1996 vs. 2001: Middle East News Coverage

For this post, I took a slightly more involved and, well, difficult approach. The original plan was to compare coverage of the Middle East in three different time periods: April 1996, October 2001, and June 2017. In the interest of time, I will cover June 2017 in a later post, possibly over this weekend. I chose April 1996 because that’s when I was born, and I chose October 2001 because that’s when my little brother was born. A contrast between these two dates can be seen immediately in that October 2001 is only a month after the 9/11 attack. My little brother was born into a different world than I was, and this can be seen in journalism coverage of the Middle East.

 

Before setting out to do my research, I spoke with my professor. He recommended I use LexisNexis, which was incredibly useful. For each time period, I analyzed three articles; one from The New York Times, one from The Washington Post, and one from the Guardian. The Guardian is based on London, so it has a more British slant to politics. For each time period, I will discuss the Guardian, then The Washington Post, then The New York Times.

 

Disclaimer: I do have a Zionist bias. I know it is there, and my judgement of news media is affected by this bias.

 

April 13-14, 1996

Articles during these two days focused on a skirmish between Israel and Hezbollah. It was interesting to see how the three different news organizations handled the story. I partly judged these articles based on how they portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The context for these articles comes from a series of suicide bombings done by Hezbollah and Israel’s retaliation.  

 

The Guardian’s article, “Those Tongues of Gun Fire,” written by Martin Woollacott, discussed the prevalence of violence in the Middle East. He starts off by stating that “the peoples of the Middle East are all fluent in the region’s second language, that of violence.” Messages are sent from country to country, from country to organization, from organization to country, and from organization to organization through the spillage of blood. Syria used proxies to kill people to send the message to other countries that they are a force to be reckoned with. He also states that “the stereotypical Israeli situation is one in which you kill people in order to send a message to another government that it should use violence against the people who are using violence against you.” The use of force arises in part from the need to maintain a certain image and to convince citizens that governments are worthy of leading them. The author states that there was never an “age of innocence” in the modern Middle East, and that violence has clear objectives (i.e. smashing the PLO, ethnically cleansing Jews, etc.).

 

I was pleasantly surprised at this article. It recognizes that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations and that Israel not only targets just these specific organizations, but also warns civilians before bombing. I was expecting a witch hunt against Israel, but in this article the Jewish State is not treated as a villain nor a saint. This article presented factual information in a clear, mostly unbiased manner.

 

The next article, “Israel Steps Up Lebanese Attacks; 12 Killed, Including Syrian Soldier, in Air Assault Against Hezbollah” comes from John Lancaster of The Washington Post. This article starts off with actual reporting that Israel intensified attacks on Lebanese guerillas in Beirut and South Lebanon; they killed 12 people, including a solder, and forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes. The article does recognize that this is an escalation in Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah, which the article defines as a Shiite Lebanese group rather than a terrorist organization. The article recognizes that Israel warned the residents of forty-four villages that they would start air strikes (this is a common Israeli practice). This is because the targets were terrorists, not civilians. The article talks about attacks committed by Israel, but not those committed by Hezbollah. The article mentions that the people of Lebanon side with Hezbollah because they “have a certain dignity in fighting the Israelis.” The article paints Israel as the sole aggressor of the region, which is blatantly false. It then says that Hezbollah is defending “the homeland,” defending a terrorist organization. The article makes a passing mention that Hezbollah is a radical Islamic group, but then humanizes the terrorist organization by stating they have their own hospitals and clinics (author’s note: so does Hamas. Both are terrorists).

 

This was a more sensationalist view of the skirmish. It featured descriptions of displaced Lebanese citizens and humanized Hezbollah. This is about what I was expecting from The Washington Post, which is not a fan of Israel.

 

The New York Times article I read was published on April 14th but was datelined April 13th, just like the other two. Titled “Israel and Guerrillas Joined Again in Deadly Dance,” Serge Schmemann takes a much different view from the Guardian’s Martin Woollacott. This article starts out by calling the strike against guerrillas an offensive strike rather than a retaliation; this is misleading. It does not take a spy to see that this article is staunchly anti-Israel, as evidence by this quote:

“Israel’s strategy in what has been dubbed Operation Grapes of Wrath is brutally simple. It is to inflict maximum damage to the Party of God, the Iran-backed guerrilla organization better known as Hezbollah, which is bent on driving the Israelis out of southern Lebanon, and to make life for Lebanon and Syria so difficult that they will be forced to rein in the militants.”

While the other two articles point out that Israel warned citizens before the strike, this article does not. This article takes time to point out that Hezbollah’s rockets are old and “hopelessly inaccurate.” Throughout the article, the author makes a point of calling Hezbollah “Party of God,” perhaps because of the connotation that the name of the terrorist group holds. The author briefly recognizes Hezbollah’s increased aggression towards Israel, but puts “incidents” in quotes to minimize the violence from Hezbollah. He doesn’t mention the suicide bombings until the middle of the article, at which point many readers would have turned the page and started the crossword.

 

This article was the most disappointing of the bunch, and I would not look forward to reading more from this journalist. In his efforts to implicate Israel as the sole aggressor of the region, he contradicted himself; he calls President Peres the architect of peace in the Middle East, and no less than a paragraph later says that Peres would have ordered the attacks into Lebanon regardless of the suicide bombings.

 

It is clear that these three different news sources have different slants and biases. The most “neutral” seems to be the Guardian, followed by The Washington Post, and The New York Times is incredibly biased. I was slightly surprised by this. The Guardian has a reputation nowadays for publishing clickbait, so I was not expecting neutral reporting about such a nuanced situation.

 

October 15-16, 2001

At this point in time, Israel and Palestine were pushed into the background of discussion in the Middle East. This period in time occurred just a month after the 9/11 attack, and much of the news coverage of the Middle East dealt with Iran, Iraq, and Al-Qaeda. My judgement for these articles is less biased.

 

The first of the 2001 articles is the Guardian’s article “Attack on Afghanistan: Middle East: New blow to allies’ peace effort as Arafat arrives in UK: Killing by Israeli army undermines truce.” This article did not follow in the footsteps of the earlier Guardian article. Its first sentence is “Israel sabotaged US and British efforts to solidify a Middle East truce yesterday by carrying out the first assassination of a Palestinian militant since the attacks on America on September 11.” The first sentence mentions 9/11, which is expected. The militant that who assassinated was Abed Rahman Hamad, a 33 year-old who was shot twice in the chest. The article discusses how Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, was meeting with then-PM Tony Blair; this meeting was seen as crucial to a diplomatic offensive to persuade Arab states that the US and Britain were serious about seeking a peaceful solution to conflict in the Middle East. Blair supported the principle of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state. The article mentions that Hamas has said that they will resume killing civilians inside Israel. It isn’t until later in the article that the article discusses Hamad’s activities as an orchestrator of suicide bombings; he had orchestrated a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv disco that killed 21 Israelis, mainly teenagers.

 

Once again, the article tends to pain Israel as the aggressor in all or almost all situations. This is closer to what I expected. The article’s headline says that Israel has sabotaged peace negotiations, but doesn’t spend any considerable amount of time explaining or expanding upon this allegation. If someone had just read the headline, they would assume that Israel was maliciously and deliberately derailing peace negotiations.

 

The Washington Post posted an article on the “Bush Doctrine” titled “Allies Are Cautious on ‘Bush Doctrine.’” The article starts off by describing how President George W. Bush started to view every country more suspiciously. The author defined the doctrine as “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Bush pushed for the elimination of the “scourge of international terrorism,” including countries who harbor terrorists. The US would be the unilateral judge of whether a country was supporting terrorism and how to change that. The US was supposedly aiming for a coalition between Iran, Iraq, and Syria, so it tended to walk on eggshells on eggshells around these countries. Bush decided to focus on Al-Qaeda, which makes sense as they were the perpetrators of 9/11. The article describes the sticky situation in which alliances form in the Middle East, and mentions that the US will be in dangerous waters if we attack further than Afghanistan. This article describes the US as more suspicious of the Middle East.

 

This article was a little hard to wrap my head around because it’s such a complicated and nuanced situation. That being said, the author made an effort to remain neutral and to explain what the heck was going on.

 

The third article was The New York Times’ article about Iran-US relations. This one was published on October 16th, a day after the other two. This article discusses the ways in which Iran and the US were apprehensively cooperating with each other. Iran sent a message saying that they would rescue any American military personnel in its territory after the US told Iraq that we would respect their territory and airspace. This is interesting, as the article points out, because Iran is the largest safe haven for terrorists in the region (they support both Hezbollah and Hamas). To me, it looks like the US is throwing Israel under the bus in order to appease Iran.

 

I have my own suspicions about the United States’ behavior: the US was most likely trying to protect its oil interests while gaining a quasi-ally against Al-Qaeda. Nowhere in the article does the author mention that the US was the party that provided Al-Qaeda with its weapons, which is not surprising.

 

Before 9/11, much discourse in the news media dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, after 9/11, coverage of the Middle East grew more hawkish against terrorism. Where articles could dismiss radical Islamic groups before 9/11, there was no way to doubt or minimize these organizations after 9/11. In both time periods shown, the Washington Post seems like a middle-of-the-road between the Guardian and the New York Times.

 

Over the weekend, I will write another post discussing news coverage of the Middle Easy as it is in 2017. From a quick glance, it looks as though it’s a strange combination of 1996 and 2001 coverage.

 

Works Cited

DeYoung, K. (2001, October 16). Allies Are Cautious On ‘Bush Doctrine’ The Washington Post, p. B1.

Goldberg, S. (2001, October 15). Attack on Afghanistan: Middle East: New blow to allies’ peace effort as Arafat arrives in UK: Killing by Israeli army undermines truce. The Guardian, p. 8.

Lancaster, J. (1996, April 13). Israel Steps Up Lebanese Attacks; 12 Killed, Including Syrian Soldier, in Air Assault Against Hezbollah. The Washington Post, pp. A01-A23.

Schmemann, S. (1996, April 14). Israel and Guerillas Joined Again in Deadly Dance. The New York Times, p. 10. Retrieved June 9, 2017, from Israel and Guerrillas Joined Again in Deadly Dance

Part of Archives requirement for blog post

Sciolino, E. (2001, October 16). A NATION CHALLENGED: TEHRAN; Iran Dances a ‘Ballet’ With U.S. The New York Times, p. B1.

Part of Archives requirement for blog post

Woollacott, M. (1996, April 13). THOSE TONGUES OF GUN FIRE; In the Middle East, killing your enemies sends a message to your friends. The Guardian, p. 26.

 

 

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