The Electronic Intifada 18 August 2008
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) is a media monitoring organization with a large database of supporters known for its staunch support for Israeli policies and its ability to influence media coverage. While CAMERA claims to be objective and interested in holding the media accountable to its own “self-professed standards,”  the terminology and views of the organization are largely consistent with those of the Israeli government itself. 
Earlier this year, an Electronic Intifada investigation brought CAMERA under scrutiny for its efforts to secretly take control of the administrative structures of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia in order to influence content relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  The information obtained by EI indicated that CAMERA sought more than 50 volunteers to participate in the plan and had “set its sights on creating dozens of new editors and administrators over a long period of time.” 
In yet another realm of the public discourse on the Arab-Israeli conflict, a study of newspaper opinion pieces (op-eds), CAMERA’s efforts to influence the debate are once again called into question.
In a detailed report, CAMERA claimed that “Israel’s voice” was being “stifled” on the op-ed pages of America’s newspapers.  The statement was based on a 19-month study of guest opinion pieces (not including editorials or staff op-eds) dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post in which CAMERA concluded that op-eds critical of Israel “overwhelmingly” outnumbered “pro-Israel” pieces. 
CAMERA argued that the finding of this research effectively refuted the case made by “Israel’s detractors” such as former US President Jimmy Carter and Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer that “pro-Israel” voices dominate the American media to the detriment of “pro-Palestinian” views. 
However, a closer look at CAMERA’s highly problematic study  using the same methodology and two of the same newspapers — The New York Times and The Washington Post — found that CAMERA’s conclusions were either misleading or wrong with numerous op-eds omitted or miscategorized.
CAMERA’s analysis of The Washington Post failed to account for 10 primary and eight tangential op-eds supporting an Israeli perspective or criticizing Arab policies  for example, while their analysis of The New York Times reflected only eight out of the 18 primary op-eds supporting an Israeli point of view or criticizing Arab policies during the relevant period.
CAMERA’s study concluded that 59 percent  of guest op-eds primarily dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict in The Washington Post and The New York Times were either “pro-Arab” or “more critical of Israel,” when only 38 percent had this point of view. Similarly, where CAMERA found that 21 percent  of the primary guest op-eds were “pro-Israel” or more critical of Arabs, almost twice that number 41 percent actually supported that view.
Far from Israel’s voice being stifled on the editorial pages, when op-eds primarily covering the Arab-Israeli conflict were combined with commentaries only tangentially discussing the subject, the data showed that out of 111 op-eds in The New York Times and The Washington Post, 46 percent supported an Israeli view or criticized Arab policies, 33 percent were supportive of Arab policies or critical of Israel, and 21 percent were neutral. 
CAMERA’S The Washington Post analysis
CAMERA’s analysis of The Washington Post found only four outside commentaries (17 percent) in a 19-month period supporting an Israeli view or criticizing Arab policies and 17 supporting an Arab perspective or criticizing Israel, with two neutral op-eds.  Only four op-eds on the conflict during this period would have been an extraordinarily small number considering this was a period which included the Israel-Lebanon war, Israel’s proposed “convergence” plan, the Palestinian elections in which Hamas took control of the Palestinian parliament, the international boycott of Palestinians following the elections, and unprecedented intra-Palestinian violence.
CAMERA’s flawed research led it to the conclusion that “[The] Washington Post Arab-Israeli commentary by outside writers is overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli or both.”  “The Washington Post rarely publishes outside commentary by Israelis in the news, or their supporters, whose views contradict those of Palestinians like the terrorists [Hamas advisor Ahmad] Yousef, [Hamas Prime Minister Ismail] Haniyeh, or [Hamas leader Mousa Abu] Marzook; or those of Palestinian apologists like [journalist Daoud] Kuttab, [former US diplomat Aaron David] Miller, and [former Clinton advisor Robert] Malley or anti-Israel polemicists like [former US President Carter …” 
However, a closer look at the data shows that CAMERA had not included 27 relevant op-eds (16 primary, 11 tangential) and had improperly classified others.  Furthermore, most of the outside commentaries supporting Arabs or criticizing Israel contained views well within the mainstream international consensus for resolving conflict and support for international law.
During the 19-month period, The Washington Post had actually published not four, but 17 primary guest op-eds supporting an Israeli perspective or criticizing Arab policies, 13 more than claimed in the original CAMERA study. Ten of these 17 primary op-eds were missing from CAMERA’s report altogether. There were also 16 primary op-eds supporting an Arab point of view or criticizing Israel with six neutral op-eds. 
The primary op-eds omitted by CAMERA included two by Dennis Ross (“The Art of the Possible Peace; Rice’s First Task: A Viable Israeli-Palestinian Cease Fire,” “The Specter of ‘Hamastan’; More Must Be Done to Counter Islamist Gains in Gaza”) and one each from David Makovsky (“The Next Mideast War”), Newt Gingrich (“The Only Option Is to Win”), Richard Holbrooke (“The Guns of August”), Michael Oren (“Necessary Steps for Israel; Confronting State Sponsors of Terror Is the Only Option”), David Rivkin and Lee Casey (“Israel Is Within Its Rights”), Philip Gordon (“Air Power Won’t Do It”), John McLaughlin (“We Have to Talk to the Bad Guys”) and Franklin D. Kramer (“Making Peace Stick in Lebanon”).
There were also several improperly classified op-eds including:
- Aaron David Miller (“Palestinians’ Crisis of Leadership”) criticizes Palestinian leadership as not coherent and “irresponsible” which CAMERA acknowledges.  Nevertheless, CAMERA considered the article supportive of an Arab perspective.
- Steven A. Cook (“Don’t Blame Democracy Promotion”) blames Hamas and Hizballah for much of the conflict with Israel and criticizes their failure to embrace democracy, but CAMERA still considered the article neutral. 
- Robert Eisen (“Muslims and Jews: Common Ground”) discussed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from Muslim and Jewish perspectives and supported the role of the clergy in trying to bring people together. CAMERA characterized the article as a pro-Arab dismissal of threats to Israel — and a failure to understand Islamic fundamentalism. 
When op-eds tangentially discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict were considered, the data actually showed that 10 additional guest commentaries took an Israeli perspective or criticized Arab policies (eight of which were not included in the original CAMERA report), bringing the total to 27. Three additional tangential op-eds supported an Arab perspective or criticized Israel, a total of 19 and three more neutral op-eds appeared for a total of nine. Rather than pro-Arab, anti-Israeli or both, the guest commentaries in The Washington Post were actually more supportive of Israel or critical of Arab policies, similar to the rest of the editorial page.
CAMERA’s The New York Times analysis
CAMERA’s The New York Times analysis found only eight op-eds supporting Israel or criticizing Arab policies and twice as many criticizing Israel or supporting Arab policies which led to its conclusion that “rather than representing the ‘nation’s most important forum on the most contentious issues of the day,’ The New York Times has become a vehicle for one-sided (pro-Arab) advocacy in a contentious debate.” 
Far from a vehicle for “pro-Arab advocacy,” in fact, The New York Times actually published not eight, but 18 primary guest commentaries supporting Israel or criticizing Arab policies. There were another 16 guest commentaries supporting an Arab view or criticizing Israeli policies and with 12 neutral op-eds.
When op-eds only tangentially covering the Arab-Israeli conflict were considered, the data showed that six additional op-eds supported an Israeli perspective or criticized Arab policies, raising the total to 24, two additional op-eds supporting an Arab point of view or 18 total, and two more neutral op-eds or 14 total. 
The primary difference between CAMERA’s original analysis of guest commentaries in The New York Times and the re-examination was not the omission of articles per se as in their analysis of The Washington Post — but the finding that CAMERA had arbitrarily classified many of the guest commentaries in a manner that downplayed op-eds supporting Israel or criticizing Arab policies and slightly increased the number commentaries supporting Arab policies or criticizing Israel.
In this regard, CAMERA’s approach took several patterns. Some op-eds recommended ideas for how to resolve conflicts focusing primarily on the changes that could be made on the Arab side. These commentaries were considered neutral by CAMERA and not consistent with its own criteria for classifying articles:
- Former Israeli soldier Adir Gurion Waldman (“Lebanon’s Force for Good”) suggested that a task force between Israeli and Lebanese representatives could work on a broad range of issues but should have a new mandate for overseeing the “disarmament of Hizballah and other terrorist organizations.”  Although many might agree with this policy, the analysis did not contain equal criticism of the parties involved in the conflict.
- Mark Helprin (“Forced to Get Along”) endorsed the West Bank first strategy of isolating Hamas and all other residents of Gaza. Again, the criticism primarily focused on Palestinians and could not be considered neutral. 
- Michael Oren (“What if Israel and Syria Find Common Ground”) considers the requirements for peace between Israel and Syria — and in doing so discusses the problems with Syria from US and Israeli perspectives. Nevertheless, CAMERA considered the op-ed neutral. 
In addition, some writers appeared to be typecasted as “pro-Arab” regardless of the commentary and even if demands were placed on both sides. Discussing how to resolve the conflict between Israel and Hizballah, the commentaries by authors Chibli Mallat (“Resolve to Put Lebanon in Charge”) and Paul Salem (“Stop Bombs, Start Talks”) below supported among other elements, the disarmament of Hizballah, called for the Lebanese government to be put in charge of the entire country, and sought the return of prisoners — but they were still not considered balanced by CAMERA. 
Finally, some classifications of op-eds were simply difficult to explain:
- CAMERA’s description of an op-ed (“A Conflict that Will Stay Closer to Home”) by Edward Luttwak states, “Discusses Israeli-Hizballah conflict as part of a larger conflict financed and directed by Iran and Syria.”  Although the description clearly blamed Syria for the conflict, the op-ed was placed in a neutral category.
- In another op-ed (“Cold, Hard Cash”), CAMERA claimed that Geoff Porter “urged US, EU funding of a Hamas-led government”  when the main purpose of the article was to suggest that Arab states should make an effort to moderate Hamas with aid so that Hamas would not fall under Iran’s orbit. This op-ed focused primarily on changing Palestinian behavior — and whether or not this is an appropriate policy — criticism was only directed at one side party to the conflict.
- An op-ed by Ted Koppel (“Look What Democratic Reform Dragged In”) argued the US was fighting a war with Iran through proxies — and took the view that Israel’s bombing of Lebanon was a function of Israel understanding their “enemy’s intentions with greater clarity than most” — but the op-ed was still considered neutral by CAMERA. 
CAMERA is incorrect in its analysis and perception that outside commentaries in The Washington Post and The New York Times reflect an anti-Israeli bias. When CAMERA’s own analytic criteria are correctly applied and arbitrarily excluded articles are included, the statistics reflect that supporters of Israel or those critical of Arab policies have a slight advantage in the narrow category of guest op-eds during the period examined. The fact that the editorial staff and regular columnists of these papers are also overwhelmingly supportive of Israel and critical of Arab policies — an issue not examined by CAMERA — only drives the point home more clearly of the real problem of bias on the editorial pages.
Overall CAMERA claimed that 59 percent of The Washington Post and The New York Times primary guest op-eds dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict supported an Arab perspective or criticized Israel. In reality, the proportion was only 38 percent. And whereas CAMERA claimed that just 21 percent of primary guest op-eds supported an Israeli perspective or criticized Arabs, in reality 41 percent took such a position. CAMERA based its conclusions on an examination of just 56 articles, when in fact there were 85 primary op-eds (39 in The Washington Post, 46 in The New York Times) that met its criteria for inclusion in the study. Once again it is worth noting that these 85 guest op-eds did not include newspaper editorials, staff op-eds, or nationally syndicated writers.
The broader implication of the research here is that a more balanced presentation of the issues and opinion is sorely needed in the pages of America’s newspapers — where there is a lack of discussion of international law generally,  UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to the conflict often do not appear,  casualties on the Arab side are given less mention or not discussed at all,  and the collective consensus of human rights organizations on critical issues of the conflict are rarely mentioned.  If the media cannot portray the issues accurately or fairly — and the national discourse on foreign policy remains unchanged on the pages of these papers, there can be little hope that the foreign policy itself will reflect standards of international decency or lead to a just resolution for all parties involved.
Download the full report [PDF]
Shervan Sardar is a Washington, DC-based lawyer. He holds a MA in International Affairs from American University and can be reached at ssardar_23 A T comcast D O T net.