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Leveling The Playing Field


Reporters, and in general Westerners who have been inspired by the Western “grand narrative” of freedom, have a natural sympathy for the underdog, those in misery, poverty, dispossessed or rights and decent life. Free journalism played a key role in creating civil society (e.g., in the American and French revolutions of the late 18th century), because it willingly attacked those in power on behalf of those disempowered by them. In that sense all modern journalism is, by natural predilection, “liberal,” and journalists often view their role as bringing information to a larger public that will permit society (now the global community) to right wrongs before or while they happen (e.g., if only the world had known about the Armenian massacres, or the Holocaust, or Rwanda…).

The problems emerge when reporters become so wedded to a simple formula that has the wretched as good and the powerful as bad, that even In cases where the wretched have contributed significantly to their own misery (by, for example, following the urging of exploitative leaders offering them demonized scapegoats), they cannot perceive a more complicated morality. They then become tempted, often only unconsciously, to compromise standards of objectivity and impartiality by “siding” with the (perceived) victim despite the evidence. "For many Swedes social justice at home, and international justice abroad are parts of the same struggle. Perhaps that is why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has captured the imagination of so many Swedes. Because this conflict is fundamentally about justice; the right of the persecuted and dispossessed to a homeland, to self-determination, to security and to freedom. For that, you can count on our support." (Ana Lindh)

If a reporter cannot distinguish between behavior that is motivated by “self-determination, security and freedom,” and that motivated by a need to restore national honor which involves subjecting others (i.e. not about freedom but dominance), then he or she may consistently misreport the situation, emphasizing material that supports their sympathy (e.g., Israeli misdeeds), and ignoring material that might undermine it (e.g., Palestinian hate mongering). Bob Simon, in reporting on the Palestinian conflict, says, “One picture can be worth a thousand weapons.” For some reporters, coming from the outside, subject to the tendencies of cognitive egocentrism, and naturally sympathetic to the underdog, it seems like the Israelis have all the weapons, So why not “level the playing field,“ by granting the Palestinians a PR victory in the world of “images.”? The consequences of such a move can be devastating not only for their intended victim – the “strong” – but also for their intended charity case – the weak.

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