Man reading newspaper Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Diego Grez
Here is how propaganda works: It gives pride of place to certain articles and omits or minimizes – buries – others; presents opinion pieces as if they are objective news – and then supports such “news” with opinion pieces in the very same issue; presents compelling but often misleading and wrongly captioned photos to accompany the biased news; and it does so every single day.
Sometimes this is done blatantly, more often it is a steady stream of low-level disinformation. Newspapers and websites will also inflate and sensationalize something minor and deny, omit or bury something that is quite major.
I have been covering media bias against Israel since the Aqsa intifada began. By now, I must have written about 800 articles on the demonization of Israel. I argued, early on, that anti-Zionism today is part of the “new” anti-Semitism. I no longer respond to each and every biased article.
It is too exhausting, enraging, agonizing, tedious – but also because there are excellent organizations and brilliant bloggers who do just that 24/7.
However, every so often, I am pulled in yet again.
For example, on December 16, 2013, The New York Times ran a 1,142-word story on the front page – A1 – about a very small academic group (with only 5,000 members) that voted to boycott Israeli academics and cultural institutions, because, as their president said, “you have to start somewhere.”
As I immediately pointed out, not all 5,000 members voted. Only 1, 252 members did – and among these voters, only 826 (16% of the total membership) actually voted to boycott Israel.
Eight hundred and twenty six politically correct conformists and yet, the “Paper of Record” found it worthy enough to anoint as front page news.
Perhaps it wished to encourage others to do likewise in the hope that they, too, would make the news in a prominent way.
What the Paper of Record subsequently failed to note was the overwhelming groundswell of distinguished academic and cultural disapproval of this very vote which, I believe, may have changed the nature of the BDS movement and its infiltration of the academic world in America.
On December 23, The Washington Post noted that: “Schools including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton, and Boston universities and the Universities of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Texas at Austin and others have slammed the boycott, issuing statements similar to one by Harvard President Drew Faust that said that academic boycotts ‘subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars.’” The Post also updated its original article and noted that ranking Congressional member of the Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel wrote directly to the president of the American Studies Association to denounce the ASA boycott, and reprinted Engel’s letter in full. It also reprinted the letters written by Robert A. Brown, president of Boston University, Susan Herbst, president of the University of Connecticut; and Drew Faust, president of Harvard University.
On December 27, 2013, four days later, the Paper of Record hid the evolving, much larger story about this response to the boycott vote. They covered it on page A19, and at page bottom.
They titled this story: “Prominent Scholars, Citing Importance of Academic Freedom, Denounce Israeli Boycott.”
It again quotes the representative of the ASA at length, and points out that two other small academic groups (The Association for Asian American Studies and the Native American Indigenous Studies Association) have also voted to boycott Israeli academics and cultural institutions.
While the article notes that “four colleges and universities have withdrawn from the American Studies Association” and that “prominent university presidents and scholars” have denounced the boycott – it fails utterly to describe that this boycott has evoked a tidal-wave response in which one major university president after the other has gone on record against academic boycotts.
It only mentions Brandeis University, Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg, Indiana University and Kenyon College as rejecting this boycott, and only quotes Michael S. Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, Drew Gilpin Faust, the current president of Harvard, and the former president of Harvard University, Larry Summers “in a recent television interview.”
Apparently, the reporter did not interview Larry Summers herself.
Guess what? The evolving story is not only on the bottom of page A19 – it is also only 649 words, or about half the length of the A1 article on this story.
The Washington Post article is 1543 words, more than twice the length of the second Times piece by Tamar Lewin.
In January, the much larger Modern Language Association is meeting to discuss a possible boycott. I have been told that the panel discussion will only feature pro-boycott and pro-BDS voices. This is typical. Perhaps they will double down and try hard to come out with a pro-boycott resolution precisely to buck the negative reactions to boycotting Israeli academics and institutions. Perhaps they will table that resolution and wait for a more opportune time. This globally orchestrated BDS movement will not go down to defeat this easily.
But back to my hometown newspaper, The New York Times. I read the Times’s magazine, book review, obituaries and wedding announcements. I read the paper from the back to the front, with the understanding that the news I am interested in is often found “buried” at the back.
I fail to understand why, on Israel, it remains so blatantly biased. Is it secretly funded by Saudi Arabia? Is it merely carrying on the owners’ tradition of distancing themselves from being Jewish (through conversion), and thereafter, from the possible appearance of being seen as too-pro Jewish or heaven forfend, pro-Zionist? I simply cannot fathom it.
The writer is Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies, a Fellow of the Middle East Forum, the author of thousands of articles and of 15 books. Her most recent book is An American Bride in Kabul. She archives her work at and may be reached through her website: www.phyllis-chesler.com.