Few people understand the echo chamber of the mainstream media. How is it that so many of the major media outlets share a particular understanding or take on certain controversial issues? In particular, how is the narrative of the poor, oppressed Palestinian Arabs suffering under the Israeli occupation so wide-spread and so entrenched? Some reporting on the reporting will help you understand.
One laboratory to examine is the daily press briefing offered by the United States State Department. Just about every weekday either the department’s spokesperson, currently John Kirby – or one of his assistants – enters a small room, set up like a college classroom. The spokesperson strides to the podium, gives a brief overview of travel or other State Department news which has taken place since the previous briefing, and then takes questions from the reporters seated in the room.
The reporters ask about their outlet’s particular areas of interest, usually with respect to some late breaking news, in which the vast State Department plays a role. The role of State’s spokesperson is to ensure that there is a unified and official “take” on whatever is happening.
National and international media outlets, such as the Associated Press, Reuters, NBC, Fox News and several dozen others, are eligible to be in the room. Somewhere between 10 and 50 reporters attend each briefing.
U.S. State Dept. Press Briefing Room.
Typical questions of late have been about tensions between Syria and Turkey, or the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Not surprisingly, many questions over the past months have had to do with the ongoing war in Syria, the rise of ISIS and the west’s coalition to end that conflict.
But there is always one reporter in the room who raises differing versions of the same questions about the same topic. That reporter is Said Arikat, the D.C.-based reporter for the Palestinian Arab news outlet, Al-Quds. The JewishPress.com has reported on Arikat before.
Not surprisingly, Arikat is focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict. But what is surprising — what is, in fact, shocking — is that Arikat raises the question many different ways until he gets the very specific response he’s looking for from the State Department spokesperson. Some times they disappoint him. Much of the time, they play right into his hands.
The responses Arikat fishes for are ones condemning Israel for any number of incidents – some real, but most exaggerated or entirely misrepresented. Sometimes Arikat is unsuccessful at evoking the response he so obviously desires.
Nonetheless, just asking his long-winded and convoluted questions provides him with the forum to present his version of the plight of the aggrieved Palestinian Arabs. And he does that day in and day out, in a room full of Washington, D.C. based national and international journalists.
Arikat is the Arab lobbyist in the briefing room. His audience is the State Department spokesperson, the elite journalists in the briefing room, and the readers and viewers who consume the news produced by those news outlets.
While Arikat is not always successful, he is dogged enough, and is successful frequently enough, that he has been singularly responsible for headlines in major national and international media. Watch how the sausage is actually made:
Here is the exchange between Arikat and State Dept. Spokesperson Kirby, on Wednesday, Dec. 9:
STATE DEPT. SPOKESPERSON KIRBY: Yeah, Said.
SAID ARIKAT: Can I have a couple questions about the Palestinian-Israeli issue? Today there was an article written by Israeli President Rivlin in The Washington Post talking about what Israel must do to sort of to pave the road towards peace and so on. I wonder if you saw it. He talks about the exchange of teachers and so on, maybe alleviating some of the hardships on the Palestinians, maybe look after the neglect of the Arab part of Jerusalem and so on. But he also ends by saying – basically expressing sorrow that he cannot bequeath the coming generations a peace that will endure, but he – they can bequeath some accomplishments and so on. Is that a – sort of – are you disappointed that we talk about coming generations, maybe – could you – another, like, 10, 20, 30 years and so on – is that your reading of what he is saying? Arikat is referring to the editorial discussed in Wednesday’s JewishPress.com. Arikat is laying the groundwork for pushing the Palestinian Arab demand for a Palestinian State.
KIRBY: What I would say is – I mean, even we’ve talked about the need for peace and security for coming generations and for the young children of the area right now that are seeing this violence. That’s no way for these youngsters to grow up. So I think we would share the president’s view that we want peace and security in coming generations. But also – and as the Secretary made very clear on Saturday – just – we talk about coming years, but even over the past several months, we’ve been encouraging all parties to take affirmative steps to reduce the tensions and to demonstrate a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. And again, as the Secretary said over the weekend, we hope both sides are going to make the choices that will advance the prospects for a lasting peace. We recognize how hard this is, but that’s our goal and that hasn’t changed. Kirby’s response is the U.S. mantra of seeking to “encourage” the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs to move forward, reduce tensions, and express their commitment to a two-state “solution” to the conflict.
ARIKAT: Because today marks the 27th anniversary of the first Palestinian intifada, and basically here we are, like third intifada later and so on, and they still endure under occupation and so on. There seems to be no end in sight for that occupation. So 22 years after negotiations began and so on, you as the broker of these negotiations really have not offered the Palestinians anything tangible in terms of ending the occupation, have they? The poor Palestinian Arabs are languishing, nearly thirty years after the first “intifada.” As if the intifada represents something that the Arabs did which should have entitled them to their own state, and yet, here they are, still, without one. The intifadas, of course, have been concentrated periods of rampant Jew-murdering by Palestinian Arabs. They have included the intentional shootings, homicide bombings, stabbings and mutilation of Jewish Israelis. This, Arikat seeks to convey, should entitle them to a state of their own, and an end to what he calls “the Occupation.”
MR KIRBY: Well, I think I’d rebut a little bit the idea that we’re the broker of negotiations. But what we want is – what we want is for both sides to work this out, to reduce the violence, and to take positive, affirmative steps to get to a two-state solution. That’s what both of them have said they want to see, and so what we want to see is them take the steps necessary to get there. Kirby pushes back, but not on the idea that the Palestinian Arabs are entitled to a state, or that they are under an occupation, or that the intifadas have been something that should merit a reward. No, Kirby doesn’t like the U.S. being referred to as the “broker of negotiations.” That, according to Kirby, is what was inaccurate about Arikat’s dramatic soliloquy.
ARIKAT: And one more – or maybe two more. Yesterday an Israeli court sentenced a Palestinian legislator woman – who’s really quite been a vocal voice on behalf of women’s rights, against extremism, a very progressive person – Khalida Jarrar for 15 months in prison under some sort of really made-up kind of charges of incitement and so on because she refused to leave her home in Ramallah and so on. Is that something that bothers you or disturbs you, that Israel can go and maybe in the middle of the night take someone and put them in prison for sort of trumped-up charges? Really? This is something that a reporter raises in a U.S. State Dept. press briefing?
Lori Lowenthal Marcus