CAMERA: Fighting Distorted Media Coverage of Israel and the Middle East - Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism (JCPA-JERUSALEM CENTER FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS) An Interview with Andrea Levin Interviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld
JCPA-Jerusalem Center Public Affairs
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∑ The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
(CAMERA) is a leader in the field of pro-Israeli media watching. It
has 55,000 paying members and thousands of active letter writers.
∑ CAMERA follows all major print and electronic media in the United
States as well as professional journals, websites, encyclopedias,
travel guides, and so forth. Often media coverage of the Middle East
is distorted, and there are no enforceable codes of professional
conduct that apply to journalists.
∑ 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. National Public Radio remains a major problem.
∑ CAMERA is expanding its activities internationally. Among the
media it will follow are CNN International and the International
Herald Tribune. Attention will also be given to the Israeli daily
Haaretz as its lack of accuracy negatively affects portrayals of
Israel in the United States.
Pro-Israeli media watching has rapidly grown over the past few
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 major
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
(CAMERA), based in Boston, is a leader in the field of pro-Israeli
media watching. Its director Andrea Levin says: "Often media
coverage of the Middle East is distorted and even more importantly,
there are no enforceable codes of professional conduct that apply to
members of the media. One can thus elicit change only through
private appeals to accuracy, balance, and fair play or through
public exposיs of journalistic malfeasance."
Levin adds: "To deal with media bias, systematic monitoring is
vital. We follow all major media and are subscribers to databases
such as Nexis and Shadow TV. Beyond that, our professional staff
review the major print and electronic media in the United States.
This includes not just television, radio, newspapers, and magazines,
but also professional journals, websites, encyclopedias, travel
guides, and so forth."
Media Assailing Israel
Levin gives examples of some major U.S. media that regularly assail
Israel. "One particularly hostile outlet is National Public Radio
(NPR), which is the leading taxpayer-funded radio network in the
U.S. It often runs one-sided reports denigrating Israel without any
balancing voice. Ariel Sharon, for instance, is termed ´toxic,´ or
Israel an ´apartheid state,´ by guest speakers with no rebuttal. In
one NPR segment in which only a harsh critic of Israel was
interviewed, host Scott Simon asked: ´Is there still a need for the
state of Israel?´ No such question would ever be asked about any
"The Associated Press has severely distorted facts about the Middle
East. It has falsely claimed that Israel never accepted the Geneva
Convention, or that Palestinians never target children in attacks
the way the killers did when they gunned down children in Beslan. It
has also falsely stated that UN Resolution 242 requires Israel to
cede all the West Bank and Gaza.
"The New York Times allows its opinion pages to present extreme
views. There authors can term Israel a racist, apartheid state that
steals Palestinian land and water. The Times often fails to correct
factual errors in opinion pieces that attack Israel."
Countering the Distortion
Levin explains CAMERA´s actions in countering these distortions and
improving information about Israel. "This is a lengthy and
painstaking process. The monitoring activities entail CAMERA staff
members typically following three national and regional media. They
track everything published there. They are in contact with the
editors and the reporters in the field. Their aim is to challenge
all errors both in the news and the opinion pages, and to get the
media to put the corrections on record.
"We have regular contact with a great variety of experts when we
have to check facts. In addition, CAMERA has 55,000 paying members
of whom thousands are active letter writers. They also play a
crucial role in challenging bias via letters and articles in the
How does CAMERA measure whether it is successful? Levin replies: "We
look for specific stories and issues that are covered inaccurately
and work hard to get media to correct them. We then track whether
there is improved accuracy and context rather than recurrence. If
there is, we call that a success. As we know that influential media
shape what others do, we are especially happy when a leading media
outlet such as the New York Times or an influential wire service
makes a change, because other media will follow their lead. Another
aspect of success is the clear sense that after our interventions
there is more caution in newspapers and networks."
Levin considers some of CAMERA´s dealings with the New York Times to
be highly successful. "In the summer of 2000, the paper reported
three times that UN Security Council Resolution 242 required Israel
to return to the 1967 lines, which is false. On 11 July the paper
wrote that ´the Palestinians won a settlement based on United
Nations Resolution 242 which calls for an end to the Israeli
occupation of the entire West Bank and Gaza seized in the 1967 war.´
We contacted the foreign desk and they corrected the error in the
"Yet again, on 19 August 2000 the Times wrote something
similar: ´Israel must accept United Nations resolutions passed after
the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 and hand over all of East Jerusalem
including the Jewish Quarter.´ After another intervention by CAMERA,
the Times published on 24 August a further correction.
"But the paper still hadn´t gotten this straight. On 6 September
2000, the Times wrote: ´the United Nations resolution that calls for
Israeli withdrawal from all territory occupied in the 1967 war which
includes all of East Jerusalem.´ We contacted them again and they
corrected it once more, saying: ´An article on Wednesday about the
Middle East peace talks referred incorrectly to United Nations
resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Security Council
Resolution 242, passed after the 1967 Middle East war, calls for
Israel´s armed forces to withdraw from territories occupied in the
recent conflict, no resolution calls for Israeli withdrawal from all
territory including East Jerusalem occupied in the war.´"
No More Repetition of the Error
Levin points out how much labor is required to monitor newspapers
and networks closely so as to identify such errors. "In this case
there was a significant outcome. Then-editor of the New York Times
Joseph Lelyveld convened his staff and said: ´Three times in recent
months we´ve had to run corrections on the actual provisions of UN
Resolution 242, providing great cheer and sustenance to those
readers who are convinced we are opinionated and not well informed
on Middle East issues.´ Most importantly, the Times has never
repeated this error."
Levin says this also has a multiplier effect, as many other American
media take their lead from the New York Times and so also make fewer
mistakes in reporting on the important UN resolution. She considers
that even though much effort is required in what to the uninitiated
may seem a few lines of correction somewhere in the paper, the
internal impact is substantial at the publication and greatly
affects future reporting. This, she says, is far more important than
the printed correction itself.
Levin explains: "The New York Times distributes periodically a paper
called the ´Greenies.´ It lists errors made by individual reporters,
and it is obviously not pleasant to have such public and negative
attention drawn to one´s work. Ultimately editors become
dissatisfied with reporters who turn up repeatedly on that list.
Thus, in an American context, media monitoring can have a
significant influence through the corrections process."
Levin mentions CAMERA´s critique of Reuters as another example of
how media watching can have a substantial effect. "This influential
British news agency reaches many millions globally. It had routinely
minimized or distorted the threat to Israel in hundreds of stories
that whitewashed the actual goals of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These
groups were said to be engaged in an uprising for ´independence´ or
for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Unmentioned was
the fact that Palestinians were offered a state in 2000 and turned
it down. Nor did Reuters report that these two terrorist
organizations aim for the destruction of Israel."
Levin notes that taking on a major media organization on a
substantial subject means one has to invest time and resources to
produce change. "It took us a year to see results. We first
researched in depth Reuters´s coverage on this subject. This meant
reviewing more than a thousand stories to document the recurrence of
these distorted characterizations. We communicated our concerns
directly to Reuters´s executives. We sent out alerts to our letter
writers urging them to complain publicly about the bias. We
published op-eds in the media exposing the bias.
"Ultimately all this led to dramatic change. In 2004 Reuters began
describing Hamas and Islamic Jihad much more accurately. For
instance, the wording now reads: ´Hamas, sworn to the Jewish state´s
destruction, has led the three-year-old Palestinian uprising.´
Or ´Sworn to Israel´s destruction, Hamas and Islamic Jihad opposed
1993 interim Middle East peace deals and have spearheaded a
Palestinian uprising raging since September 2000.´ This language
conveys to millions of readers a much clearer picture of the threat
Israel faces and provides a far better context for understanding any
action Israel may take."
The Public Broadcasting Service
Levin adds a third example of a significant improvement achieved
through media watching. "The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is
the television arm of the U.S. public network. For many years, up
until the early 1990s, PBS had shown annually two or three extremely
biased documentaries about Israel. The Jewish community would often
then convene a forum and express its criticism. Such an exercise had
no lasting impact. Within a few months PBS would broadcast another
"In 1993, PBS aired a long documentary called Journey to the
Occupied Lands. Featured in the work was the claim that Israel had
unlawfully taken the land of a West Bank Arab, Sabri Gharib. Gharib
claimed that although the courts had awarded him the land in
question, the Israeli government refused to implement the court
ruling. Many other serious errors marred the work as well.
"After much analysis CAMERA produced a 150-page critique that
exposed the many inaccuracies. PBS had even claimed that by
satellite photograph one could show the allegedly cancerous growth
of Jewish settlements. We discovered that these photographs were
bogus. They claimed to show periodic change that was not genuine.
Our associate director Dr. Alex Safian, a physicist by training and
author of the critique, consulted remote-sensing specialists.
"A detailed and lengthy analysis of the legal records of Mr.
Gharib´s claim showed that he had never been awarded the land. He
had lost all of his lawsuits. The Israeli Supreme Court concluded
that Sabri Gharib ´is nothing but a trespasser who tries to rob land
from the state, a land that he never cultivated nor legally
"The documentary also charged that Israel prevented Gazans from
exporting their produce directly to the European market, and it
claimed Israel prevented Arab home-building, forcing them to live
in ´ghetto communities.´"
Asking for a Response
"We presented the critique to PBS and asked for a response. We
generated more letter-writing complaints than they had ever received
on any subject. Other media picked up the story and wrote about the
controversy. CAMERA testified in Congress about PBS´ bias generally
and about this specific problem. Eventually PBS had no choice but to
concede its errors.
"The network aired a detailed correction on the Gharib land issue,
the satellite claims, the Gazan export charges, and the supposedly
ghettoized Arabs. It also: issued a corrective memo and a
replacement offer for videocassettes of the film; and remastered the
documentary to incorporate the corrections. In addition, the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the entity that provides
tax funding to PBS and oversees the network, called on PBS to
prevent airing of biased films and to create a fact-checking
"Once again the long-term effect of the critique was even more
important than the corrections. For a number of years no further
documentaries about the Arab-Israeli conflict were broadcast at all
on PBS, despite the major political developments in the region after
the Oslo agreements.
"I think PBS felt unable to come up with a program that would be as
carefully and factually rendered as it needed to be. In 1999 after a
long hiatus it aired The 50 Years War: Israel and the Arabs, a two-
part, five-hour documentary. It was solid history - professional,
accurate, and fair. PBS has not relapsed since then into
broadcasting extreme and distorted documentaries."
National Public Radio
Even though National Public Radio remains a major problem, some
progress has been achieved even there. "We have conducted studies on
NPR for more than a decade documenting error and bias and we had
long urged creation of a corrections process. They now do have such
a mechanism, which they didn´t have previously. In a twelve-month
period last year we elicited about ten on-air corrections. This
alone indicates that the problems continue. We have the impression
NPR is being slightly more careful about facts.
"Yet because there has been so little real improvement overall, our
emphasis has had to be on discrediting the network as a reliable
news source. In this regard, we have certainly affected their
reputation - as their own staff have conceded."
When asked whether NPR is only biased against Israel or also against
others, Levin answers: "We do not track them closely on any subject
except ours. I can only reply in an impressionistic way. It seems
that their consistent thematic line is one that represents a very
politically correct view of the world. This means being highly
critical of the United States and U.S. intervention in Iraq. They
put a very heavy emphasis on all politically fashionable subjects
such as gay and feminine rights as well as Palestinian rights. It is
the same list of favorite causes you would find on the campus. In
fact, many NPR affiliates are situated on campuses.
"The coverage of NPR by any objective measure should offend anyone
regardless of political position. Tax dollars go to affiliates that,
in turn, buy biased NPR programming. We have thus tried to get
Congressional support for improving oversight of the dispersal of
"The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is an entity created to
funnel government money to the more than seven hundred NPR
affiliates, a number that is increasing. The key relevant CPB
statute that applies to NPR requires that CPB give funding to those
networks that ´provide strict adherence to objectivity and balance
in programs or series of programs of a controversial nature.´
Needless to say, there is nothing more controversial than the Arab-
"In reality CPB oversight doesn´t function. Their annual report
shows this very clearly. In recent years, there´s been nothing but a
summary of the numbers of complaints on various subjects. The Arab-
Israeli conflict regularly drew the greatest number of complaints,
yet there has been no attempt to investigate the merit of the
protests. Significantly, this issue does not interest only
Republicans but also many Democrats. Brad Sherman, a Democratic
Congressman from the Los Angeles area, says there is no issue that
draws as much applause from a Jewish audience as when he says: ´I´m
going to do something about NPR.´"
"While CNN Domestic now provides more accurate and fair reporting,
CNN International is appealing to different audiences. In the last
five years, in our observation, CNN Domestic has been essentially
solid with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict. That doesn´t mean
there are no problems, but fewer than there were. CNN International,
however, caters to a European audience, airing many programs that
are not broadcast in the United States. Some are problematic but we
have not in the past done systematic monitoring.
"At the beginning of 2005, CAMERA opened an office in Israel. CNN
International is one media outlet we intend to follow more
systematically. Another is the International Herald Tribune. It is
owned by the New York Times and carries a substantial amount of
material from it. However, it has a different editorial policy and
different usages of language in news coverage that concern us.
"The Israel office will also start watching some of the English-
language British press. In particular we will look at The Guardian
and The Independent."
Another media CAMERA intends to follow more closely is the Israeli
daily Haaretz. "The situation has worsened there, it seems, since
the previous editor Hanoch Marmori was replaced. I was struck by an
interview that Marmori gave at a European conference in which he
rightly said that one cannot be naÔve as an Israeli journalist
producing reportage, particularly in English, and that it is
important to take into account that assertions may be used unfairly
against Israel by the nation´s detractors.
"We are concerned about Haaretz because their articles impinge
directly on the American setting. Contributors and columnists are
quoted in American publications. Sometimes their articles are even
reprinted entirely. We will be looking very closely at Haaretz,
attempting the same approach that we use in the United States. Our
aim is to counteract the paper´s negative impact on how Israel is
perceived in the world. We will be monitoring for claims made by
Haaretz reporters that are patently false to test whether there are
functioning systems of accountability at the paper.
"We had a complaint of a factual nature when the Los Angeles Jewish
Journal reprinted an article by the Haaretz writer Gideon Levy in
which there were a number of errors. One was his claim that Golda
Meir had said: ´After what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever
we want´ in the context of policies toward the Arabs. The quote was
entirely invented. When Gideon Levy was asked, he could not produce
the source. The Jewish Journal then asked for a correction but Levy
did not provide it.
"In an American setting there would be a 90 percent chance that a
responsible journalist would correct such a serious error. At
Haaretz there is great laxity in editorial oversight when it comes
to making extreme assertions about Israel. We are working on other
examples - they turn up frequently - and we hope to pursue our
efforts with Haaretz as we would in an American setting. We won´t,
for instance, be satisfied with an offer to write a letter to the
editor but will insist the newspaper admit its errors. Absent the
corrections, we will start to publicize the problem. We will publish
advertisements and write op-eds in other media. In the United States
one can always find a newspaper to publish critiques on other media.
We hope this will also be the case in Israel.
"Haaretz considers itself comparable to the New York Times. While I
don´t agree with everything the Times publishes, I respect many of
their reporters and editors who are serious about getting the facts.
If Haaretz wants to be judged by the New York Times´ standards, it
has a long way to go."
Levin says CAMERA has taken some cautious steps into the non-English-
speaking arena. One subject of particular interest is the Mohammed
Al Dura issue. France 2 had claimed on the basis of selected
publication of the film footage they had that the Palestinian boy
Mohammed Al Dura was killed by Israeli soldiers.
"We, like many others, do not consider this a closed chapter. The
more so as the journalist who made the report, Charles Enderlin, and
his cameraman are still employed by France 2. Recently new
information was publicized. Denis Jeambar, editor in chief of
l´Express and Daniel Leconte, another French journalist, wrote an
article in the French daily Le Figaro. They had seen all the footage
shot by the network cameraman, including the famous additional
"They came to the conclusion that the Israelis did not shoot
Mohammed Al Dura. Enderlin had said that the reason the footage
aired was so truncated was that he couldn´t bear to show the child´s
agonies, i.e., his death throes. Jeambar and Leconte wrote that
there was no such footage and also said staged events were visible
in much of the tape with Palestinians pretending to be wounded and
being swooped up by ambulances."
Levin adds that in the United States when major media scandals such
as this occur, not only do the journalists who misreport get fired
but also management often has to leave. In France, apparently, no
such tradition exists.
Having explained the problems, Levin elaborates on how CAMERA
counters misinformation and distortion about Israel, the Arab-
Israeli conflict, peace negotiations, the Israeli treatment of
Palestinians, and Arab conduct toward Israel.
"Our primary focus is on contacting the media and having them
correct errors. Beyond that, CAMERA staff write op-eds, letters, and
articles that appear in newspapers nationwide, setting the record
straight. Furthermore, we publish the CAMERA Media Report, a
critique of bias and error that is sent to journalists, CAMERA
members, libraries, synagogues, and Congress. Not long ago a friend
was in Vice-President Cheney´s office and saw our publication there.
"We publish monographs and special reports, for instance, on Arab
building in Jerusalem and on NPR´s record of bias. These are
distributed to thousands of people among the public and elected
officials. We also hold media conferences in many American cities
such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and
Washington. A recent conference dealt with the problems of the
European media, where bias has been so central to fueling anti-
"We also run full-page ads on key issues such as the actual content
of UN Resolution 242. We recently ran an ad titled ´UN Corruption
Includes Bias against Israel: It´s Time the Media Set the Record
Straight.´ It gives a brief synopsis of salient problems in the UN´s
treatment of Israel. Another ad dealt with the role of Palestinian
hate indoctrination in terrorism. We also published an ad as an open
letter to the New York Times about its failure to cover the
Palestinian Authority´s anti-Jewish hate-mongering.
"We have run a number of ads specifically focused on NPR bias. One
was titled ´NPR Is Lying about Israel Again.´ The ads are typically
run in the New York Times and other New York papers, as well as in
Washington, West Coast, and Midwest papers. We also tend to publish
them in Jewish papers. In this way we reach millions of readers."
CAMERA also maintains a popular website and a web log called
Snapshots providing information on media issues and the Arab-Israeli
conflict. "Hundreds of thousands of visitors from every part of the
globe use these sites. We send information on a nearly daily basis
to our thousands of letter writers and we distribute tens of
thousands of copies of CAMERA on Campus three times per year to more
than 400 campuses in North America. Student articles offer advice on
effective action against bias, and factual reports provide targeted
data to counteract propaganda. We also have a new program called
CAMERA Fellows that offers intensive training for students in
effective pro-Israeli activism."
Compared to Others
When asked about media-watching groups that do not focus on Israel,
Levin says: "Many of them are focused on Left-Right issues. These
are primarily research operations in no way comparable to CAMERA
with its sizable paying, activist membership.
"Their work undoubtedly has impact, but the non-Israel-related
groups do not have the same activist focus. They produce studies and
polls. It is for this reason that I think pro-Israeli media watching
has an importance beyond the cause of Israel. Efforts that induce
better adherence to ethical journalism in one subject area are
positive generally in helping to strengthen American democracy,
especially, again, as there are no enforceable codes of professional
conduct in the media."
1. See also Manfred Gerstenfeld and Ben Green, "Watching the Pro-
Israeli Media Watchers," Jewish Political Studies Review, Fall 2004,
Vol. 16, Nos. 3 & 4, pp. 33-58. (www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-gerstenfeld-
Andrea Levin is executive director of the Committee for Accuracy in
Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a position she has held
since 1990. Formerly associate editor of a public policy journal at
Harvard´s Kennedy School of Government, she writes and lectures
widely on media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
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