Monday, July 21, 2014

Hostile Media

Clay Waters, of, referring to the New York Times’ coverage of the situation in Gaza:

The paper's coverage of the ongoing situation has been marked by intense anti-Israel bias in tone and labeling, and a false moral equivalence between the behavior of "extremist" Israelis and merely "militant" Palestinian terrorists.

Steve Lendman, of, referring to the New York Times:

NYT pro-Israeli bias is palpable. It's longstanding. It's distorted and one-sided. It blames Palestinians for Israeli crimes.

Obviously neither Mr. Waters nor Mr. Lendman is an objective observer.  Both are biased, and therefore susceptible to the hostile media effect.  Wikipedia:

The hostile media effect, originally deemed the hostile media phenomenon and sometimes called hostile media perception, is a perceptual theory of mass communication that refers to the finding that people with strong biases toward an issue (partisans) perceive media coverage as biased against their opinions, regardless of the reality.

Those who express concern over media bias believe that people’s opinions will be swayed in nefarious ways by the supposed slanted reporting.  The evidence, though, clearly shows that, at least in the U.S., public opinion regarding Israel and the Palestinians has changed very little over the past five years. has a fascinating collection of surveys on the subject from reputable sources.  Among their findings:

- According to a series of Pew Research Center surveys, in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, sympathy toward Israel has hovered between 48% and 53% of respondents from 2009 to 2014, while sympathy toward the Palestinians has fluctuated between 11% and 16%.   (The balance of respondents were either sympathetic to neither, or unsure.)  The differences in the numbers from different time periods are close to the polls’ margins of error, suggesting that the actual figures for the entire population are even more constant than those indicated by the surveys.

- A series of CNN / ORC polls taken from 2006 to 2013 indicate that an average of 80.5% of Americans consider Israel to be either “an ally of the U.S.” or “friendly to the U.S.”  The high was 82% in 2006 and the low 79% in 2013.  The difference between the high and the low is exactly the poll’s margin of error.

- A plurality of Americans, most recently 45%, believe that President Obama is striking the right balance, i.e. he is not favoring either Israel or the Palestinians too much.  However, twice as many of those who believe he favors one side too much believe he favors the Palestinians as believe he favors Israel.  (This from another Pew Research Center series of surveys.)  The numbers are remarkably consistent over the five years covered by the surveys.

Given a topic as contentious as the Middle East, the hostile media effect assures that most observers will consider the media biased against their position.  Yet the same contentiousness suggests that few opinions will be swayed, as the polls clearly bear out.  No doubt, many media outlets are biased one way or another, and reporting is often plagued by the oversimplification of nuanced issues and sensationalism.  But as long as freedom of speech is guaranteed and people have access to content from all outlets and their differing points of view, they will have the opportunity to sift through the morass of information, arrive at their own conclusions, and find the objective reporting and thoughtful analysis that are also out there.  That is, of course, if they choose to do so.