Fox News (Officially) Abandons Journalism in the Middle East

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"We're covering the story from every angle!" enthused a Fox News anchor Friday, as Rupert Murdoch's all-news channel, like CNN and MSNBC, went wall-to-wall covering the latest round of violence in the Middle East. Despite that hype, Fox News has pointedly refused to cover every angle of the bloody, on-going story and in the process has walked away from professional journalism and crossed over into dutiful propaganda; a dangerous new chapter even for Fox News.

Based on a review of the blatantly one-sided collection of guests and experts FNC has booked to discuss the conflict recently, it's obvious Fox News has opted to present an hermetically sealed version of events from the Middle East and spoon feed its viewers a preschool-like account of the news. Fox News has moved beyond the warmongering it trademarked during the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003 and slipped into a conscious, company-wide decision to purposely cordon off topics of discussion.

That the Middle East battle is told primarily through the eyes of Israelis is not surprising. American news organizations have more resources inside Israel, better sources within the Israeli government and most Americans clearly sympathize with the Israelis in their never-ending conflict with Arabs. And Fox News has certainly had its thumb on the scale. Last week Bill O'Reilly warned about a coming Holocaust. And during one of the endlessly looping FNC conversation about Iran's alleged puppet-like manipulation of Hezbelloh, Fox News' on-screen text asked, "Are Saddam Hussein's WMDs Now in Hezbollah's Hands?"

But what's been startling about Fox's overall coverage, and especially the roster of guests it has hosted, is that it obliterates the traditionally tilted American media stance and crosses over into something else entirely. Following Bush's lead of openly picking sides in the Middle East conflict and chucking the notion of acting as an honest broker, FNC has decided there is no 'other side' of the story to report on. Not if you look at the collections of experts FNC has invited on the air.

My tabulation is by no means exact, but covering a roughly six-day period covering late last week, I identified, via TVEyes.com, more than 100 guests who appeared on FNC to discuss the current Middle East violence. Of those 100, I counted less than ten who raised serious questions about Israel's military assault which, to date, has killed nearly 400 Lebanese, or questioned America's strident support for Israel or its slow-motion approach to diplomacy. And it's not as if there isn't a wider debate going on regarding the Middle East. According to a recent CNN poll, a clear plurality of Americans last week thought Israel should agree to a cease-fire as soon as possible, a position rejected by Washington, D.C., Jerusalem and Fox News.

Of those 100 on-air FNC guests, I counted fewer than five Muslims during that six-day span who were invited on-air to raise doubts about the Israeli offensive, or even to give a Muslim or Arab perspective on events. (Finding a Muslim to discuss the Middle East on Fox News is almost as difficult as finding a woman; I found less than five among the more than 100 guests.) In fact, I could not find a single, authentic, independent expert on Arab politics and history who appeared on Fox News to discuss the roots of the escalating violence. Not one.

While FNC could not, or would not, find experts to give an Arab perspective to the ongoing tumult, Fox News programs have been positively brimming with rich details provided by Israelis, who clearly enjoy an open door policy at FNC. Indeed, the Fox News green room and satellite feeds have been elbow-to-elbow with Israelis, including former prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu (repeatedly) and Ehud Barak, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman (repeatedly), Israel ambassador Daniel Ayalon, Yossi Olmert, the bother of Israel's current prime minister Ehud Olmert, Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner, Israel's consul general in New York Arye Mekel (repeatedly), and former Israeli United Nations ambassador Dore Gold (repeatedly). Not to mention former U.S. ambassadors to Israel Martin Indyk, Ned Walker, and Dennis Ross (repeatedly).

Perhaps the only institution better represented on FNC than the Israeli government has been the Israel Defense Force. Fox viewers have been briefed by IDF spokesman Capt. Ishai David, IDF reserve Hesky Hutscher, IDF Capt. Eric Snyder, Staff Sgt. Adam Harmon, Ret. IDF Brig. Gen. Yehil Gozal, IDG Capt. Guy Spigelman, former IDF commando Aaron Cohen and Ret. Lt. Col. Gal Luft.

Of course, FNX has made lots of room for far-right, pro-war press partisans such as Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Rich Lowry, Ann Coulter, Dick Morris, Mort Zuckerman, New York Post columnist Ralph Peters, and radio talk show host Michael Gallagher. FNC also trotted out the same pro-war policy wonks who got almost everything wrong about the U.S. invasion of Iraq; Frank Gaffney, former CIA director James Woolsey, and Newt Gingrich. They were joined by anti-Arab activists Steve Emerson (repeatedly) and Daniel Pipes (repeatedly).

And then there was the scrum of military and terrorism experts--the same pro's FNC paraded on-camera before the invasion of Iraq--who, nearly to a man, explained how Israel was taking exactly the correct approach and how much firepower was required to finish Hezbelloh off.

Taken in context, there's nothing wrong with FNC inviting any of those individual guests on for a robust debate about the Middle East troubles. The shocking part is that there's basically nobody on the other side taking part in the FNC-sponsored debate. And by the other side I don't mean terrorists from Hezbelloh, but simply including Lebanese officials or Arab experts to offer a different, non-Israeli perspective.

Things are so skewed on Fox that when Israel does come under rare scrutiny, it's from the conservative right. The Post's Ralph Peters and Daniels Pipes, for instance, both suggested Israel could have avoided the current bloodshed if they hadn't been so 'soft' on its Arab enemies in previous years. (Enemies Peters graphically described as "termites.")

On Monday night, FNC's Greta Van Susteren invited Israel ambassador Daniel Ayalon on the show for one of the cable channel's signature, simplistic and patently dishonest discussions about Middle East turmoil; turmoil that has waged for the better part of a half-a-century and been rooted in deep religious, political and geographical conflicts that have reeked havoc inside Israel as well as accounted for untold damage to Israel's Arab neighbors. Van Susteren cut to the chase: "Why do they hate you so much" she asked. In respone, Ayalon told Van Suteren Islamic radicals wanted to use the Middle East as a springboard to turn America into an Islamic country, that Israel's sweeping military attack on Lebanon was for the Lebanon's own good, and that Arabs have been "brain washed."

The same might be said of Fox News viewers these days.