A journalist for more than 40 years, Mark Lavie was based in Jerusalem for most of them and then in Cairo for two – during the “Egyptian Revolution.”
Lavie is no longer a journalist.
But he didn’t leave the profession, “it left me,” Lavie says.
Now Lavie is speaking out in as many fora as possible. He seeks to alert the public about the dramatic difference between what journalism used to be – and still pretends to be – and what it actually is.
Lavie’s conclusions shouldn’t surprise many readers of The Jewish Press. But those conclusions, and the detail Lavie provides as someone who lived for so long within the belly of the beast, provides a stunning rebuke – especially to the Associated Press, where Lavie worked for fifteen years. AP has long been criticized as biased against Israel. Lavie provides eye-witness testimony that:
A recent account by another former AP reporter, Matti Friedman, indicting AP editor Steve Gutkin for killing a story about a 2008 peace proposal advanced by Israel, drew a sharp and categorical denial by the AP director of press relations and the now ex-editor Gutkin. They asserted flatly that Friedman was wrong and that what he said happened didn’t happen. But now Lavie weighs in: “I was there,” he told The Jewish Press. “Gutkin said to can” that article.
More broadly and more deeply, Lavie is profoundly pessimistic about the quality of the work put out by AP and most sources of mainstream journalism today. Driven as they are by the Internet’s insatiable appetite for the latest flash, people who call themselves reporters are interested, he says, primarily if not exclusively in speed, not substance.
Perhaps even worse, Lavie provides direct testimony that journalists no longer even pretend that their job is to report facts. Instead, he’s been told by former colleagues, the job of the media is to advocate for those actors on the world stage that the journalists feel deserve support – to “speak truth to power.”
“But that isn’t the job journalists are supposed to do!” Lavie cries. “The job of journalists is to take a significant story and make it interesting, by explaining it and putting it in context.”
Lavie had a front row seat to the seismic changes in the Middle East, including every major outbreak of fighting, terrorist attack and peace negotiation efforts over the past nearly half a century. He also was ringside in Cairo when the “Arab Spring” was revealed to him as a “Broken Spring,” instead. That is also the name of his recently updated book and his blog.
Lavie severed his relationship with AP and, in the past few months, has been sharing some inconvenient truths about how journalism has changed including at AP, and especially in the Middle East.
Outsiders have long believed that the mainstream media is consistently and intentionally biased against Israel. Lavie confirms that view, and he does so with the credentials garnered by enduring a long-term sojourn in the belly of the beast. Lavie is also center-left, a supporter of the Geneva Initiative, a committed Two-Stater.
Given Lavie’s experience, his politics and his ringside seat, his message deserves as broad an audience as possible. That message is: virtually all reporting about the Middle East is sifted so that only one side comes out. And some critical information never even makes it into the sifter at all.
First, Lavie has a lot to say about the general state of journalism throughout the world and how the social media revolution has led to catastrophic consequences.
The rise of social media as a delivery service for news is the equivalent of the bubonic plague. The consequences are many and nearly all destructive. The reduction in reportorial and editorial budgets has meant that fewer reporters are in the field, and those fewer are required not just to get there and get it out first, but also to tweet and to blog while reporting and to “own” each breaking story. The frenzied pace leaves little time or energy for fact-checking or deep-sourcing.