No News is Bad NewsDecember 5th, 2008

Gaza, a strip of land on the Mediterranean between Israel and Egypt, now under Israeli military occupation, has been closed to reporters for a month by government edict. Protests were lodged by the free press, but that same free press has given scant attention to them, and Gaza has disappeared from the news.

Suppose you were a news editor and there was a place that was closed to reporters. Would you sense that there was a story to be covered? Would you complain incessantly about the denial of access, reporting whatever other news your stringers could dig up, or would you simply give up and go on to some other place?

Our press gave up. Gazans are cut off from the rest of the world, blockaded by the military power of a neighboring country, in a situation that, in the case of any other people, would be declared a humanitarian catastrophe by the US media, and their condition is ignored. The news media of the USA have capitulated to the Israeli blockade and ceased most reporting on conditions in Gaza.

What explains this? It can’t be a legitimate editorial decision, because the dire circumstances of Gazans are news, and so is the irony of their situation: the main reason for Gazans’ agony is that they elected a government made up of members of a political party that Israel considers its enemy. If the voters of Gaza would just repudiate the results of their last democratic election, Israel would quit harassing them. Can it be that a population held hostage for exercising democratic rights isn’t newsworthy?

Gaza is news, and so why won’t our press cover it? Is it just too ugly for Americans to be exposed to? Are our media sparing us the pain of others’ desperate suffering? Is it OK for them to do that? Or is it racism? Do the news media of the USA hate Arabs? Maybe the media have some special obligation to withhold criticism of Israel. Is it possible that all the networks and all the newspapers could be restrained by a religious minority numbering no more than a few million believers?

News-consumers have long suspected that the sponsors actually decide the content of the news, allowing only what’s consonant with their commercial message. That might explain why the unpleasantness in Gaza, which could inhibit spending, is out of the news, but it doesn’t explain why news about atrocities in Congo is acceptable fare, while news about atrocities in Gaza is poison.

News-hungry readers and viewers might want to ask an editor to explain all this, but censors don’t make themselves available for interrogation except by other censors. They figure you’re better off without any explanations, and they’re right. A news report is like a hot dog. If you knew how they made it, you wouldn’t buy it.