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Are Journalists Seekers of Truth, or Warriors for a Cause?

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2 December 2023, The Australian, by Michael Gawenda

It feels like there is a contagion circulating in journalism. An increasing number of journalists have been infected.

They have experienced a sort of awakening about what it means to be a journalist. For those in the grip of the contagion, journalism is no longer a search for truth – not some ultimate transcendental truth but a partial truth, based on discernible facts and careful research, and by going out into the world and observing it and questioning people, especially though not exclusively people with power. And doing all this with as open a mind as possible.

Journalism for many journalists, it seems, is no longer a search for truth even though the truth is often elusive and only partially knowable. In fact, many journalists no longer want to be journalists, by which I mean they no longer want to do the hard work of reporting, being a reporter, which once was considered the highest calling in journalism.

Instead, they want to be activists, fighters for a good cause. They no longer accept that journalism is a lonely job, that journalists are outsiders, that they must not belong to political parties or any organisation or group that might compromise their ability to be fair and accurate in their reporting.

Many journalists no longer want to be the recorders of the first rough draft of history. What they want is to be on the right side of history.

I think this contagion in journalism and journalists has been developing for some time – it goes back to 2021 when journalists signed a group letter demanding that journalists be allowed to be activists for Palestinians against their Israeli oppressors – but it has flowered since the October 7 massacre by Hamas terrorists.

The terrorists kidnapped 240 people, some dragged out of their homes, old women and children and babies, and carted off to Gaza. Others were young people captured at a dance party for peace in the desert not far from Gaza where 360 of their fellow ravers were massacred by the terrorists in unimaginably horrific ways.

Within days, even hours, there were petitions circulating and group letters, signed by journalists, that branded Israel a colonialist apartheid state and excused the October 7 horrors by providing “context” or simply ignored them. All subsequent petitions, group letters and statements from every conceivable and inconceivable group, such as Queers for Palestine, have followed the formula of these initial letters and petitions.

The latest one, signed by 300 journalists and approved by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, the journalists union, is in many ways just a rehash of all the letters and petitions that preceded it. It is confirmation of the fact the contagion is real: a significant number of journalists see themselves as warriors for a cause, the cause of the oppressed Palestinian people, occupied for 75 years by a racist white supremacist state that is perpetrating a genocide in Gaza.

Let me quote from the group letter signed by these 300 journalists, most of whom, in my opinion, should be out reporting and writing stories rather than drafting and signing letters and petitions: “Provide historical context when referencing the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. The conflict did not start on October 7 and it is the media’s responsibility to ensure audiences are fully informed.”

So what is the context these journalists are talking about? What history are they referring to that is so essential to know when reporting on the “October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel” – talk about Orwellian language to describe what happened and what was done on October 7.

The letter lists four talking points, the historical context journalists must use when talking about what happened on October 7. In some ways these are predictable. The first one states the October 7 massacre has to be seen in the context of “the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their native lands in 1948 to make way for the state of Israel”. The rest are more or less along the same lines, a couple of sentences for each talking point to illustrate Israeli and Jewish wrongdoing and oppression that started with the first big wrongdoing in 1948: the establishment of the state of Israel on the land of expelled indigenous Palestinians.

There you have it. What happened in 1948, 75 years later, caused the Hamas killers to slaughter, and film themselves slaughtering, men, women and children – and babies – in their many hundreds.

This is not history. Journalists are not historians. Who supplied these talking points? Which historians? The suggestion that a list of four talking points, each one contestable to say the least, arms journalists covering the events of October 7 and the subsequent war between Israel and Hamas with an understanding of the tortured and often violent history of Palestine and Israel is laughable.

What this means, in effect, is a call for reporting that is not open and fact-based at all but based on the simplistic and distorted view of Israelis and their Jewish fellow travellers as ruthless and heartless oppressors of the powerless and victimised Palestinian people.

What sort of journalism is produced as a result of this contagion? One effect – and I write this reluctantly – is that at its extreme it leads to journalism that is hostile to Jews and that attributes to Jews malign, almost magical powers.

It produces the sort of journalism you can enjoy in Crikey nowadays. I used to enjoy reading Crikey. The subscription newsletter – and I was a subscriber because I wanted to support journalism and journalists – had several writers I liked to read, including its resident expert on everything, Guy Rundle, who often had something interesting to say even if a lot of the time it turned out to be well-written, often funny nonsense. Rundle, I thought, often knew less about the subject about which he was pontificating than he let on.

There were others who wrote well and there was some reporting and commentary―– about federal politics, for instance―– that was thought-provoking, even if it all came with an overlay of left-wing ideology. But Crikey felt as if it was run by adult journalists.

This is no longer the case. It feels as if the journalists have revolted and are holding their editors captive. Or have sent them packing. This week, Crikey published what can only be described as lists of shame. Crikey sends a daily email about its latest newsletter, designed to entice new subscribers. Most of the emails this week have trumpeted the lists of shame. This puff came on Tuesday: “Today we have updated our ever-expanding list of journalists, editors and politicians who have taken rarely disclosed trips to the Middle East, often on the dime of pro-Israel groups.”

A scoop! I go to the story – or what passes as a story. There’s a photo of four people larking about in the mud, apparently somewhere at the Dead Sea in Israel. Wait for it. Shock, horror! Exclusive! They are journalists! (Mind you, the photo was published in The Australian Financial Review and was taken years ago; trips were not exactly secret.)

Below the photograph is the breathless news that the list of shame has had to be reformatted because of the “growing volume of names”. There is also this: that the list of shame is not just journalists and politicians who have taken trips to Israel funded by the so-called Israel lobby but also people who went to Israel at their own expense. There on the list of shame. Outed. Perhaps they had gone to visit family? Perhaps they wanted to visit Jerusalem, the Holy Land? Perhaps these politicians and journalists were interested in exploring Israel and Gaza and the West Bank because they hoped to write about the place? No matter, there they are on the list of shame.

It is clear the list of shame is designed to show that the Jews – they call it the Israel lobby, the list makers, but they mean Jews – are powerful, so powerful, possessed of almost diabolical powers, so that they have been able to buy journalists and editors, tame them, so the truth cannot be told about Israel, so Israel’s crimes are ignored, its brutal treatment of Palestinians minimised, its racism and colonial brutality whitewashed. I think this is a view about the power of Jews – OK, the Israel lobby – that is held by a significant number of journalists and, I would assume, is held by virtually all the hundreds of journalists who signed the letter that was endorsed by the MEAA.

Indeed, one of the main declarations in the letter is to “be transparent” about journalists – I assume this means name them – who have been on “all-expenses-paid trips to Israel organised by pro-Israel government groups”. What’s more, journalists should, from now on, refuse to take such study trips.

What is not said, what is not discussed, is the fact such study trips, funded by governments in some cases and by Australian associations―such as those that fund some of the study trips to Israel – have been taken up over decades by hundreds if not thousands of journalists. Without any objection, without any suggestion that trips funded, for instance, by the EU or the US State Department have made the trip takers go soft on the EU or the US.

Why this singling out of trips funded by the so-called Israel lobby? Not to mention the troubling trips taken by journalists who fund their own travel to Israel, troubling in the sense, I suppose, that in Israel they would be fed lies that they would then retail in their reporting?

These are rhetorical questions but they are troubling ones. The list makers and the letter signers provide no evidence that journalists who have taken study trips to Israel have not disclosed the fact they have been on these trips when writing about the conflict. Nor have they provided any evidence to show that these journalists have been compromised by these trips.

In my experience, journalists who have taken study trips to Israel – and I am not one of them―– are senior journalists and editors who are unlikely, to say the least, to have been seduced into producing journalism that is tame and compromised. Bought for a nice hotel and a bottle of wine and a splash in the mud at the Dead Sea.

Why have these hundreds of journalists, who signed a letter calling out these trip takers, not done what any good reporter would do and talked to some of the journalists and editors even who have been on study trips? They could have asked these questions: What was organised for them? Were they free to go where they liked? Organise interviews of their own? Go to the West Bank and speak to Palestinians including officials of the Palestinian Authority? Why not ask these questions? They are reporters, aren’t they?

Actually, it would be great if they were reporters instead of petition and group letter drafters and signers. Do the work. There is so much to do, and I mean here in Australia because most of the letter signers are not, in fact, covering the October 7 attacks and their aftermath in Israel, nor are they covering the Gaza war.

If they were reporters they could cover not just the pro-Palestinian protest marches as they urge journalists to do – are they real­ly saying the marches do not get enough media attention? – but the communities most affected by October 7 and the war in Gaza, Australia’s Muslim and Jewish communities.

What is happening in these communities? Why are schoolchildren being encouraged to go to protests where some children have held placards with deeply troubling messages? What are community leaders saying, doing for their communities, many of whose members have family and friends and ties to Gaza? Why do Jews feel increasingly unsafe? Unprotected? Unloved?

Why are teachers – in some cases with the support of their union branch – wearing Palestinian scarfs to school and organising to bring speakers to their classrooms to give students history lessons about Israel and the Palestinians? Who are they, these teachers, and why are they doing this?

How about the letter signers and petition signers and the drafters of ridiculously oversimplified history talking points going and doing the hard work of actual reporting? That’s what it once meant to be a journalist.

Michael Gawenda is a former editor of The Age. He is the author of My Life as a Jew (Scribe Publications).

Article link: https://todayspaper.theaustralian.com.au/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=10348fd5-6452-4679-8dc2-30f02dd01cca
Article source: The Australian | Michael Gawenda | 2.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000