You can understand a lot about journalists and journalism by examining our professional nervous tics. We all have them – and they tell you a lot about the hidden assumptions that drive the news agenda.
Peter Beaumont, the Guardian’s new Jerusalem bureau chief, and a veteran reporter, is a good liberal journalist with both a broad and deep understanding of the region. In the article below he tells us about the long-awaited reconciliation pact between Fatah and Hamas.
But what does the following little tic tell us, not so much about him but about the news agenda he serves?
After the agreement was announced, Israel cancelled a planned session of peace negotiations with the Palestinians. It also launched an air strike on a site in the north of the Gaza Strip, wounding 12 people including children, which underscored the deep mutual suspicion and hostility that persists.
Israel launched an unprovoked and, it seems, largely indiscriminate attack on Gaza that injured only civilians (as Haaretz reports) because two Palestinian factions signed a piece of paper. And that apparently “underscores the deep mutual suspicion” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Peter, here’s another thing the attack may underscore: Israel’s cynical and determined effort to break the agreement before it has time to take hold.
Talking of comments revealing a lack of self-awareness, how about this corker in the same article from Jen Psaki, a state department official, who called the unity pact “disappointing”?
It is hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that doesn’t believe in its right to exist.
And yet the US seems quite happy to have the Palestinians negotiate with a government, Israel, that has never shown any indication that it believes in the right of Palestine to exist.
Peter Beaumont has contacted me to say that he did not write the phrase above attributed to him by the Guardian, and that it was added in London by an editor. I am happy to issue what I think the Guardian calls a “clarification”.
It is at least a reassuring to know that the tic was not Peter Beaumont’s because, as I mentioned in the post above, I rate him highly as a reporter.
But unfortunately, it is not reassuring for those like me who despair of the news agenda of our mainstream media. Whether the line was written by Peter Beaumont or added by one of his editors, it tells us the same thing: that the collective tics of news organisations invariably reinforce the news agenda in one direction only – in a way that serves elite interests.
Now will the Guardian be issuing a clarification that its Jerusalem bureau chief dissociates himself from the words attributed to him by his own newspaper?