May 2, 2002

On The Wire

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During the past year, our nation has seen how the media has ultimately influenced our perception of both national and international events. From the attacks of September 11th to the current crisis in Israel, our views of reality and the way reality is presented influences what we, as Americans, believe about these events. In my visual studies class, we have discussed how the media — and especially the digital technology of the Internet — has captured these moments and repeatedly displayed them in various forms. Of course, the manner in which these events are recorded directly influences the way which they are discussed.

For instance, images of war constantly proliferate on the television and on the Web. Yet, while there is hardly any media coverage of the intricacies of the war in Afghanistan, there are constant visual displays of Israeli retaliation upon Palestinian strongholds. While there is little discussion about the American objectives in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict is often misrepresented and therefore often misconstrued. The way in which the media handles an event ultimately influences the way the public perceives it. Be it through reticence, brief discussion, or constant bombardment — all can conjure both conscious and unconscious responses from the audience.

Specifically, the media has affected my own perception of how America looks at its position in Israel. As an American Jew, I feel deeply betrayed by a nation that chooses to bombard the nightly news with the controversial actions of its Israeli “ally,” while the daily suicide attacks of militant Arab groups have, historically, been noted and shown only briefly. These acts of terrorism have come to be regarded by the American populace as commonplace, and are therefore somewhat silenced. The average American does not even know how many Palestinian suicide attacks occur weekly, nor how many Israeli lives are lost to these attacks. Are these lives only important if they are lost through massive military operations, like the one Israel is currently undertaking?

While the media chooses, or perhaps is asked, not to bombard the nation with visions of the Afghan war, the media has been consistent in its daily rehashing of the Israeli offensive. Isn’t it surprising that, as a nation, we know little about the details of America’s current war? Nevertheless, everyone has an opinion about Israeli retaliation against decades of Palestinian uprising. The overarching Israeli objective is to eradicate terrorism from their nation. Surprisingly, this is the same objective that the United States has purported throughout the world after the September 11th attacks on our own soil. Why, then, is there not a united coalition behind Israel’s objective?

How the media presents the news has become as important as the events that make up the news. In terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict, these past few weeks have distorted the opinions of American onlookers. While the Israeli actions are quite harsh, the import of Israel’s defense has been distorted by a lack of images showing the same harshness of individual Palestinians attacking Israelis in the name of the Palestinian people. It has also been distorted by the inability of our own media to translate Arafat’s Arabic sentiments fully and completely. As Americans we only hear a translation of Arafat’s condemnation of Palestinian terror. Therefore, we only hear the inconsequential words that the Palestinian community wants heard on a global front.

When I go to the post office right here in Ithaca and see a member of the community holding signs asking for an end to Israeli brutality against Palestinian citizens, I ask myself why he is not holding signs asking to end the years of often unpublicized daily attacks upon the equally innocent, and often unretaliating, Israeli community. While both sides have at times behaved wrongly, the irony of this situation sickens me.

Although I constantly update myself on the current events of our global community, many people only know certain perspectives on events that are constantly rehashed through nightly news headlines. While our media usually does itself justice and fairly reports international news, I feel that this time, the American media has betrayed its international ally. Now, do not misconstrue my respect for the media, for next year I will be attending graduate school to work for my masters in journalism to eventually pursue a career in political communications. I still unfortunately believe, however, that in the midst of an international crisis, our nation has betrayed its ally, through the media, has portrayed a national response of uncertainty to a very certain and determined people.

As this is my last article in the Cornell Daily Sun, I would like to leave the paper with my sentiments as a graduating senior. Of course I am saddened by the end of my days here at Cornell University, but I am equally frightened to enter a world that has changed so much from four years ago. It is a world in which wars begin at the drop of a bomb, a world in which we as Americans are no longer secure in our own borders. It is a world where every piece of information can be found via the World Wide Web, yet it is a world where we have no clue what may happen tomorrow. While Cornell has somewhat prepared me for this world, there really is no preparing for the uncertainty that the future may bring. As an American Jewish woman, I am even more frightened for the uncertainty of my people’s homeland and how my own nation, through the media, may perceive my position.

Archived article by Barbara Seigel