By David Gregory
Throughout my career, as a journalist who also happens to be Jewish, I have faced occasional personal conflicts when covering issues related to Israel. Although I am not actively covering the painful events today, I recognize the unique emotion of this story for Jews who are. And as journalists, today we are torn between loyalties to Israel, to the frightened Jewish community in America, and the loyalties to the craft of journalism.
Jews in America are under threat amid surging antisemitism around the globe; we are frightened. Jews are also angry, feeling betrayed by the lack of moral clarity among those who would excuse the violence that started this war. I’m a father with three Jewish children on college campuses right now – my daughter proudly wearing a star of David around her neck. What threats will they face? I’ve wondered why more of my non-Jewish friends haven’t reached out to see how I’m doing. I think they don’t realize how we Jews feel at this moment: despair for the future of Israel, fear for our future as Jews and on the defensive as Israel is attacked for its response.
A horrific act of terror and yet it has been clouded by “whataboutism” concerning the larger context in the region, posing a particular challenge for journalists.
Any journalist must remember their primary mission: it isn’t objectivity. No one is truly objective. We are all shaped by our backgrounds and experiences. Rather, our obligation is to show detachment and independence. Our job is to get at what’s true (much harder today, in an age of abundant false information online), to chronicle events: the suffering, the decision-making, yes, the larger context, and the history. We should not be taking sides. Tom Brokaw told me once when I was struggling on deadline, “Report out the story, don’t make a judgment about it.”
We also face daily pressures to get the story first and to be fast. These virtues often come at the expense of being complete.
As a White House correspondent and as moderator of Meet the Press, when covering events in the region and interviewing Israeli and Arab leaders, detachment was part of my discipline. I may have had opinions or emotions about the topic at hand, but my obligation was to report and challenge the views of everyone I covered. I always tried to do so.
That is the ideal, but today’s media environment makes the mission of journalism much more difficult. The events triggered by October 7 make up an emotional and polarizing story. The Hamas attack versus the larger Palestinian cause, and Israel’s response – these topics divide, and modern media has evolved dangerously into amplifying and reinforcing that division. Gone are the days of a mass audience. Today, our media outlets— including print and digital platforms, broadcast and cable channels, and of course social media — are more focused on reaching specific communities rather than the larger community as a whole. Often, their targets are like-minded communities. As a result, communications have come to embody a lot more argument than education. Breaking news, outrage, and reducing complicated questions to a “one side versus the other” debate have become the lifeblood of modern journalism rather than fair-minded reporting which allows each side to understand the other.
The bias in media today takes many forms. It’s not as simple as one’s point of view shining through. What to cover; how much weight, time or space to give it; what images you show or don’t show; what questions are asked or unasked — these are all judgments being made by journalists, their editors, producers or heads of news divisions. And they can get it wrong. Consider the now notorious rush to judgment by the New York Times, which quoted Palestinian officials blaming Israel for an errant rocket that targeted a hospital in Gaza, without verifying or questioning the claim.
I know many excellent journalists at the Times and elsewhere, including members of our congregation, who always try to get it right even when caught up in the maelstrom of modern media. This is a difficult story to cover. Criticism is inevitable when judgment calls take place every moment. Jewish journalists don’t have to take sides; they just have to get the facts right and bring moral clarity, balance and perspective to a topic that is often missing these values.
Just as journalists, whatever their faith, are obliged to be fair-minded in assessing fast-moving developments, we have our own obligations in the Micah community. The news media is messy, so act accordingly as consumers. Weigh what you read or watch and consider where it is coming from. Avoid social media on this topic, learn what you can, consider other perspectives and remember that the truth is not always clear until the dust settles. What’s important is that information – vital reporting on this conflict from all sides — is the key to good decision-making and the best possible outcome.
David Gregory is a journalist and author. He covered the White House for NBC News during the Bush (43) presidency and is the former moderator of Meet the Press.
This article originally appeared in the January/March issue of the Vine.