The Media Must Stop Elevating Fringe Groups on Israel, Police | Opinion

These days there is much to bemoan about the state of the news media.

In our struggle to make sense of competing points of view, we used to only have to cope with the media's false balance. Born of an overzealous (even if inherently biased) pursuit of fairness, news outlets would give both sides of an issue equal representation, regardless of the respective merits or levels of support for each.

Now, we seem to have the opposite problem. A critical mass of reporting staff and editors have pivoted from objectivity to activism, utilizing their position to virtue signal or advance a predetermined worldview rather than present facts or spur public discourse. In the process, they've blurred the lines between straight news, news analysis and opinion journalism. As former New York Times opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss noted in her open letter resigning from that paper, "a new consensus has emerged in the press...that truth isn't a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else."

If only it stopped there. Smuggling opinions into our news, and even stifling opposing points of view, is one thing. Willfully misrepresenting facts in order to propagandize and meddle in the affairs of vulnerable minorities is another.

Consider how this has played out for American Jews. It is a fact that Jews stand united against anti-Semitism and in support of Israel. Polls consistently suggest that somewhere between 92 and 95 percent of American Jews support Israel, even if we're critical of some of its policies. And 89 percent believe anti-Semitism is a problem in the United States.

Despite this consensus, prominent news outlets have seemed to elevate any and every Jew or Jewish group who bucks this consensus, representing them as a pole of progressive Jewish opinion rather than the tiny minority they actually are. One such group, for example, advances blood libels, trivializes the Holocaust, glorifies terrorism and gives cover to anti-Semites. Another has ties to anti-Semitic groups and has been ostracized by otherwise big-tent Jewish umbrella organizations.

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The Israeli flag on May 3, 2018, in Jerusalem. On Wednesday, the Office for Civil Rights announced it had launched an investigation into NYU after a former student claimed the university fostered a hostile environment for Jewish students. Getty/Tim de Waele

Yet on nearly every Jewish-adjacent issue to grace American headlines, these fringe Jews are either profiled to give tailwinds to their cause or tokenized to give the appearance of controversy among Jews when for all practical purposes there is none. The media give a tiny minority a megaphone to voice reticence about Arab-Israeli normalization agreements; highlight their disagreement over what constitutes anti-Semitism; suggest that condemning anti-Semitism may stifle debate about Israel; make it seem like there's any real debate about sponsored trips to Israel or boycotting Israel and feature their opposition to increased police presence in neighborhoods with a surge in anti-Jewish assaults.

Or how about Black Americans? A Gallup poll in August revealed that 81 percent of Black Americans either want the same or expanded police presence in their neighborhoods, even while recognizing the urgent need to address anti-Black police brutality and racism. Yet one could be forgiven for assuming the exact opposite, given the fawning media coverage this past summer surrounding "defund the police" campaigns. Amidst confusion surrounding the phrase, The New York Times even published a piece unequivocally titled "Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police."

These aren't simply cases of false balance. False balance cannot explain the sympathetic tone afforded to fringe Jewish groups—media outlets refer to them as "exciting," "seizing the moment," "important to watch" and so on. Nor can it explain why news media applied the same tone to defund-the-police activists, calling their proposals a "moral and economic case," a "reimagining [of] what public safety looks like" and so forth. Imagine if these same outlets profiled the "exciting" movement of anti-vaxxers, or climate deniers who are "reimagining sustainability" to challenge the scientific consensus.

The danger in each case is not merely rhetorical.

For Jews, the opinions being hounded in the media, if realized, would actually mean dissolving a safe haven for Jews, distancing Jews from their heritage, holding Arab-Israeli peace hostage to progress with Palestinians and empowering anti-Semites. Fortunately, there's little evidence that this kind of journalistic activism has so far made an impact on the real world.

For Blacks, it almost certainly has. In the wake of this activist and media pressure, policy changes were swift. Many cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin and Denver, either slashed or proposed slashing police budgets to the tune of 10 to 20 percent. The Minneapolis City Council took it a step further, voting to remove from its city charter the requirement to maintain a police department. Ask the 81 percent of Blacks cited in the poll whether they feel these changes truly advance racial justice.

Regardless of motive, this is an alarming trend with potentially dangerous consequences. Individuals and communities who are directly impacted by this kind of biased and harmful reporting have the right to demand more.

Zach Schapira is executive director of the J'accuse Coalition for Justice.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.