It’s certainly been a while, hasn’t it? And yet it seems like the conversation was never really interrupted, as I’ve enjoyed, in the three and a half months since this column last appeared, many an interesting exchange, via e-mail and phone, with some very intelligent readers.
First things first: I’ve removed the word “Media” from the name of the column, since the subjects discussed here are hardly limited to critiques of and musings on the Fifth Estate. That doesn’t mean, however, that the media won’t continue to be a frequent topic of discussion; in fact, I plan to devote several upcoming columns to media myths that have come to be widely accepted as irrefutable truth.
Another change is that the column won’t be a weekly (it actually ceased being one some time ago, though an “official” proclamation of such was never made) but will appear every two or three weeks, based mainly on how busy I am with my other responsibilities at The Jewish Press.
Looking back over the decade and a half since the Monitor was launched, there is one question readers have asked with far greater frequency than any other. It’s a simple one, and it goes basically like this: What is the most open and shut thing you can say about the media after doing a column like this for so long?
The answer reflects the general direction of American politics in recent decades: With the rarest of exceptions, liberal pundits and news outlets are far less likely to be supportive of Israel than their conservative counterparts.
The evidence is overwhelming: Whereas conservatives, other than some relatively marginal paleoconservatives writing for a handful of mostly obscure web and print outlets, tend to be strongly supportive of Israel and highly skeptical of Arab intentions, almost the exact reverse is true among liberals and leftists.
The most staunchly pro-Israel newspapers, magazines, websites, and cable networks – Wall Street Journal, New York Post, National Review, Weekly Standard, Commentary, FrontPageMag.com, American Spectator, Fox News and others too numerous to mention here – are virtually all on the right side of the political divide.
In striking contrast, media outlets characterized by ambivalent or hostile positions on Israel – New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Nation, The American Prospect, Harper’s, CNN, Salon, Daily Kos – are almost all found on the liberal-left end of the spectrum.
And it’s not just liberal writers and editors who look at Israel with a jaundiced eye: readers who post comments on even the most mainstream liberal websites tend to refer to Israel in terms so vituperative they could have been lifted straight from neo-Nazi and Islamist sources. Meanwhile, Palestinians are portrayed as eternal victims of cruel and imperialistic Israeli policies.
In terms of columnists and commentators, any list of the most consistent and unflinching supporters of Israel would include, for starters, George Will, Cal Thomas, R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Ralph Peters, John Podhoretz, Jeff Jacoby, Jonah Goldberg, Michael Medved, Rush Limbaugh, David Horowitz, Rich Lowry, and Jay Nordlinger – none of whom can be described as liberal (though a much younger Krauthammer was a speechwriter for 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale).
There are, of course, liberal pundits who on a good day are at least somewhat supportive of Israel, but as is the case with, say, Thomas Friedman, that support almost always comes with at least a caveat and criticism or two and the plaintive wish that Israel would act with more “understanding” and “restraint.”
That such a sharp liberal/conservative media divide exists on the issue of Israel should hardly come as a surprise. For years now, polls have shown conservatives to be considerably more supportive of Israel than liberals. Likewise, Americans who identify themselves as Republicans poll significantly higher than self-described Democrats in siding with Israel against its Arab enemies.
The most reliable indicator of support for Israel, then, is not whether one is Jewish or gentile, or where one lives, or what one does for a living. The real test seems to be whether one is conservative or liberal. Why should journalists and other media types be any different?