A conversation between CNN State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel and a group of businessmen attending a conference in Tel Aviv, in which Koppel is accused of making anti-Israel statements, has sparked a firestorm of debate over media bias and its role in the Mideast crisis.
The conversation, paraphrased in an e-mail by San Francisco businessman David Blumberg, is reverberating throughout cyberspace. Thousands of readers from all corners of the globe, from Israel to
France, China to Brazil, have responded to Blumberg's message, nearly all supportive of his efforts to uncover the perceived media bias.
"It's not about Andrea Koppel. This is endemic of the shallowness of journalism in America today," Blumberg tells
In his e-mail, Blumberg recounts the conversation that took place at the Intercontinental Hotel as beginning with an American-born Israeli businessman, Adam Ruskin, telling Koppel about his perception of media distortion. Blumberg
paraphrases Ruskin as taking issue with "the press that stresses moral equivalence between Israeli civilian deaths caused by Palestinian terror and Palestinian civilian deaths caused by Israeli military actions. He argued that Israel has tried to engage in a peace process since Camp David and has been double-crossed over and over by the Palestinian Authority. Further, he argued the civilian deaths caused by Palestinians are intentional, whereas the deaths caused by Israel are mostly the tragic, unintentional results caused by Israel trying to defend itself."
Blumberg's paraphrased version of the conversation continues as follows:
Andrea Koppel: "So when Israeli soldiers slaughter civilians in Jenin, that is not equivalent?"
Adam Ruskin: "What are your sources? Were you in Jenin? How exactly do you know there was a slaughter?"
Andrea Koppel: "I just spoke with my colleagues who were there, and they told me of the slaughter."
Adam Ruskin: "Did they actually see the shooting, the bodies?"
Andrea Koppel: "Palestinians told us about the slaughter."
Adam Ruskin: "And you believe them without evidence. Could they possibly be lying and distorting facts?"
Andrea Koppel: "Oh, so now they are all just lying?"
As Blumberg describes, Ruskin became emotional in describing that "his children are afraid, his friends have been
murdered, and if this goes on, 'We could lose our lives or we could lose our country.'" Blumberg writes that Koppel responded, "Yes, you will lose your country."
Blumberg's paraphrased version of the conversation continues:
David Blumberg: "Did I just hear you correctly -- that you believe the current crisis will lead to the destruction of the State of Israel?"
Andrea Koppel: "Yes, I believe we are now seeing the beginning of the end of Israel."
In a written statement, Koppel disputes Blumberg's version of the conversation:
"The facts of the conversation were not at all as recounted in the e-mail now circulating. I spoke briefly to an Israeli who was understandably emotional about the situation facing his nation. I agreed with him that this is, indeed, a dangerous time for the State of Israel, something that Sharon and almost all parties have said. I never referred to the deaths in Jenin as a "slaughter" and would not have done so because the allegations about what happened there are in dispute. It was a brief conversation in which I expressed my sympathy for Israelis as well as Palestinians. I in no way feel that Israel cannot and will not survive, and I of course share the hope that it will be able to live in peace and security. I regret that my words were misunderstood and ask that people judge me by what I report."
Responding to an e-mail from CNN Newsgroup's chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson, Blumberg writes, "The larger
problem is with journalism in general, TV journalism more specifically and coverage of the Middle East in particular. It is the
'talking headization' of journalism. I am concerned about content and context. How can someone with her lack of
understanding accurately report on the issues involved in this ancient and multifaceted, nuanced part of the world? Today, the power of such voices as Andrea Koppel magnifies the potential for misleading conclusions born not necessarily from malice, but from broad conclusions based on shallow knowledge edited for a short TV time-slot."
Blumberg reaffirmed for Isaacson and WorldNetDaily Koppel's use of the word "slaughter," stating he regrets her denial. He adds that while he paraphrased most of the five to ten-minute conversation, he quoted her verbatim when she made the
statement, "Yes, you will lose your country."
"I stand by David Blumberg's version of events, and am astounded by Andrea Koppel’s denials," Ruskin, the Israeli
businessman, told WorldNetDaily. "David and I are both highly educated individuals with good memories." Ruskin also pointed out he does not have cable television, did not know who Andrea Koppel was, and did not previously know Blumberg.
"Andrea Koppel should bear in mind that as a broadcast journalist she has tremendous power, and therefore must exercise extreme caution in her work," Ruskin continues. "With regard to Jenin, her cavalier attitude towards the rudiments of her profession (careful, independent verification of facts, keeping an open mind, not rushing to judgment, etc.) was sloppy, unprofessional and irresponsible. She used the word 'slaughter' with regard to Jenin, before the facts are known. David and I clearly heard her do so. I feel as if she has, perhaps unknowingly, succumbed to the 'Big Lie' syndrome: If people repeat a lie enough times, it becomes the truth. A lie, unless proven otherwise, is currently being repeated with regard to Jenin."
Blumberg says the third businessman who participated in the conversation has confirmed the "key points" of his version
and will "go public" at the right time.
As for the feedback generated by his e-mail, Blumberg told WND that 95 percent of the approximately 2,500 messages he had received were "extremely supportive" while a few said they believed Koppel was right in her assessment of the situation.
"A few from press people wrote to encourage me to go easy on Andrea," says Blumberg.
"I am extremely concerned about world media threatening Israel's existence," Ruskin laments to WND. "I feel that the media holds Israel to standards that are higher than those that they hold even the United States, while at the same time holding the Palestinian Authority to the standards of the banana-republic dictatorship that they are. Media-bashing of Israel, particularly by the Europeans, is the greatest threat to Israel's existence today."
Ruskin is apparently not alone in his concern. Another circulating e-mail boasts 1,000 cancellations of subscriptions to
the Los Angeles Times over a perceived pro-Palestinian bias. Mike Lange, communications director for the Times, tells WND, "It appears to have been a one-day grass-roots protest of our paper."
Lange confirms a rough estimate of the cancelled subscriptions logged on April 17 was 1,000, "which represents less than one-tenth of one percent of our average daily subscriptions." Lange also confirms that the cancellations, in part, represent dissatisfaction with the paper's Mideast coverage, but said he wasn't sure how much of it was due to that because they hadn't "compiled all the reasons."
When asked whether the boycott would impact the paper's Mideast coverage in the future, Lange replied, "We don't base editorial decisions on this sort of action."
In a written statement, Times editor John Carroll maintains, "The Times currently has a large staff of reporters and photographers chronicling the conflict in the Middle East. Our goal is to provide coverage that is both fair and complete. We feel that we serve our readership best by covering all aspects and points of view. Some readers may take objection to specific articles, but I am confident that, over time, careful readers of this newspaper will get a full, balanced account of these unsettling events."
Sharon Tzur, director of Media Watch International, a non-profit
organization launched at the start of the intifada to combat "Palestinian intimidation of the press," sees a great imbalance in media coverage of the Mideast crisis in favor of the Palestinians.
"I would not label a certain network or newspaper as biased," Tzur says, "but there are elements of agencies ... that are biased and therefore contribute to the public perception of media distortion." Tzur named another CNN correspondent as being pro-Palestinian and reports that her group has received complaints about Andrea Koppel's coverage.
While Tzur says she's seen an improvement over the past 18 months in CNN's coverage, she adds, "They have a lot more soul searching and monitoring of their material to do to improve the public's perception of their balance, objectivity and pursuit of truth."
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