risking their safety to attempt to bring aid by sea to the blockaded Gaza Strip.)

In D.C., the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is holding a grassroots advocacy training and lobbying conference for activists from all over the country on Feb. 1st & 2nd.

The Palestine Media Project continues to monitor media coverage of Israel-Palestine issues and to analyze its trends (and biases).

ANSWER-L.A.’s Preston Wood remains optimistic. He thinks that despite media silence, the anti-war voices opposed to the U.S.-Israeli actions "will be heard…. The movement cannot be stopped."

Jennifer Epps is an anti-war protester, feminist, environmentalist, and activist with the L.A. Area Impeachment Center. She is also a screenwriter, stage director and former film critic.

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