Canada: Open Letter Lobbies Journalists on How to Cover the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

The "woke" agenda that tarnished journalism.

A letter with nearly 1600 signatories was sent on May 14 to newsrooms across Canada, calling for greater “balance” (code for pro-Palestinian) in coverage of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. The letter began with the observation that covering events in the Middle East is “complicated” but then goes on to imply that newsrooms are cowed by pressure from "outside groups" into favoring the Israelis. This amounted to the latest iteration of the old canard that Jews control the media, a favorite trope of the world’s antisemites. It was rather befitting to the victimhood agenda that has grown steadily to morph real journalism into becoming woke activism over time.

An examination of the signatories of this “open letter” revealed that the vast majority of names have a Middle Eastern ring to them, and most were not media people, although several of the signatories did claim to work in the media.  

The letter of course is ironic because--both nationally and internationally--most media outlets have found ways to present Israel as the villain, the bully beating up on innocent Palestinians, booting them out of their homes and dropping bombs on them.

The journalistic rot began a long time ago and is now in full flower.

Take for example, in his memoirs, Maverick Publisher – J. Patrick O’Callaghan: A Life in Newspapers (Carrick Publishing, 2015), O’Callaghan recalled an April, 1995 annual Canadian Press dinner, where Ralph Klein, former premier of Alberta, was the keynote speaker. Klein maintained that newspapers were obsessed with victim-of-the-week journalism. He cited the case of the Edmonton Journal, which in advance of an Alberta budget had prepared a document for reporters suggesting how they might contextualize the budget items. At the head of the list was the proposal to put the case for those who would be “victimized” by certain budget cuts. In other words, reporters were expected to go out and find “victims.”

Victim-of-the-week” journalism is still with us, but it’s now under the rubric of social justice. When O’Callaghan left his last newspaper, the Calgary Herald, for personal reasons, Southam created a position for him as Southam Visiting Professor of Journalism at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism in Toronto, so that he might complete his term as publisher.

O’Callaghan had always been skeptical about the value of J Schools, as they are known. He believed that anyone wishing to be a journalist should first get a good education and grounding in a subject covered by media (eg. politics, economics etc.) and if this person was at all able to write, the newspaper would train him/her. What he observed at Ryerson did not make him feel any better about the future of journalism. Youngsters coming out of secondary school and into the School of Journalism had very little life experience and virtually no knowledge of history, which is no longer a mandatory school subject beyond one or two courses. “How can they report knowledgeably and intelligently on a subject,” he wondered, “when they have no framework or context for understanding it?”

And just who is staffing these schools of journalism?  

A toxic brew of former B team journalists, social justice warriors, and naïve, starry-eyed students who feel it is their mission to save the world from itself. In the National Post a few years ago, a Ryerson professor stated that his mission was to “inculcate a sense of social responsibility” in students. This placed students firmly on a slippery slope to social and political activism. And we are now there.

The result has been a not-so-subtle shift in the news business. Where once upon a time the task and expectation of journalists was that they report the news and tell the story, it has now been replaced by the expectation that they promote the narrative. If the facts do not support the narrative, then just leave them out. All in service of the greater good.

Nowadays, the preferred narrative is that the world is divided into “oppressors” and victims. If there is an oppressor, then it follows that there must be a victim. Ironically, Israelis and Jews, with a history of oppression dating back thousands of years, are painted as oppressors. Palestinians, on the other hand, who are really Ottoman South Syrians with no history to the lands they claim, but whose leadership seeks to annihilate the Jewish state of Israel, are only too happy to offer themselves up to the social justice-hungry media as victims. And the media are only too happy to oblige.

Leading the charge in woke journalism is the Toronto Star. The Star named reporter Shree Paradkar to the “race and gender” beat. What this means in simple terms is that her job is to peek under people’s skirts to see if there is an oppressor hiding there that she can expose.

The end result of the type of journalism practiced by Paradkar and others like her is to foster division and animosity, to turn communities against each other. Instead of encouraging and facilitating ways for people to overcome their differences, to find common ground and to move forward together, they are presented as oppressors and victims, and the flames of hatred and resentment flare. This was abundantly evident in massive pro-Palestinian protests in Toronto and Montreal that led to riots, tear gas, injuries, and arrests. Subsequent reports eagerly pointed out the Palestinian ire over mounting Palestinian deaths in Israel, but they left out the part about the barrage of Hamas rocketfire at Israeli civilians, while Israel warns Palestinians about incoming retaliatory strikes. They also "forgot" to mention that Hamas intentionally stirred the violence in the first place. This left Israel no choice but to defend its citizens (yet again) from serious harm. Had it not been for Israel’s Iron Dome air-defense interceptor missiles, the death rate in Israel would have been catastrophic.

Still, the general media narrative in favor of the Palestinians is not enough for Paradkar. She has yet to find an anti-Israel narrative she could not love. It should thus come as no surprise to anyone that she is one of the signatories to the letter accusing newsrooms of being too biased in favor of Israel.

As media consumers, we need to insist that journalists return to their original mandate. Reporters should tell both sides of the story without either embellishing or omitting details to achieve a certain effect. Columnists and editors should provide considered opinions based on fact and not merely parrot whomever comes forward with a grievance. Only then will they regain credibility with their readers and audiences.

Joan O’Callaghan is a freelance writer and author of three books.  Her short stories, two of which have won awards in national competitions, have been published in numerous anthologies.  She has been a sessional lecturer at Queens University and the University of Toronto, and has served on the Board of Governors of the Mackenzie Institute. She is currently a Research Fellow for the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, a frequent workshop presenter and runs her blogsite HERE.


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