A note on the coverage of the Middle East by Tom Gross
It's amazing what some reporters believe about Saudi Arabia...
I have attended three conferences in recent days in the Middle East. One of them, organized in Tel Aviv by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), with the assistance of the Public Affairs Office of the U.S. Embassy in Israel, specifically concerned the media.
Titled “Giving the Middle East context: Reporters view the world they cover,” it featured leading Middle East correspondents from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio and several European papers and TV networks (though surprisingly no Canadian ones), who spoke on the question of media objectivity and how they covered the Middle East.
Ethan Bronner, The New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, gave an impressive talk, marred only by a couple of wisecracks he told about orthodox Jews at the start – which his fellow journalists laughed at heartily. (I doubt he would dare make similar jokes about Muslims, especially given the fact that only last week there were more arrests on terrorism charges of persons threatening to murder Danish cartoonists.) Bronner is, however, in general by far the most objective Middle East correspondent The New York Times has had for many years.
The same cannot be said of his colleague Taghreed El-Khodary, who is the Times’ Gaza correspondent and virtually sounded like a propagandist for Hamas as she spoke.
But perhaps the most shocking comments came from Connie Mus, correspondent for the Dutch stations RTL 4 and RTL 5, and for Belgium’s VTM TV, about how wonderful the Saudi authorities are.
Mus was lavish in his praise. “The openness of Saudi officials is amazing,” he gushed. “Saudi Arabia is a breath of fresh air. Officials there understand press freedom unlike the Israelis,” he explained.
“In Saudi Arabia I was free to interview anyone for my stories,” he continued, seemingly unaware that the secret police that permeate Saudi society might make some of his interviewees a tad careful in what they told him.
Even some of the most anti-American and anti-Israeli journalists in the audience were slightly taken back when he started lecturing us on how advanced the Saudis were regarding women’s rights.
Tom Gross is a former Middle East correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph and the New York Daily News.