Matti Friedman Israel Today—Sifting through the media spin

May 6, 2016

What’s Happening

Matti Friedman

Matti Friedman

Wednesday, May 11, 7:30 pm, Reba and Sam Sandler Family Campus

Matti Friedman, former Jerusalem Bureau reporter and editor for the Associated Press will be the featured speaker in the final event of the 5th Annual Israel Today Series, hosted by the Community Relations Council and its community partners.

This “whistleblower,” as he’s been called by detractors, will discuss his experience reporting from Israel and his subsequent decision to leave the AP and “out” the international media for its ideologically- based spin. Not only will he address how media bias affects the world’s perception of Israel, and in particular, Israel’s role in the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, he will also discuss social media and its impact on how information is gathered and how news is disseminated.

Jewish News recently spoke with Friedman from his home in Israel, about the intriguing topic he’ll tackle. The first installment was published in the April 25 issue of Jewish News (find the first piece at JewishNewsVa.org). Here is the conclusion of that interview.

JN: What impact has the rise of social media had—particularly in regards to the speed with which “news” and opinions are posted?

The democratization of the flow of information has had all kinds of effects on the media, mostly economic.

When I started working as a journalist, there were all kinds of newspaper bureaus that no longer exist—the Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune had of reporters here.

I think actually that the number of sources of information and the craziness of the discourse on social media actually drives people back into the arms of the big brands. I read The New York Times, and I want some educated person to tell me what’s going on.

I’m a believer in the mainstream media. I think that you need knowledgeable people who can tell you what’s going on in a smart way. I don’t think Facebook is going to replace that.

I think that people tend to live in bubbles where they get a lot of self-enforcing information. A lot of the information is not credible and very extreme—on both sides by the way, not just the anti-Israel stuff, but also the pro-Israel stuff. The debate about it is so over the top that I find it very difficult to deal with.

I do still think that we need the mainstream media outlets to be the adults and put this in context and tell people what’s going on. The fact that I do believe that makes it more painful for me that that’s not what’s happening.

If I just thought that we could rely on Facebook and forget about the AP and The New York Times, then I wouldn’t have a problem. But I don’t think that. I think we need The New York Times, and I think we need the AP, and I think we need them to do their job.

The Israeli government seems to be taking social media seriously and doing a better job of getting information out— what’s your opinion on these efforts?

The government is no longer dependent on the goodwill of journalists in order to reach the public. It can now go around the media and talk straight to the public, which is important— that’s good.

As a neutral reader, I’m still going to trust my local paper more than I’m going to trust, basically, propaganda from any government or official communique from the army. That direct information is not going to compete in the hearts and minds with the people who depend on the intermediaries of journalists to interpret the information for them.

But, the intermediary has malfunctioned here. The pipeline isn’t just rusty and leaking— which is the way it always is in the media—it’s intentionally blocked. The players, like the Israeli government and the Army, are trying to get around the block by going straight to people.

As, a journalist, don’t trust Army communiques; I’m suspicious of all social information and I’m suspicious of spin—and I know that everyone’s spinning everyone. So when people ask me abroad what they can trust, what source of info they can trust, it’s not an easy question to answer.

What I do is have a few different sources that I’ve learned that you can more or less use to get a good picture of what’s going on. I read the Times of Israel, that’s a good site if you’re looking for just the daily movement of the story, very smart journalists here, including journalists working for the mainstream outlets like The New York Times. I know there are certain names that I trust. I know if I see a certain byline I’ll read it. I’m also living here—so I have my finger on the pulse. It’s much harder for someone who’s living in Virginia Beach or somewhere else outside of Israel.

 

Call 757-965-6107 or visit www.JewishVa.org/CRCIsraelToday for more information and to RSVP for this free and open to the community event with Matti Friedman, in partnership with all synagogues, Jewish agencies and organizations, and generous donors, as well as the Simon Family JCC as a part of their annual Celebrate Israel series.

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