While media bias over the “emotionally complex” Israeli-Palestinian conflict exists, the Jewish community can be overly sensitive to perceived bias, according to the former Mideast correspondent for CNN.
At the same time, there is often too much focus on Israel in coverage of the Middle East as well as a sophisticated public relations campaign orchestrated by Hamas and other such terrorist groups at play, said Linda Scherzer.
Scherzer was keynote speaker at Hadassah Southern New Jersey’s annual education symposium on May 13 at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe.
A correspondent who covered the Intifada, Gulf War, and Mideast peace process for CNN and later for Mabat, Israel television’s news program, she serves as a media consultant to the Jewish community on how to engage in constructive dialogue with the press.
The program also featured various workshops conducted by Israeli government officials, public relations consultants, campus leaders, and representatives of pro-Israel advocacy organizations (see sidebar, page 10). It concluded with a panel discussion with workshop leaders and Scherzer answering audience questions.
“I have spent the last 20 to 25 years defending why the press is not biased, certainly not the American press,” said Scherzer, who for the last 10 years has directed “Write on for Israel,” training select high school students as Israel advocates.
Some bias, she said, could be the result of ignorance rather than anti-Israel views: It takes some journalists assigned to the region about six months to get up to speed on the complex situation, for which there is “no easy answer.” The real suffering of Palestinians, much of it brought on by other Arabs, also tilts coverage.
“It’s much more difficult today with the use of smart phones and social media,” she said.
Scherzer acknowledged that among some in the Jewish community, “CNN is perceived as ‘an enemy of the Jewish people.’”
However, she said, after moving to Israel for Zionistic reasons she came to her former employer with only minimal experience at a small television station in Burlington, Vt. CNN took a chance on the young reporter and Scherzer found herself working alongside such “giants” in the field as NBC’s Martin Fletcher and CBS’s Bob Simon.
She watched even seasoned journalists struggle to maintain fairness. She herself labored to not let her strong pro-Israel feelings overshadow her reporting.
Scherzer urged those who feel a media outlet’s reporting is skewed to not simply accuse it of being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.
“People need to say what in a news report bothers them,” she said. “They need to be specific and say what in the reporting they think is wrong or unbalanced.”
However, Scherzer noted, “Let’s acknowledge we are far too invested in the story. We bring our Jewish values and Western mores and view of life. In no way are we unbiased viewers of stories.”
Scherzer said media too often hone in on Palestinian suffering while ignoring Arab atrocities and positive stories about Israel.
“Hamas, we know, is a fundamentalist movement whose ideology will not allow it to live alongside a Jewish state,” said Scherzer. “I was impressed by their discipline to their ideology. They will wait if necessary for their grandchildren, great-grandchildren, or great-great-grandchildren to see Israel pushed into the sea.”
As part of that strategy, Hamas and other terroristic groups like Hizbullah have developed a leading-edge public relations campaign, conducted over the airwaves and on social media.
“They know the only chance they have of weakening the State of Israel is in the court of public opinion,” said Scherzer.