Jeff Jacoby said the media skews Middle Eastern coverage because even journalists are ignorant of what is really happening.
"There is plenty of room in this conflict, as in any conflict, for misinformation," Jacoby said about bias in Middle East reporting.
Jacoby, a Boston Globe op-ed columnist, listed example after example of what he sees as severe bias in coverage of the Middle East conflict in his speech Tuesday night in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications' Hergenhan Auditorium.
The goal of his speech, titled "Why the Media Gets the Middle East Wrong," was to educate news consumers about the possibility that the news they receive is skewed, he said.
Jacoby read excerpts from two New York Times editorials about the deaths of terrorists. He showed a picture that's caption described an Israeli police officer standing over a beaten Palestinian youth. In reality, the youth was a Jewish boy from Chicago who had just been mugged. He was running to the police officer for protection.
"Nobody in news media questioned the storyline of Israeli brutality and a Palestinian victim," Jacoby said.
Jacoby said one factor that contributes to this bias is ignorance. A good journalist is expected to be able to cover a story with no prior knowledge of the situation, Jacoby said. Too often, these inexperienced reporters "get bamboozled."
"If they go in with ignorance, very often they will get the story wrong," he said.
An over-emphasis on Israel in the news is another factor in coverage bias, he said. Many reporters are based in Jerusalem because Israel defends the right to a free press. Thus, more investigative stories about Israel are produced because there is no fear of the government harming reporters.
"Where journalists are concentrated, coverage tends to be negative," he said.
Along those lines, fear also contributes to biases in the news, he said. Jacoby cited the example of CNN admitting it knew horror stories about Saddam Hussein, but did not air them until after he was removed from power because of fear.
Jacoby said the media tends to attract people from more politically liberal backgrounds. He defends his colleagues in the media as professionals who do not intend to skew stories, but he sees room for improvement.
"It's a problem when a newsroom is staffed by people who share the same political ideology," Jacoby said. "The left has taken a decided line on the Middle East with Israel as the villain and Palestine as the victim."
Jacoby did offer a solution to this problem. He said reporting would be more fair if journalists recognized the root of the conflict, which he said is the failure of other Middle Eastern countries to accept a Jewish state.
Following his speech was a heated question-and-answer session regarding his views. Haifa Jedea, a sophomore broadcast journalism major, was angered that Jacoby seemed to be biased himself.
"It sounded like pro-Israel propaganda," Jedea said. "I thought it would be more neutral, not just about Israel."
Jedea said she wants to study journalism because she also sees Middle Eastern reporting as problematic. But instead of elaborating on the region as a whole, she saw Jacoby's speech as too skewed toward Israel.
But some audience members were in agreement with Jacoby. Kelsie Bouchard, a freshman public relations major, said his speech was interesting and thought-provoking.
"I thought his points about photographs and 'fauxtographs' were the most interesting," Bouchard said. "I'm going to go look it up when I get home."