Monday, March 20, 2006

Spoonfeeding - and Starving, the Reporters

Daledamos has a great post about stringers, the local people that foreign reporters are dependent on when covering a story. He points out some of the problems inherent in the system, and how the reporter is basically spoonfed what the stringer wants him to hear, which affects how the news is covered both in Iraq and Israel.

I had an interesting experience with a reporter which confirms this, but from a different perspective.

A few years ago one of the members of our yishuv was killed in a terrorist attack. A foreign (English speaking) reporter covered the funeral, and requested an interview with the widow (during the seven day mourning period). Westbankpappa and I were requested to speak with him instead.

I checked out his credentials on the internet, and after seeing an example of the publication he worked for I thanked G-d that he wouldn't get near the grieving family. The publication he was representing was a small step up from the "National Enquirer" - you know, two-headed babies and Elvis sightings. Whatever information we would give him would be sensationalized beyond recognition. Pappa and I decided to be extemely careful in speaking to him.

The reporter showed up with an Arab driver (who stayed in the car) and an Israeli photographer. We gave him a standard shpiel introducing our settlement. Then he started to ask leading questions. He turned to me and asked if I was scared to live where I do.

If I had been a publicity hound, I could have lied and said that I had recurring nightmares. He would have lapped up every gory detail. If I had trusted him, I could have told him the truth, which is that most of the time I am not scared at all, but when I occasionally did feel frightened I turned to my faith in G-d to get me through it. He would then have had a field-day turning me into a religious fanatic. So I turned myself into a bit of a dumb brunette, and told him that I didn't feel scared at all.

He kept at this line of questioning - looking for something spicy for his story and receiving plain vanilla answers.

We started to walk around the yishuv, and at some point the photographer started a surprising monologue. The first thing he said was, "Don't worry, he doesn't understand what I am saying, he doesn't speak a word of Hebrew." I kept my dumb brunette smile on my face as the photographer continued.

"I'm not a right winger or a left winger, and to be honest with you I'm not sure if you guys should be living here. But I am sick to death of watching the reporters making you look like the bad guys and the Arabs look like angels. He is going to ask me to take pictures of the nicest house you have, and put it next to a picture of a poor Arab living in a shack. So that's why I'm going to screw up the pictures."

As the photographer predicted, the reporter pointed to a nice house with a well-kept garden and requested a shot.

While the photographers fiddled with his equipment, he explained to me how he was going to mess up the focus just enough so that the picture was unusable, but not enough so that it would be obvious. He also told me that he had a very lucrative job lined up after this one so he wasn't afraid of not getting another job with this guy. All the while I stood there as if he were just commenting on the beautiful weather we were having.

When it was time for good-byes we all said polite thank-you's, and the photographer gave us a heartfelt "b'hatzlacha" - loosely translated as "good luck to you".

Needless to say we weren't featured in his rag. My husband and I deliberately made ourselves and our settlement as boring as possible, and the photographer messed up the pictures. The reporter had no idea that he was being duped - partly because he didn't have a feel for the subject and didn't realize that we were being unnecessarily superficial. (On occasions when we have spoken to reporters who have a track record of being fair, we have been more forthcoming.) In the photographer's case, the reporter was duped simply because he couldn't speak the language.

In this case the reporter wasn't spoonfed - he was starved.

11 Comments:

Blogger aliyah06 said...

Bravo! I'm glad you starved him...I wrote often to our local al-Jazeera print affiliate, better known as The San Francisco Chronicle, pointing out the mendacious stories that their 'stringers' ran on Israel and the Oslo War. They never deigned to either publish my letters or make corrections. Finally I wrote and pointed out that there 'might' be some 'bias' in their sources because all of the AP stringers in Gaza the Chron published had Arab names. The Chronicle emailed me in reply, declined to print my letter, and denied any bias, but from that date forward, the by-lines were erased and "Chronicle News Service" was used instead. Can't let the public connect the dots, y'know.

9:43 PM, March 20, 2006  
Blogger Emanuel Ben-Zion said...

Was he that kind of travel-reporter who thinks that he knows the culture and is very close to the "natives", but without speaking the local language?

1:44 AM, March 21, 2006  
Blogger bec said...

as i read your post i had a huge grin on my face. i'm very impressed and glad that you folks saw this reporter for who he was, but also that you kept your cool with the photographer, who also could have been a decoy to get you to talk more candidly while the reporter "pretended" not to understand. (i'm glad he wasn't.)

4:40 AM, March 21, 2006  
Blogger westbankmama said...

aliyah06 - I can't believe they took off the by-lines!!!

emanuel - yes, and he strutted like John Wayne (very brave, you see)

bec - yes, the photographer puzzled me, but I think he was sincere.

7:54 AM, March 21, 2006  
Blogger Batya said...

You got it; it's a game.
win, lose and draw

And sometimes no mention is really a win.

8:01 AM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

福~
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語‧,最一件事,就。好,你西.............................................................................................................
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