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HBO chief got his start in hasbara

Media Analysis
on 11 Comments

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.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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11 Responses

  1. CigarGod on December 16, 2017, 5:17 pm

    Nice job, Philip.
    More like this, please.
    The planet always needs to know how we are being influenced (indoctrinated)…and by whom…and why.
    Tools to the Caveman!

  2. Keith on December 16, 2017, 5:44 pm

    PHIL- “Hasbara has never hurt anyone’s career.”

    Zionist hasbara. Support for Israel and Zionism. The glue which binds Zionist kinship and de facto nepotism. Very beneficial to one’s career. Zionism has changed over time. The threat of Blood and Soil discrimination/violence has given way to the opportunity provided by solidarity within a multicultural society. Israel and Zionism the means to an end. A unified Diaspora in a multicultural promised land.

  3. Citizen on December 16, 2017, 8:54 pm

    Goebbels studied Bernays, the “father of public relations” who wrote Propaganda. and Freud’s nephew.

    • Mooser on December 17, 2017, 1:36 pm

      “Propaganda. and Freud’s nephew.”

      In the book he relates the curious fact that Freud always gave him cigars for Hanukkah. He complained once, saying, “What is this, Uncle Sigmund, just a cigar for Hanukkah?”

  4. inbound39 on December 17, 2017, 8:29 am

    How much do Americans have to lose and how far does America have to fall before Americans do something concrete about the Israeli Lobby and ADL and AIPAC meddling in their country. Are Americans run by Israelis or Americans

  5. Boomer on December 17, 2017, 11:23 am

    Thanks for the background on HBO’s boss. I don’t know when (or even if) there will someday be a reassessment of US policy, much less any improvement for Palestinians, but it is good that you document the reality. Both with regard to what goes on the Palestine, and what goes on in our political/media elites regarding it, there are few willing and able to do the job you do.

    BBC World Service has a weekly program and podcast called “Extra” devoted to discussion of one topic each week. The current episode is titled “What Now For the Palestinians.” It is a good discussion, but superfluous for anyone who regularly reads Mondoweiss. It wouldn’t be superfluous for many Americans, however. There has been a lot of coverage in the US MSM of Trump’s decision to move our embassy, but precious little discussion (or concern) about “What Now For the Palestinians.”

  6. echinococcus on December 18, 2017, 7:46 am

    Can we please stop using the Zionists’ own lying terms, not only for their description of their own genocidal “liberalism” but also for things that are obviously meant to camouflage their nature?
    Like “ha-sebarah”: it means “explanation” but what it is is just Nazi-style PROPAGANDA –on steroids, much more powerful than that of Goebbels, also because so many possibly well-meaning repeat Zionist terms, helping and amplifying said propaganda. Repeat the word: propaganda.

    What do you call a long-handled flat piece of metal used for digging? Meaning a shovel?

    • RoHa on December 18, 2017, 7:20 pm

      If the shaft is about as long as my arm, and has a hand grip at the end, I call it a spade. If the shaft is longer, and has no handgrip, I call it a shovel.

      We are back to the Master’s prescription of the Rectification of Names. Call things by their proper names. When we mean a spanner, say “spanner”, not “wrench”. When we mean a sling, call it a sling, not a slingshot.

      And when we mean theft, murder, and terrorising people out of their homes, don’t call it “liberal Zionism”

      • echinococcus on December 19, 2017, 6:28 am

        A deep curtsey, Master of Words.

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