Richard Plepler is the CEO of HBO, and this week he told Jeffrey Goldberg that his media career began with hasbara– or explaining Israel’s side to the world.
I had an idea right after the First Intifada started as somebody who cared deeply about Israel – that the coverage of the Intifada was reductive, and that all you were seeing on American television screens was the imagery of young Palestinian kids throwing stones, and Israelis firing back at them, and the idea that I had was that only by bringing context around this complicated story could you illuminate for an American audience– a European audience– how deeply emotional this conflict was, but how potentially insoluble it was, because you had these two competing narratives of history. And so I decided that it might be a good idea to make a documentary which wasn’t an apologia for, in any way for Israel… We [Documentary filmmaker Peter Kunhardt and Plepler] made this documentary for public television called, “A Search for Solid Ground: The Intifada Through Israeli Eyes”, and it was nicely reviewed and that really was a catalyst for bringing me to HBO because the then CEO of HBO, a gentleman named Michael Fuchs, was intrigued by what I had done… I made this in ’88, ’89… I ended up coming here a year and a half or two later.
You can see 10 minutes of that documentary below, and it’s excruciating. It’s entirely from an Israeli Jewish perspective; the Palestinians are seen as mindlessly violent terrorists; and there is endless sympathy for the poor Israelis who have little choice but to shoot after getting hailed by stones directed by a fiendish Palestinian leader hiding behind the children; and the Israelis would happily give up land if they could only have security. There is nothing about occupation. And P.S. everything the Israelis say here they are still saying 30 years later…
Remember that at the time Israel was getting slammed in the international press for hurting kids who were throwing stones. Plepler set out to show the Israeli side of the story.
He’s not alone. Hasbara has never hurt anyone’s career. Gary Ginsberg, an executive at Time Warner (HBO’s parent), writes speeches for Benjamin Netanyahu. David Cohen, the top exec at Comcast, the country’s biggest media company, held fundraisers for the Israeli Defense Forces. Jeffrey Goldberg left the U.S. to emigrate to Israel because there was so much anti-semitism in the U.S., and then joined the Israeli army; now he’s the editor of the Atlantic. Another media exec I know got his start as a research assistant on Joan Peters’s fable about there being no Palestinians in Palestine, From Time Immemorial. Tom Friedman got his start doing hasbara at his high school in Minnesota after the 1967 war. Former Times executive editor Max Frankel penned editorials for Israel. CNN boss Jeff Zucker has expressed contempt for pro-Palestinian attitudes in the Arab world. CNN talking head Wolf Blitzer got his start working for AIPAC. So did my former publisher at the Observer…
You don’t think young journalists recognize this pattern? Maybe they’ll rebel against these values, and call out the corruption.
H/t Jacob Kornbluh.