Interview series: Andrea Levin of CAMERA, "The role of the Palestinians in fueling conflict is slighted. The Times has an undeniable tilt against Israel."
From Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld
Pro-Israel media watching in the United States has grown rapidly over the past twenty years. The explosive expansion of the Internet enables media-monitoring organizations to transmit their findings quickly to many readers by email, or by publishing them on websites without incurring major expenses.
“Media coverage of the Middle East is often distorted. There are no enforceable codes of professional conduct which apply to the media. One can thus obtain change only in two ways. One is through private appeals for accuracy, balance and fair play. The other is through public exposure of journalistic misconduct.”
Andrea Levin is the Executive Director of the Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) since 1991. This organization is both pioneer and leader in the field of pro-Israel media watching. Previously, Levin was Associate Editor of a public policy journal at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Levin says: “We follow all major print and electronic media in the United States as well as professional journals, websites, encyclopedias, travel guides, and so forth. Success in media watching is manifested in improved accuracy and context in the media criticized. Some of CAMERA’s success stories involve the New York Times,Reuters, and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
“Our primary focus is on contacting the media and having them correct errors. This involves daily interactions between our professional staff and media outlets and also frequently involves CAMERA enlisting its activist network to challenge biased coverage.
"Beyond that, CAMERA’s staff continuously post critiques on the CAMERA website and blog and write op-eds, letters and articles that appear in newspapers, journals and Internet sites, setting the record straight.
There are no enforceable codes of professional conduct which apply to the media.
"In addition, we publish the CAMERA Media
Report our flagship magazine, which is sent to journalists, CAMERA members, libraries, synagogues, and Congress.
“We’ve published monographs and special reports on, for instance, National Public Radio’s bias, Arab building in Jerusalem, Jimmy Carter’s biased apartheid book, the Gaza Cast Lead campaign and the phenomenon of Jewish defamers of Israel. They are distributed to thousands of people, plus elected officials.
"We also hold media conferences in many American cities and run full-page ads on key issues such as anti-Israel incitement and distorted coverage of terrorism. In the past, we’ve run ads about bias in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, CNN, PBS and more.
“CAMERA also has 65,000 paying members, offices in six cities and thousands of active letter writers. We have regular contact with a great variety of experts when we need to check facts. We also have a program called CAMERA Fellows that offers intensive training for students in effective pro-Israeli activism.
“Of particular concern has been The New York Times, which continues to be influential especially as a trend-setter for other media outlets that often echo its story choice and emphasis. As in the past, the newspaper is prone to placing the onus heavily on Israel for problems of the Palestinians and absence of peace. The role of the Palestinians in fueling conflict is slighted.
"In addition, The Times has been largely silent in the face of increasing global anti-Semitism, doing almost nothing to expose the biased enmity toward Israel. From the news pages to the opinion pages and even into the culture sections, The Times has an undeniable tilt against Israel. Many other mainstream media offer biased portrayals of Israel, such as The New Yorker magazine, The Economist and The Guardian.
“The Internet has changed the dynamic, obviously, adding countless new voices to the discourse – some for the better and others for the worse.
“Countering distortions and improving information about Israel is a demanding process. Monitoring activities entail CAMERA staff members tracking the print and electronic media as thoroughly as possible and triaging that material to respond to the most important problems. Staff members contact editors and reporters in the field. The aim is to challenge all errors both in the news and the opinion pages and to get corrections on record.
“One way to measure success in this work is to monitor specific stories and issues that are covered inaccurately and when we’ve gotten them corrected on the record, to see whether the media outlet reports the same issue correctly in future coverage. Many times we’ve seen long-lasting impact and improved accuracy. Another aspect of success is the clear sense that after our intervention, there is more palpable caution in some newspapers and networks, greater attention to context, balance and accuracy.
“The great challenge is the magnitude of coverage and on the Internet, the lack of standards and accountability. In 2007, CAMERA also launched a Spanish language project and in 2009, a Hebrew language Web site called Presspectiva, focused on educating Israeli readers about the importance of holding their own media accountable.
Levin concludes: “Getting the facts right is crucial. That is why correcting false statements is so important. Those corrections have an internal impact at the media outlet and often a lasting effect in changing coverage for the better.”