Sawyer blunder indicative of noxious bias against Palestinians in American journalism

Israel/Palestine
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If you were one of the approximately 7 million people who watched ABC World News with Diane Sawyer Wednesday evening, you likely saw the story covering the current situation in Gaza. Israel launched what it has dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” in the densely populated strip of land that is enclosed by borders controlled by Egypt on one side and Israel on the other, both of whom enforce a crippling siege on the region. According to Israeli military sources, they have dropped nearly 800 tons of explosives on approximately 750 locations in Gaza, leading to nearly 90 deaths as of yet, nearly half of whom are women and children. There have been no Israeli deaths at this point.

Expectedly, Sawyer did not lead with this information. Rather, she introduced the segment, taking us “overseas now to the rockets raining down on Israel today” (remember, that’s 800 tons of explosives Israel launched, scores of Palestinians killed) and beckons the viewer to an image of “an Israeli family trying to salvage what they can” and another of “one woman standing speechless among the ruins.” Moving, heart-rending images, indeed. Except these images were not of Israelis. They were of Palestinians.

ABC World News acknowledged the error via Twitter and on their website, and Sawyer has since apologized both online and on air.

Journalists are human beings and retractions are routine in the realm of reporting. Misidentifying an individual, misspelling a name, jumbling figures or swapping photos can happen, quite innocently and easily. However, Sawyer’s jarring mix-up, somewhat of a Freudian slip, is the exemplum of all that is wrong with American media in covering the situation in Palestine.

To give both ABC and Sawyer the benefit of the doubt, even if the images to accompany the story were switched after the copy had been written, the fact that Sawyer, a journalist with decades of experience, did not realize that there had been no destruction of that magnitude in Israel, nor has there ever been, and yet she still continued to describe the people in both images as Israeli is telling of both the level of ignorance of even the most seasoned of American reporters, and the natural tendency of American media to lead news on this issue with Israeli suffering.

The dehumanization of Palestinians, the denial of their positions as victims — as the occupied, as the underclass in an apartheid system — is the standard narrative parroted by mainstream media. Palestinians are routinely portrayed as the aggressors, as seeking death and initiating violence. Such an attitude has become so embedded in our collective media psyches that even someone of Sawyer’s caliber did not even flinch when reading copy obviously disparate from the reality at hand. Sawyer’s blunder is indicative of a far more noxious bias that stealthily creeps into all reporting on the Palestinian people.

Palestinians are the occupied. Israel is the occupier. An occupier does not defend itself against an occupied population. The occupier controls the power structure. The occupier is the dominant force militarily and economically. The occupier determines what goes in and what comes out of the territory it occupies. Even under international law, an occupier must provide security for the people it occupies. Yet we consistently hear about Israel’s need to ensure its security, and even President Obama wrote of the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security in his recent op-ed in Haaretz. The suffering of Israelis living in fear of being struck by a Hamas rocket is consistently propagated, validated and legitimized.

Images and narratives of Palestinian suffering are scarce; they are denied the narrative of the oppressed in the American consciousness. Homes demolished? They must have been harboring terrorists. Neighborhoods leveled? Israel was targeting infrastructure. Entire families murdered while defending their homes? They must have sought martyrdom. Children maimed and killed? An unfortunate miscalculation.

Such rhetoric has been woven so deeply into our consciousness that we can not see Palestinian suffering, even if it is looking us in the face, as in Sawyer’s case.

When will we hear stories of Palestinian families, like those pictured in Sawyer’s package, who have lost loved ones as Israel indiscriminately bombed a civilian population with nowhere to seek shelter? Who will tell us of the families separated for years due to an unjust, racist system of apartheid? What of students barred from studying abroad due to restrictions on movement? Will ABC cover the Palestinians losing their homes due to expanding settlements? Or those whose homes have been completely demolished for no legitimate reason other than colonial expansion? Will we hear of the other children detained and arrested before American citizen Tariq Abu Khdeir? Will any media outlets examine the squandering of billions of dollars in American tax money on weapons that kill, maim and injure civilians?

Sadly, American media lacks credibility on this issue due to the dearth of accurate, balanced reporting on these stories. Reporters must seek to understand the context of this conflict in order to provide meaningful coverage. Instead of simply regurgitating the same stories, reporters owe it to their audiences to engage the topic critically. It is not a war. It is not two sides with equal military might exchanging fire. The conflict is not religious. It is not an age-old feud. The roots of the conflict lie in Zionism and the current situation reflects the ongoing repercussions of this deleterious ideology.

Any act a Palestinian engages in is resistance to an occupying force. For that, you can blame the inciting source, not the agent of response. We have romanticized and immortalized figures of resistance in American culture, from Nelson Mandela to Malcolm X. But Palestinian resistance is not viewed within this same context of resistance. We resort to the same hackneyed questions rather than investigate the root causes. We make the assumption that if a Palestinian was beaten, bombed, deprived of any basic human right, they must of done something to deserve it.

Accordingly, many journalists asked Tariq Abu Khdeir, an American teen who was brutally beaten and arrested by Israeli police if he was throwing rock. If he was, does that excuse the savage manner in which he was treated? Of course not.

Rather than indirectly accusing a teenage boy who was clearly the victim of a ruthless assault of somehow being responsible for what happened to him, journalists should ask themselves: if he was, what led him, or any other teenage boy, to throw a stone in the face of deadly weapons? It is not because they seek death or have been indoctrinated into a culture of violence. It is to say: I am here. I have a right to my existence in this place. And you will not intimidate me.

As storytellers, we can not let the human side of Palestinian suffering go untold.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post

About Deanna Othman

Deanna Othman is a Palestinian American from Chicago, IL. She currently works as the assistant editor of Islamic Horizons magazine and serves on the editorial board of the Chicago Crescent. Deanna is also a member of the Chicago Executive Committee for the American Muslims for Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @deannaothman.

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7 Responses

  1. Giles
    July 11, 2014, 2:41 pm

    I doubt Diane Sawyer ever saw the pictures she was commenting on and was just reading what was placed in front of her. I hope to God a veteran newscaster could not look at pics of Gaza being shelled and actually believe it was Israel. And I like to think she would not tell such a huge lie. I suspect this was done on purpose by a higher up on ABC News. There will, of course, be no punishment or reprimand for this egregious act.

  2. Justpassingby
    July 11, 2014, 3:24 pm

    Did they ever admit they were wrong live?

  3. joemowrey
    July 11, 2014, 4:11 pm

    :…even if the images to accompany the story were switched after the copy had been written,…”

    What? The copy itself is a bald faced lie and an intentional misrepresentation of the situation. There are no images of “an Israeli family trying to salvage what they can” or “one woman standing speechless among the ruins,” because there are no “ruins.” The pitiful rockets the are “raining down” on Israel rarely cause even minimal amounts of damage. There has been no loss of life in Israel in recent days.

    Here’s what qualifies for a headline at Ynet. “Rocket explodes in Sdot Negev Regional Council causing damage to a structure.” Ooh, damage to a structure. Meanwhile hundreds of tons of sophisticated and massively destructive bombs have been dropped on the people of Gaza.

    Neither ABC News, Diane Sawyer, nor any of the other disgustingly biased and slanted corporate media deserve “the benefit of a doubt” this author is willing to give them. They run propaganda like this knowing that even if someone catches them in the lie and the are forced to present a retraction, the damage is done. Very few of the 7 million viewers who saw this blatant piece of misinformation will remember any apology. What they will carry in their minds is the false image of bombed out Israel homes. That was the obvious intention of the “error” on the part of ABC. Oh to be a fly on the wall of some corporate office at ABC. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone is getting a bonus and a promotion for this clever “mistake.”

    Funny isn’t it, how there are never seem to be any “blunders” which benefit Palestinians in any way, or anyone poor and downtrodden. They always seem to benefit the power elite. What a coinkydink.

    These so-called news outlets are nothing more than pro-Zionist propaganda mouthpieces, just as they are pro-corporate propaganda mouthpieces. What they air has no bearing on reality and in no way represents actual human actions or interests. Their function is to blatantly misinform people and obscure anything even remotely resembling the truth. Treating them as anything but Orwellian spin machines is not only a strategic error, it is a moral error.

  4. traintosiberia
    July 11, 2014, 11:33 pm

    Another peddler of racist stereotypical attitude against Palestine by CNN to PA spokesperson

    But even the hatred and the lies can reveal deeper understanding of the works of the psychopathic mind
    In this view we learn some 80000 rockets been launched from Gaza to Israel from 2006, But he does not know for some inexplicable reason that Gaza is under blockade for the same duration .
    In this video we learn that Gazan leaders are asking the children to stay indoor ,in house,to get killed, and not telling them to run away .First CNN could find some place for the Gazan to run to . The whole Gaza is under blockade and now under attack. CNN wants to forget that reality .Second -CNN claims that they are human shield . Of that were the case,CNN did never say that Hamas leaders are hiding behind them or asking to be housed . Does CNN expect the leaders come and say -just run somewhere for there would be attack. How Hamas would know which House and which neighborhood would be under attack .? It is likely that Hamas told them that there would be no let up in Israeli aerial onslaught anywhere as far as their intelligence and past experience could guide them in foreseeing the possible location of the attack.4 th if Israel knew that there were children,why did they attack ?
    4 th this joker from CNN says about the video exhortation . So he knows about that part of the world. Did he ever say that Israel did not know who killed ? Did he ever think that for 3 deaths for which Hamas have taken no responsibility , Hamas should be collectively punished, Gazan should be punished? He assumed that Hamas did it and did it for what ? He then tells us that martyrdom is welcomed by Hamas . But if Hamas were looking for martyrdom,why would they lie about killing the boys which ushered in Israeli violence leading to ” martyrdom” .? Are they afraid of Israel but not of death ?
    Joker of CNN was harassing the lady. Does he have balls to ask Bennett why Bennett murdered Arabs ? Does he have balls to ask Netanyhu why US leaders were being openly insulted by Israel? Does he have balls to ask why Israel were attacking Syria and Lebanon .? These countries were not sending that 800000 missiles to Israel.
    This joker also forgets that its Israel who have that fixation with martyrdom which they have evoked by asserting that Israel would take the world down with them if threatened and by constantly referring to the murder victim complex of Holocaust .

    The joker wants to know why nobody stopping Hamas. We would like to know also. We know the answer – Hamas has no boss or bank. We know Israel depends on the American bank and arsenal. May be US should tell them not to use American money and the arsenal . May be the world would tell Israel that blockade might mean different in Hebrew ,but on earth it has one meaning that slow destruction of the society a sped one old call that collective racial apartheid motivated violence.
    Jack Tapper – there is a message for you . Stay alive . You will see the changes and you will not like it. You won’t get a house to hide your shame.

  5. traintosiberia
    July 13, 2014, 10:23 am

    link to reuters.com
    Teen survivor of Texas shootings say slain family members are in lot better place.
    It does not mean the teens are celebrating the victim hood or death over life .
    This kind of remark we come across all the time when the death isin a war zone or from a random meaningless violence .
    But Arabs are always blamed for the ritual and the utterances or the slogan they raise they undertake after each death of one of their members from drones or from Israeli shells

  6. traintosiberia
    July 13, 2014, 10:49 am

    link to reuters.com
    Teen survivor of Texas shootings say slain family members are in lot better place.
    It does not mean the teens are celebrating the victim hood or death over life .
    This kind of remark we come across all the time whiter the death isin a war zone or from a random meaningless violence . Death is also immortalized in so many other ways-movie,donation,building memorials,and even glorifying the membership in Gold Star for the mother ,the club of those who have lost their sobs and daughters.
    Media fully participates . So have Diane and Jack sometimes in their career solemnity recognizing the valor even for those who spent theirs valors in illegal wars.

    But Arabs are always blamed for the ritual and the utterances or the slogan they raise they undertake after each death of one of their members from drones or from Israeli shells

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