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News Accuracy in Israel-Lebanon Conflict Questioned

Because so many sources recording the war differed on reported facts, the war left international media and historians arguing over who started it and who the true victors of the war were, several speakers said. The UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies was a co-sponsor of this event, organized by the Comparative Literature Graduate Student Group.

Reporters "do not seem to be hired on basic requirements like knowing the language or the culture."

This article was first published in The Daily Bruin.

By Alexa Vaughn, Daily Bruin

International journalists and professors dissected Winston Churchill's old saying "history is written by the victors" at a daylong conference examining last summer's war between Lebanon and Israel on Tuesday.

During the conference, "Covering Lebanon: Representation of the 2006 War," multiple perspectives of last summer's conflict in Lebanon and Israel – including that of international media, grassroots electronic media such as YouTube, and professors – were discussed to investigate the different ways in which history is written.

Because so many sources recording the war differed on reported facts, the war left international media and historians arguing over who started it and who the true victors of the war were, several speakers said.

And without clear victors, some contended, sources that might assert a definitive history of the event are left in question.

The conference was put together in order to build a bridge between these perspectives in order to encourage a comprehensive historical perspective on the war, said Amy Tahani-Bidmeshki, an organizer from the Comparative Literature Graduate Student Group.

Several speakers said there was a lack of accountability on behalf of many journalists, especially from America.

"Americans peddled the story Israel gave them, which was untrue ... but there was no accountability in the media to find the truth," said As'ad AbuKhalil, a political science professor from California State University Stanislaus.

AbuKhalil then participated in a roundtable discussion with editors from the Los Angeles Times and CNN.

Nicholas Goldberg, the Op-Ed editor for the Los Angeles Times, said the war probably could have been reported better at times, but ultimately he defended work of foreign correspondents.

"For American reporters, Lebanon is an extremely complicated place," Goldberg said. "Most reporters there are not based there. When they get there, sometimes they end up following a narrative that people there already have."

When put face-to-face with Marjorie Miller, foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, AbuKhalil questioned the quality of training for foreign correspondents, who often rove over several countries without committing residence to any of them for too long.

"They do not seem to be hired on basic requirements like knowing the language or the culture," AbuKhalil said.

"I don't know one American foreign correspondent who can interview in Arabic. This is a major failing."

Miller responded by saying she agrees the situation should change, but the hurried culture of news reporting has kept it from happening.

"We're on this treadmill, and we're trying to get off it, but it hasn't happened yet," Miller said.

The objectivity of newspapers also came up as an issue.

Goldberg said it can be assumed that no news reporting is objective because something as subtle as a word choice can create judgment, but reporters are trained to do their best to avoid bias.

But AbuKhalil said he was not comforted by reporters' efforts to avoid bias.

"I'm not as scared of Fox News as I am of The New York Times. ... I'd prefer that a newspaper be more up-front about its political vices," AbuKhalil said.

Tahani-Bidmeshki said she and other graduate students started planning the conference in August, before the war had officially ended in September, in order to grasp the event while its history was still being written.

"(The war) is a story that people are telling themselves," Tahani-Bidmeshki said, "and we were interested from the start as to how this would develop."

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