Thursday, May 03, 2007

May 2 Media Critique: "Harvard Report Examines Media Coverage of Lebanon War"

Back at the beginning of March 2007, HonestReporting's Backspin blog drew attention to a research paper published by Harvard University, which examined media coverage of the 2006 Lebanon War. The conclusion: Hezbollah succeeded at using the media as a weapon against Israel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mainstream media, having allowed themselves to be cynically manipulated by the Hezbollah propaganda machine, failed to report the findings of the Harvard study.

And HonestReporting, having failed to read the actual report, can’t manage to summarise it with any great accuracy. The report (actually a ‘Research Paper’) focuses its media analysis on Arabic media, such as Al-Jezeera, Al-Arabiyya etc, the BBC and the main US outlets. It doesn’t provide much information on its methodology, so it's conclusions are rather difficult to assess. Its basic finding is that Hizballah tried to use the media to its advantage. Ground-breaking stuff. Who needs a ‘Research Paper’ to point out what is obvious and uncontroversial. The real issue is how does the media respond to attempts to manipulate it -whether it is a Government, a military force, or an internet pressure group.

While the initial lack of publicity was disappointing, a number of blogs have recently revisited the study, generating a surge in internet-led interest. This prompted the Jerusalem Post to report:

This is amusing. The Research Paper author, Marvin Kalb, expressed an interesting opinion almost 10 yrs ago on the power of the internet to influence mainstream journalism – he felt it was a negative one.

I suspect that over the next couple of years that impact will grow to the point where it will damage journalism's ability to do its job professionally, to check out information before publication, to be mindful of the necessity to publish and broadcast reliable, substantiated information.

Kalb felt that ‘bloggers’ putting information out, compel a commidified media to run with those stories from a purely competitive perspective, leading to a degradation of journalistic standards. And that’s pretty much the way this latest 'Media Critique' has come to us. The Harvard paper has been kicking around a few blogs and then as HR tell us “This prompted the Jerusalem Post to report:” Kalbs paper. A little ironic isn’t it?

Here’s an excerpt from the paper that HonestReporting (and the Jerusalem Post) should read, and re-read till they get it,

Keller of the Times said that the issue is so irresolvable that he refuses to pander to the prejudices of his critics. “They don’t want you to be balanced in your coverage; they want you to portray the morality of the war as they see it.” Scholars have coined a term for this problem—it’s called “hostile media effect,” meaning partisans tend to believe that the media generally paints them in a negative light

Sound like anybody we know?

Thanks to Eric for pointing out this critique of the Harvard study. On a related matter, Kalb was a vocal critic of the Mearsheimer and Walt paper on the 'Israel Lobby', as it "clearly does not meet the academic standards of a Kennedy School research paper". If you've read Kalbs effort, it's hard not to laugh at this. I've written to the author pointing out some of the serious academic limitations in his 'Research Paper'. It will be interesting to see if there is a response.