Learning to Read and Listen More Critically

Learning to Read and Listen More Critically

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The Middle East has often been reported from a
Western and anti-Muslim bias.  For example, we have become accustomed to
hearing the expressions “Muslim terrorist” or “Arab terrorism,” even
though terrorism is neither confined to those groups nor more prevalent
in them.  Other materials might be anti-Jewish in their bias.  It is
important, then, to read and listen with a critical eye and ear.

many of us in the United States have never studied anything about the
history of the Middle East.  That which we have studied has often come
from the writings of Westerners looking for exotic content as they
write.  For example: much of what has been written about women in the
Middle East before the mid 20th century was written by Western men who
obtained their information from men.  (They couldn’t interview the
women.)  Because of this we have built up false images of Middle Eastern
women.  During the Gulf War it was reported that women in Saudi Arabia
are not allowed to drive in that country.  The story was true of Saudi
Arabia but women drive in almost all other countries in the Middle
East.  Yet, many people still think women cannot drive in the Middle

 Read this piece from “Via Dolorosa” on newspaper reports of bombing in Lebanon in July 1999, as an example.

One-sided American news media

 By Richard M Fawal, a political consultant and public interest professional

“In my profession I frequently interact with the American news media,
and over the years, I have learned that all news is reported with a
certain level of bias.  The reporters and editors’ opinions creep into
almost every story.  Since some lean left and some right, the biases
tend to even out, so that one can usually get a clear pictures of the
true story if one gets the story from several sources.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case when it comes to reporting on
the Middle East.  The American news media is so clearly biased against
Arab viewpoints that I am amazed they even claim to be objective. 
Americans are rarely told the Arab side of any situation.  Regardless of
how many news sources they acquire; only the Israeli point of view is

“Coverage of Israel’s recent attack on Lebanon provides a perfect
example.  The New York Times reported that for residents of northern
Israel ‘bomb shelters have become like second homes,’ but the story made
no mention of the plight of the Lebanese, who have endured nearly 100
Israeli air raids this year.  Nor did they mention that at least 20
Lebanese have died in these attacks.

“The Washington Post provided moving accounts of the funeral of one
of the two Israelis who died in the attacks.  The Post, however,
reported no account of people mourning any of the eight Lebanese who
also died that day.  The story includes the opinions of 10 Israelis but
not a single Lebanese.

“The Los Angeles Times included the names and personal details of the
two Israelis, but no information was included about the Lebanese
victims.  The New York Times and CNN went so far as to report that the
Israeli attack happened after the two Israelis were killed by rockets
which is absolutely false.  The rockets that killed them were fired in
retaliation for the Israeli attack.” 

Richard M. Fawal is discussing news articles that should report
facts.  Note the missing information and the fact that people on one
side are named and those on the other side are not.  This produces a
sense of people and non-people.  News stories often reflect opinions as
well as information.

Some books on media bias and the MIddle East are on  this reading list.

Give yourself practice in reading news critically

1.  Look for the self-interest of the author and publication.
whatever information you have, see if you can make intelligent
guesses.  What country is the writer from?  What religious group?  Does
she or he represent a government or political party?  Does the basic
approach of the publication itself serve some self-interest that has to
be taken into account in reading?  Who benefits by this information?

2.  Distinguish between fact and opinion.  A
factual statement can be proved and an opinion cannot.  But not all
factual statements are necessarily true, because they may be based on
false or inaccurate information. Especially in the area of Israeli-Arab
differences, selective historical memory has been the norm for much of
the writing.   In other words, true information is included or omitted
according to whether it reinforces one’s opinion or not.

3.  Distinguish between opinions based on reason and opinions based on bias.  Not
all opinions are equal in value, and prejudice and emotion can be the
motivating force in some opinions.  In order to decide whether to accept
or reject those opinions, it helps to understand what point of view the
author is trying to persuade readers to accept and what her or his
motivation might be.  (Adapted from the Friendship Press study guide, From the Beginning, page 5)

4. Look for missing information.  Another
approach has become a factor in Middle East reporting–that of
disinformation.  News releases from presumably responsible sources are
sometimes written to spread inaccurate information.  An example of
disinformation is when the Mayor of Jerusalem reported that the number
of Christians in Jerusalem had increased considerably.  The missing
information was that the borders of Jerusalem had been redrawn by
annexation to include areas containing many Christians.  Before being
sure of facts see if they are refuted or changed within the
week.  Another case of disinformation came recently when the reporter
described the missiles between the town of Siderot and Gaza.  The
reporter included the number of Israelis killed and not the number of
Palestinians.  I contacted the newspaper and noted that they added
another reporter on the story.

A valuable video on media bias is Peace, Propaganda, and the Holy Land.

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