I don’t know how many people attended the inauguration of President Trump.
I can choose to believe the media. They have made their case by using pictures and maps, comparing Trump’s inauguration to President’s Obama’s eight year ago. What they say and show seems persuasive to me.
Or I can choose to believe the new President. His press secretary presented an argument and claimed that the photos were misleading and made it seem like there were less people there than there really were.
I have read arguments from friends on both sides. But I have yet to hear a Trump supporter admit that Obama had a bigger crowd, and I have yet to hear someone on the other side admit that maybe the photo was misleading.
UPDATE: The Times has presented its evidence. The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has clarified that he was referring to the size of the crowd watching around the world.
I don’t know who is right. But I do know this:
After more than eleven years of writing about media coverage of Israel, I know that sometimes the media can manipulate information to support an agenda. I have seen photos cropped to make Israeli soldiers more sinister and Palestinian terrorists less threatening. I have read words like “occupation” and “illegal” as labels on issues that are still up for debate. I have seen countless examples of context left out to make Israeli responses to terrorism seem disproportionate and unjustified.
So if the New York Times publishes a photo that seems to show huge gaps in the crowd, I can’t automatically assume that it is an objective representation of what took place. Of course neither can I let myself believe that the new President is lying because it’s what I expect.
It’s a difficult situation because except for events that we personally participate in, all our information comes from the media. Whom can we believe?
We can no longer take the media’s word on anything as gospel (if anyone ever still does.) Nor can we immediately side with anyone who claims that the media are lying just because what they are reporting contradicts are own world-view. We must demand that both sides offer us compelling proof.
Even more importantly, we must be prepared to believe what makes us uncomfortable without letting our preconceived notions tell us who is right.
When I take issue with a reference to Jerusalem as a place “…which Israel conquered in 1967 and the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state,” I don’t want readers to simply accept what I write. I want to stack my evidence against the critics and let readers judge who is more accurate.
I know that I won’t reach those for whom Israel is a pariah state, and I also know it is worthless preaching to the choir. It is the vast middle ground who are the jury and will ultimately judge Israel based on the proof that both sides offer.
Just as with President Trump, if we ignore the voices of the extreme and analyze the evidence, maybe we will find some objective truths.
The Public Editor of the New York Times recently wrote about how the Times decided against publishing a story that had not been 100% confirmed. She wrote:
I have spoken privately with several journalists involved in the reporting last fall, and I believe a strong case can be made that The Times was too timid in its decisions not to publish the material it had… the idea that you only publish once every piece of information is in and fully vetted is a false construct.
In my mind, this is a dangerous trend. Journalism today is an instant gratification business. People read (and believe) the stories they want. If corrections are made the next day, it is inconsequential. No one reads yesterday’s news (or even news that is a few hours old.) The media have only one shot to get it right. There’s a reason why every piece must indeed be fully vetted.
I can only assume that fairly soon there will be quite a lot written about Israel in the press. President Trump and his team have voiced support for recognizing a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The new ambassador to Israel is a supporter of Israeli “settlements.” (I put the term in quotation marks because I need everyone to know what I am talking about although I find the term misleading.) President Trump has voiced great skepticism about the Iranian nuclear agreement.
I expect each one of these policies to be challenged by the media. I would not be surprised to find some in the media going to extraordinary lengths to undermine the legitimacy of these stands. Some claim that moving the embassy to Jerusalem is extremely destructive and that the only reason to do so is to curry favor with certain political supporters. Will this view characterize reporting of the issue?
What matters most is when we find the criticism of Trump’s policies on Israel to be based on no more than political opposition to Trump, we must be prepared to challenge that criticism with evidence that deals with the substance of the issue.
In many ways, the election of a President who supports Israel on many of the controversial issues that the U.S. has traditionally opposed will issue in a whole new chapter of biased reporting. For those who support accurate coverage of Israel in the press, the job just got harder.
For more, go to The CAMCI Report.