Lavie points out how much focus has been placed on “gender segregation on private buses in the Israeli haredi community, while women are not even allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. The same can be said for so little coverage of the shockingly high percentages of Egyptian women who have been sexually harassed, let alone undergone female genital mutilation, but it is Israel that is held up for censure on gender discrimination grounds.
But repeatedly, Lavie comments on the way flash in the pan news has taken over serious reporting.
“Now we’re told to drop articles we’re researching, critical stories, and instead respond to what’s ‘trending on Yahoo!’,” Lavie says with incredulity. “For heaven’s sake, we’re taking news off Twitter!”
And then Lavie circles back to the deep-sixing of the article about the 2008 peace plan offered by Israel.
The refusal of the AP to run that story “was the biggest journalistic fiasco I’ve ever been involved in, and my career stretches back to 1963.”
Both former AP writers now turned critics, Friedman and Lavie, are Jewish Israelis. When asked point blank, Lavie responded, “yes, non-Jews also noticed the slanting of the coverage.”
“But,” he says, his voice rising slightly, “I was not sensitive to it because I am Jewish, I was sensitive to it because I’m a journalist.”
Lavie elaborates: “throughout my career I’ve been a proud Israeli and a foreign correspondent. At times it’s been unpleasant reporting on what Israel has done – Sabra and Shatilla comes to mind – but that’s okay because the bottom line is that the sum total of the story about Israel was complex, but balanced. The advances in science, in medicine, the social aspects, the economy, all of that used to get covered. But it no longer does.
“Now the rules have changed. ‘The Media’s’ response to Israel does not tolerate the truth if it is good. Everything is now critical in the extreme.”
So, what can readers do to find out what is really happening in the Middle East if all of the media is infected by the triple whammy of cutbacks, ideology and intimidation?
Surprisingly, Lavie did not seem prepared for the question. And then he provided the reason why he was not prepared. “I don’t know if there is an answer.
“Every day I read at least three Egyptian papers, several Israel news sites and several American news sites every day. But I could still be missing a lot. So much of the coverage is borrowed from each other – you can read four different accounts of one particular event, but they might all be based on the same original report.”
“It’s true, I’m pretty pessimistic,” Lavie admitted. “In fact, I will be on two speaking tours in the States, one in January and one in May. People have suggested I speak at journalism schools,” Lavie says. “But I told them no because I’d have to tell the audience they should all quit before they even get their degree.”
Correction: This article has been updated to fix two errors: one, to correctly reflect that Lavie was an AP reporter for 15 years, and two, to correct and complete Lavie’s comment about the AP canning an article he wrote about the 2008 Israeli peace proposal.