Never Forget the Power of the Mass Media to Distort Reality

By Barry Rubin

[Name withheld] is one of the kindest and most generous people I've ever known. [Name withheld] is well-educated and is an open-minded liberal. [Name withheld] is not Jewish but is friendly to Israel. Yesterday there was a column in the Washington Post claiming--on ridiculously distorted arguments--that Glenn Beck is an antisemite. For two years I've been listening to Beck on television and radio as part of a research project on understanding the new conservative debate (with special reference to the Middle East and Israel) and explaining it to Israelis. I know, then, that while Glenn Beck sometimes makes silly mistakes on details he often has a better grasp of Middle East issues than the mainstream media. The charge against him is not only profoundly false but based on such a distortion of everything he has said and done for many years that one can only assume that the Washington Post author was consciously lying.

Indeed, Dana Milbank called Beck, "The leading purveyor of anti-Semitic memes in the mass media." It would be interesting to consider who really deserves that title. I don't have a candidate but I'd love to hear yours. Somehow I don't think it would be Louis Farrakhan, Pat Buchanan, or Ron Paul since they aren't that much in the mass media though they are certainly antisemites. Nor do I think it is someone who politically agrees with Beck on any issue whatsoever.

If we are talking in international terms, we might presume that it would be the leaders of Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizbalah, and the Muslim Brotherhood, along with Saudi Arabia indirectly, with the Turkish government rising as a contender. The European champion? Perhaps the Guardian newspaper and the BBC?

Of course, there is no lack of antisemites today. But it is very hard to talk about the identity of the vast majority of them. Indeed, Yale University has just revamped its institute on antisemitism, apparently because it spent too much time talking about the overwhelming problem with antisemitism today--Islamic and especially Islamist antisemitism. In other words, the real antisemites are whitewashed, while those fighting antisemitism are called antisemites. The supporters of Israel are called enemies of Israel by those who themselves are generally enemies of Israel.

The truth is the exact opposite of what Milbank wrote. Beck is the leading purveyor of pro-Israel and antagonism toward anti-Semitic memes in the mass media. If you can listen to the second hour of his June 20, 2011, radio show he proves it with many clips of his past statements. I don't care what you think of Beck or his positions on various issues. The truth is the truth.

Incidentally, if you want to see an example of "anti-Semitic memes in the mass media" take a look at this article by Milbank himself that oozes with hatred and contempt for Israel with an underlying foundation of antisemitic memes and the purest disgust. I think Beck could make a better case against Milbank regarding antisemitic themes and memes than vice-versa. (I'm not saying that Milbank, who is some vague and ignorant sense nominally Jewish, is an antisemite. He just sounds like one.)

Why am I telling you all of this? Because a wonderful, generous and open-hearted person [name withheld] told me that [name withheld] now knew that Glenn Beck was an antisemite. [Name withheld] has never watched his program or heard his radio show. The fact that it was in the Washington Post means to [name withheld] that it must be true.

It is one thing when the person involved is a spreader-of-falsehoods, an ideologue who has an agenda. But what about when it is a well-intentioned person who would be open to hearing the truth, who is proud of having a fairminded and accurate view of the world?

We should always remember that the mainstream media, no matter how absurd, false, and deliberately mendacious the material appearing in it, is still taken for granted as being accurate by roughly half of the American people, including a disproportionately high number of those who are members of the elite.

Reality doesn't matter if one doesn't experience it directly or have an alternative source of information. Reality is thus what one reads in the respected newspaper or network television station. The unspoken assumption is that nothing has changed in twenty or thirty years. The universities are still gardens of eden for free discussion; the mass media are all fair and balanced (except perhaps Fox which says that it's fair and balanced).

The Palestinian Authority refuses to negotiate with Israel for 2.5 years? Well, if much of the mainstream media says that the lack of negotiations is Israel's fault, millions will believe it. You can multiply that by scores of issues. Of course, there are some things, especially domestic issues (the state of the economy? health care?) that people experience directly enough to have their own independent opinion.

I have often spoken of the kind of phenomenon described in this story, in the willingness of a very decent and intelligent person to accept a totally slanderous falsehood in good faith. I shouldn't have been surprised. But when one experiences this kind of thing it is so terribly sad and discouraging.