DOUBLE VISION: How America's Press Distorts Our View of the Middle East by Ze'ev Chafets

DOUBLE VISION: How America's Press Distorts Our View of the Middle East

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From 1977 to 1982 Chafets was head of Israel's Government Press Office: what he wants to say--and has some reason for saying--is that recent American press coverage of the Middle East has worked, imperceptibly, to Israeli disadvantage. The ""our"" of the subtitle is thus somewhat distortive in itself--or, if one wishes, propagenda. The book--for the most part--isn't. Chalets can point, inarguably, to the intrinsic problem of covering an area as large and heterogeneous as Europe with 30 reporters (mostly based in Israel) who seldom know local history or culture and almost never know Arabic; he can properly cite the lack of a free press, except in Israel, from which to get news--compounded by US government ""guiding"" and local government obstruction. Undeniably, American interest has been influenced by oil. (Chafets, an undisguised partisan, would say ""dominated."") But those givens are just the beginning of his case. In Lebanon, Chalets points to offending reporters killed by the Syrians, killed or terrorized by the PLO, and intimidated by both--as witnessed and attested to by specific American correspondents. He can also document the American media lid on such news, the silence about reporting-under-duress--and claim, with some justification, that reporters and their bosses had self-interested reasons for not offending the Arabs. Then, going into active combat, he tells how his own efforts to publicize the intimidation, through an interview with the New York Times' David Shipler, were blocked and distorted by the Times and just about everyone else (most offensively, the Washington Post). He brings up charges against the ABC documentary on the West Bank, ""Under the Thumb"" (which, in some particulars, appear to have merit). He discusses the non-reportage of pre-invasion conditions in southern Lebanon, especially indicting the New York Times Anthony Lewis and the Washington Post's Jonathan Randal. There follow prefigured, now scornful chapters on the Saudi ""PR offensive. . . during the year of AWACs' (""If the Saudis had a Pulitzer Prize it would certainly have been awarded. . .""); on a little-known 1982 Syrian mass-murder--contrasted with the notoriety of the Sabra and Shattila massacres; on Iraq and Iran. There's a what's-new? chapter on US government influence, and that of big business (chiefly expounding the oil theme). But Chalets does raise the question of a ""Jewish media conspiracy"" and, more touchy still, of ""liberal unease with many of Israel's recent policies."" Calling the ensuing reportage ""contorted"" is not inapt. Neither are his concluding observations on reporting from Israel--an open society, with a highly critical press. Chalets' strength, and weakness, comes from his being a battler in that tradition--but on its own terms his book is a match for Edward Said's opposite perspective in Covering Islam (1981).

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow