Ah “fake news” and the “post truth” era: the demise of the world as we know it through the dangerous spread of unreliable social media and bad, manipulative reporting. This popular critique can be heard everywhere these days, but it leaves out one important detail: Fake news often appears in “real news” and there was never a “truth era” for there to be a “post truth” one.
The reality is that politicians have always used the media to spread fake news and fake facts. It’s called propaganda, but nowadays we like to make it sound nicer by calling it Public Relations. The result is PR consultants everywhere and fake news pretending to be “real” news, which is when it is arguably most effective and dangerous. (There’s a great piece on this in Forbes this month)
Take CNN’s coverage of the recent UN Security Council vote that finally criticized Israel for its settlement expansion. Settlements are Jewish-only housing developments or colonies within Palestinian territory. Most of the whole world has criticized them for decades as a way of slicing up the West Bank, preventing a Palestinian state from being geographically viable and fueling anger and violence against Israel.
Instead of listening to security council members like Britain, France, Spain, Japan, Russia and China who voted for the resolution, Israeli officials went on a full PR/propaganda denial defensive, successfully transforming a reasonable reprimand of violent activity against Palestinian farmers into a case of Israeli victimhood. And CNN and other networks just ate it up with very little questioning, abandoning the story of settlements and focusing almost entirely on Israel’s angry reaction to criticism, ignoring those who suffer most from the settlements that seize Palestinian land, farms, homes and livelihoods.
In fact, CNN basically handed over its airwaves to Israeli officials allowing them to spread fake news like wildfire, and beam it into households across the world. (This has been the case for decades by the way). I’m not trying to single out CNN but it’s the only American channel I have access to in Beirut and also serves as a good sample due to its perceived credibility. FOX News is probably worse, but that wouldn’t surprise many people because FOX’s agenda is pretty clear.
So let’s take a look at the top fake news stories aired on a “real” news network. I compiled a few on twitter this week. Here’s a recap:
7.) Palestinians move freely; it only takes “five minutes” to cross checkpoints
This according to former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. See transcript here.
FACT: It takes hours for Palestinians to move around the West Bank, which is under Israeli military occupation. One checkpoint in particular takes an average of five hours, according to an Israeli journalist, a claim backed up by Israeli human rights organizations. In fact, there are hundreds of roadblocks in the West Bank according to the World Bank, which notes movement of Palestinians is severely restricted hurting access to healthcare, jobs and education. But none of these facts were presented by CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who remained silent as the insanely false claims were made by Ambassador Oren.
FACT: There are no terror states. You cannot call entire countries or cities terrorists. That is bigoted, racist and wrong. Yes there are people and organizations who commit deadly acts of violence and terrorism. Like the Israeli military, which has dropped thousands of tons of bombs that have caused thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese and other Arabs to die over the last 50 years. If Gaza is a “terror” state, Israel would have to be a super terror state, but either way, categorizing an entire country or people with one adjective is shameful and wrong and news organizations like CNN have a responsibility to rebuke that type of language. Yet the statement went unopposed.
5.) “Palestinians need to stop killing Israelis”
According to the former CIA director, James Woolsey.
FACT: Not once did Woolsey mention that Israelis ALSO kill Palestinians. In fact, far more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis over the last 10, 20 or 50 years. But if you watch pundits like Woolsey, it seems like only Palestinians are doing the killing. Once again, CNN’s Jake Tapper did not oppose the statement. (See transcript.)
4.) CNN is covering “both sides” of the story
FACT: CNN had barely any Palestinian voices in its early coverage, which was dominated by Israeli and American officials or correspondents based in Israel. This was the case in several different CNN programs over the past few days. Here are some examples:
This according to US Sec. of State John Kerry, who gave a very powerful critique of the Jewish state, yet still painted Israel as weak and vulnerable.
FACT: Israel has one of the most advanced warplane fleets in the world, capable of wiping out all Arab air forces in a few hours (They already did that in 1967). Israel is by no means restricted to its own airspace. It has illegally violated its neighbors’ airspace for decades, either to mount attacks or simply to practice and intimidate. I grew up with Israeli planes flying over my house every day in Lebanon. They just flew over yesterday:
1.) “Israel is the only place in the Middle East Christians can celebrate Christmas”
This according to Israeli Prime Minister and chief propagandist, Benjamin Netanyahu.
FACT: Christmas is celebrated in the majority of Arab countries, where Christian minorities erect huge displays and Christmas is enjoyed and appreciated by many Muslims. Even groups like Hezbollah, which the US considers a “terrorist organization” is an avid promoter of Christmas celebrations and plays Christmas mass on its TV channel. Meanwhile, in Israel, a group of senior Rabbis have actually condemned Christmas trees and demanded hotels to remove them.
Netanyahu: "Israel the only place in Middle East Christians can celebrate Christmas.." What an utter lie. Here's what Beirut looks like: pic.twitter.com/nUu7o7xX8B