“Israeli strike kills hundreds in hospital, Palestinians say!”
So headlined The New York Times. The allegation was echoed in many outlets, and protests erupted around the world. Muslim dictators refused to meet with the American president. Despite having just carried out a horrific campaign of bloody murder, Hamas suddenly became the victim in many eyes, and Israel the guilty party.
But the incident, we soon learned, didn’t happen quite as claimed. Something exploded, yes, but in the parking lot, not the hospital. The death count was in the dozens, not hundreds. And the explosives came from Hamas, not Israel. Also, a detail we should not forget for one moment: Hamas started the war, and is therefore chiefly responsible for all its bloodshed.
Are you surprised to see the media buy such fables? Next time, why not “Jews poison the wells?” Or, “Witches in league with the devil damage soybean crop?”
“Take Heed, Lest You Fall”
Liberal media bias is real, but “take heed, lest you fall,” warned St. Paul. One danger is that Americans will be fooled by left-wing propaganda. Another is that we on the right will mirror it, attack our enemies just as dishonestly, and become what we criticize.
One danger is that Americans will be fooled by left-wing propaganda. Another is that we on the right will mirror it, attack our enemies just as dishonestly, and become what we criticize.
Take a recent article about this very story in the flagship conservative journal National Review, “The Media Will Never Forgive Israel for Not Bombing That Hospital.” The author, Becket Adams, Program Director of the National Journalism Center, pointed out how eagerly the left fell for Hamas’ story. Didn’t journalists check to see if the building was still standing? Count casualties? Look to see if Israel had actually shot rockets in that direction? No to all of that! So Adams rightly read reporters the riot act:
The free press is supposed to operate from a set of principles, working within established guardrails to spare readers the publication of false information, including hoaxes and lies that may incite violence or escalate preexisting hostilities. All bets are off, however, when news editors have a deep-seated psychological need for a story to be true.
Behind media bias, Adams claimed, lay campus bias:
U.S. media reported Hamas’s version of events because U.S. media wanted the story to be true. They wanted to believe that Israel had committed a war crime … Call it the college-to-media pipeline.
It Works Both Ways
Can it work both ways, though? Conservatives want some things to be true, too, including things we want to say about our opponents in the media and academy. Indeed, Adams then asked his readers to “Consider how elite academic institutions in the U.S. have welcomed Hamas’s slaughter of Israeli civilians.”
Adams argued that journalists should take care before making sensational claims that may escalate hostility, especially when such reports confirm one’s biases.
So how did he support his own claim that top universities — the institutions themselves — “welcomed” those bloody acts of terrorism? By linking an article he had previously written for the Washington Examiner, which contained two paragraphs about campus responses to the Hamas attacks. But neither offered a lick of evidence than even one American “academic institution … welcomed Hamas’ slaughter of Israeli citizens.” Here’s the first. I underline one word, used four times, which identifies the actual actors on campus:
At Harvard, an incredible 34 student organizations published a joint statement saying the ‘apartheid regime’ of Israel ‘is the only one to blame … for the murders.’ At Georgetown University, student activists held a vigil on Oct. 12 for the Hamas ‘martyrs’ who died in the attacks. At the vigil, students handed out literature that praised the slaughter as a ‘tangible’ step toward ‘decolonization.’ Elsewhere in the Washington, D.C., area, George Washington University students likewise held a ‘Vigil for the Martyrs of Palestine,’ mourning specifically the terrorists killed in last weekend’s actions.
What word did Adams use to describe who was supporting Hamas on campuses? College presidents? Admins? DEI vice presidents? Professors? No, the word was “students.”
Where is the evidence that even one academic institution applauded the work of Hamas? As far as he’s told us, nowhere! Instead we are told that 34 Harvard student organizations signed a statement backing the terrorists. How many such groups are there at Harvard?
Where’s the Evidence?
Good journalists should offer such context. As Adams points out elsewhere, “omitting or burying crucial context is one of the many ways in which newsrooms can, either intentionally or subconsciously, obscure the truth and mislead audiences.”
While this story seemed popular in the conservative press, I have seen no right-wing journalist ask that basic background question. In fact, there are more than 500! Were the groups supporting Hamas among the largest? No clue was given. Most appear to have been Islamic organizations, and even some of those later retracted their agreement.
Did even one professor sign that statement? The school’s president or any of its leaders? Not a scrap of evidence was given that anyone besides students, and that apparently a small number (even some members of those groups complained that they had not been consulted), let out a peep in favor of Hamas.
Adams’ case appears even weaker regarding other schools he named. Again, we are told “student activists” did this and that. How does he know all those activists were even students? You can walk onto most campuses without an ID card. How many students participated? One in ten? One in ten thousand?
And what evidence did Adams have that the institutions themselves — the universities — cheered Hamas’ attack? Since when does the leadership of 8% of student organizations represent the stated opinion of the academic institution? On all these vital and basic journalistic questions — the standard who, what, when, where, why and how of Lois Lane’s profession — we get mostly crickets.
Carelessness on Both Sides
So why did a reputable journal like National Review publish an article accusing America’s elite educational institutions of cheering on Hamas’ terrorist attacks, without offering one iota of evidence to back that claim up? (Even in a linked article by the author?)
The answer is no secret. As the left habitually trashes cops, so the right commonly trashes teachers and college professors, with too little evidence to support their claims about them. Right-wing attacks on our villains rival the left’s attacks on our heroes for shoddiness.
Much as I value National Review, I commonly find such carelessness on two subjects I know well: China, and education. Correcting those errors in the comments section, I have been called an agent of the Chinese Communist Party, or of Hamas! (One reason I appreciate The Stream is that while writers here share a Christian conservative outlook, its editors don’t mind if I “go against the stream” of “our” conventions from time to time!)
I do share Adams’ concerns about American education. Three years ago, Indian reformer and philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi invited me to co-edit a 700-page book, The Third Education Revolution, arguing that Christians should take back education from the state. As a teacher and admin, I am deeply concerned about “Cancel Culture” on campus, and at selective hiring that ratchets up the left-wing character of the faculty.
Let Criticism Begin at Home
So yes, American universities have gone downhill. And yes, American media needs to become more honest, careful, and self-critical. But criticism should begin at home, for three reasons:
(1) Society will hold Christians to a higher standard. (Because the Gospel sets our highest standards.)
(2) And this is good! “You are the light of the world,” said Jesus. If that light becomes darkness, we’re all busted. So we need critics.
(3) Jesus also said “First take the log out of your own eye, so you will see clearly, to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye.” This is very practical advice, if we wish actually to reform America, rather than merely issuing “Get off my lawn!” style rants. Even if the log protrudes from the neighbor’s eye, and yours holds a mere splinter, proper surgical procedure begins by washing that mite out before entering the operating room and grabbing your surgical tools.
We can respond to left-wing untruths in two ways. We might say, “So falsehoods are your weapons of choice, are they? Then I’ll fight fire with nukes! I’ll come armed with my own arsenal of fibs and fantasies!” Or we might say: “Satan is the father of lies, including lies told in the name of God. As I oppose evil, let me avoid its weapons! Let me move in the opposite spirit, and overcome evil with good — including good journalism!”
Yes, the American left needs to learn to love truth. But how can we teach them if we don’t love truth ourselves? Reform has to begin with me, by being skeptical of my own biases. Adams took a shot at the left’s journalistic practice, but we on the right would do well putting our own arguments in his line of fire. If it takes out some of our favored, though false, arguments, along with those of our opponents, fine. Better they die that way than by blowing up in our faces.
David Marshall, an educator and writer, has a doctoral degree in Christian thought and Chinese tradition. His most recent book is The Case for Aslan: Evidence for Jesus in the Land of Narnia.