Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of November 5, 1999

Eye On The Media:
CNN: IT'S NEWS TO ME

By David Bar-Illan

An amusing phenomenon in the media business is CNN's claim to fairness in its coverage of Israel. There are certain things the network probably cannot help. It should not be held responsible, for instance, for the palpable hostility on its reporters' faces when they talk to Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria - those unspeakable "settlers."

Nor can the network be blamed for the arrant ignorance displayed by its Israel bureau chief about the history of Jerusalem. One can attribute his contempt for facts to trendy relativism and multi-culturalism, which have substituted political correctness for historic accuracy. After all, if National Geographic can publish childish nonsense about the Canaanite origins of the Palestinian Arabs, there is no reason why CNN should avoid insulting the intelligence of its viewers.

But the network does have to take responsibility for acting like the propaganda arm of Israel's extreme left and the Palestinian Information ministry (the two are seldom distinguishable).

Example: When Binyamin Netanyahu was prime minister, CNN would invite mostly leftist, anti-government guests to appear on its programs. The excuse was that the government view was amply represented by the prime minister and his spokesmen.

But the same criteria do not apply now. In the past three months (beginning August 1 and ending October 27) not one spokesman of the opposition was invited to appear in a CNN telecast. Not one. Altogether there have been 47 guest appearances by Israelis during this period. Of these, 45, which included six appearances by Ehud Barak and nine by Haim Ramon, ranged from left of center to the extreme left (Yossi Beilin, Ran Cohen, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Leah Tsemel). Only one guest, Eliezer Waldman, who appeared twice, could be described as right of center, though he too is a member of the ruling coalition. During the same period, the Palestinians and other Arabs appeared 39 times.

This kind of bias is even more disturbing on the CNN Internet website. Unlike a quickly forgotten news story, an archival website is a permanent fixture, a primary source of information for researchers. It has the authority of a reference library. To peruse the CNN archive is to realize that facts no longer exist as independent entities. Like trendy "docu-fiction" novels, which incorporate real personalities and actual events into a fictional narrative, the political "profiles" section of the CNN website includes only facts compatible with the portraits CNN wishes to paint.

According to CNN, Cairo-born Yasser Arafat devoted his teen years to "a study of Jewish life, associating with Jews and reading the works of Zionists such as Theodor Herzl." One can only wonder where in the Cairo of 1946 Arafat found Arabic translations of Zionist writings (he spoke no other language). Perhaps they were distributed by the Moslem Brotherhood as Samizdat.

These writings must have had a positive impact on young Arafat, for in the mid 1950s he and others formed Fatah, "dedicated to reclaiming Palestine for the Palestinians."There is an unintended poignancy to this sentence. It was indeed in those years that the Arab leadership realized how much more effective they could make their efforts to "throw the Jews into the sea" if they became Palestinians rather than Arabs.

By then, the Jews of this country (the only people called Palestinians before the War of Independence) were named Israelis. By adopting the name "Palestinians" the Arabs succeeded in converting the Arab-Israeli conflict from a war of annihilation against the Jewish population to a struggle of dispossessed natives against colonialist invaders. It was a spectacularly effective canard, eventually adopted by Israel's own fiction weavers, the "new historians."

One can only wonder what turn history would have taken had King Abdullah I of Jordan not been prevented by the British from calling his kingdom Palestine. Or if Israel's founding father had heeded the advice of a young American journalist (whose name, ironically, is Sidney Zion), and called the new Jewish state Palestine.

CNN's Arafat may have been a Zionist scholar, but "his activities troubled Jordan's King Hussein," the website tells us. The activities themselves - blowing up hijacked passenger planes on Jordanian soil, agitating against the Jordanian government, and inviting a Syrian invasion - are left unmentioned. The innocent reader may be forgiven for wondering why the king was troubled.

Arafat goes on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, with no mention of the two Israelis he happened to share it with. (Why complicate a perfect fairy tale?) But he is not the website's only hero. Syrian ruler Hafez Assad, in whose capital CNN is eager to have an office, is almost as admirable. After leading a bloodless coup, Assad "became Syria's president, repealed martial law, gave freer rein to the press and enacted other civil rights. International trade was liberalized and Syrians were permitted to travel abroad. He launched a five-year economic development plan and encouraged the development of private enterprise. Assad also admitted into his government representatives of opposition groups.

"In international affairs, Assad tried to improve relations with his neighbors. In October 1973, he and his close associate, Egypt's Anwar Sadat, launched a joint attack on Israel in an attempt to recover territory lost during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967." Gasping with admiration for these sweeping reforms, readers must wonder why they have never thought of improving relations with their neighbors by attacking them.

It may be downright rude to point this out, but the CNN bio never mentions the Hamma massacre, where civil rights proponent Assad had 20,000 civilians killed, thus depriving them of at least some of their civil rights. Nor does it include the litany of his unmatched brutalities in Syria and Lebanon. It even refrains from recalling one of Assad's unique distinctions. His is the only regime on earth that has officially commended army officers for beheading prisoners of war.

After all the praise the article heaps on Assad, it is quite unsettling to find in the last paragraph a brief reference to his support for "the violent terrorist organization Hizbullah," and to Syria's inclusion in the state Department's list of countries that support terrorism. No wonder Arab leaders claim the State Department is run by Zionists.

Earlier this month, CNN deviated from its dedication to errors, Arab propaganda, and nonsensical observations, and stated on an Internet webpage called "At a glance - facts and figures on the State of Israel" that Jerusalem is Israel's capital. But when a new organization, "American Moslems for Jerusalem," protested, CNN instantly capitulated. The web was changed, and Jerusalem was converted from capital to "largest city," leaving Israel the only country in the world without a capital.

CAMERA (Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting in America) pointed out to CNN that Jerusalem's status as Israel's capital is recognized by an act of Congress. The network's reply was unequivocal: "CNN does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel." When the choice is between Congress and "American Moslems for Jerusalem," CNN has no problem deciding.

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David Bar-Illan was formerly editor of The Jerusalem Post and then communications and public policy adviser to prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

(c) 1999 The Jerusalem Post



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