Watching US coverage of the Israeli attacks on Gaza, you might get the sense that some outlets feel more sympathy for Israelis frightened by rockets fired from Gaza than for the hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza who have actually been killed by Israeli airstrikes. But some journalists don’t suggest they have more sympathy for Israel–they just come out and pretty much say so.
That’s what CBS host Bob Schieffer did on the July 13 episode of Face the Nation. For starters, the program thought it needed to spend more time talking to Israelis. It featured interviews with two Israeli guests–Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ambassador Ron Dermer–and a shorter conversation with Palestinian Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat.
But it wasn’t just the disparity in the time allotted to the different sides; Schieffer made it plainly clear that the threat to Israel was more important to him. He began his conversation with Netanyahu by saying, “I understand as we begin this interview, Tel Aviv is again under an alert, that the sirens have just gone off.” He closed it by saying, “We’ll let you get back to work now, and keep your head down.”
And his interview with Dermer began with this:
I think this war really came home to a lot of Americans this morning while I was interviewing the prime minister. The air raid sirens went off over Tel Aviv, and then before the interview was over, we heard the people in the background telling people they could come up from the shelters.
That, to Schieffer, is when the war “really came home.” And that is an astonishing thing to say.
At this point, dozens of Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, had been killed. The day of his show, US newspapers were reporting on an Israeli strike against a center for the disabled in Gaza, and an attack on the home of Gaza’s police chief that killed 18 members of his family (New York Times, 7/13/14; Reuters, 7/12/14).
Evidently these events, and others like it, did not move Schieffer as much. His questions to his Palestinian guest, at any rate, did not convey any sense of sympathy with the suffering in Gaza. He opened with this:
You heard what Prime Minister Netanyahu said this morning; he said, “Look, as long as they keep firing rockets, we’re going to retaliate and no country could expect us to do less.”
He followed up by reiterating the Israeli justification: “The fact is rockets were coming out of the Gaza, and what was it he said, 400, 500 of them coming out of there. They have to take action to protect their people when that kind of assault is going on.” When Areikat mentioned the Palestinian death toll, Schieffer was unmoved:
But, Ambassador, there were weapons being hidden in mosques. These things just go on. I mean, they are putting these weapons and things in civilian homes, and the Israelis say, “Look, we’re even, you know, calling them on the phone and say, ‘Get out of there.'”
Indeed, rather than discussing the effects of Israeli strikes on Palestinian civilians, Schieffer had played a recording provided by an Israeli official of Israeli pilots deciding not to attack a building in Gaza because of the fear that civilians would be harmed.
Schieffer’s concern for Israeli lives was evident when he told the Israeli ambassador, “Let’s hope that siren doesn’t go off too many more times before some solution can be found of this.” When Dermer reported that a rocket had been fired at the Israeli city of Gedera, “the village that my mother was born in…it is heading towards Gedera as we speak,” that stayed with Schieffer, as he opened the roundtable segment with this:
Well, boy, I tell you, we’re seeing this thing in real time. I mean, here I’m interviewing the prime minister of Israel, his alert goes off in Tel Aviv, and then the US–the Israeli ambassador to the United States comes in. His siren goes off on his phone, this technology is just amazing, there’s a rocket being fired at the very village where his mother is. I mean, this, it’s just, this whole thing…. What’s going to happen here?
“We’re seeing this thing in real time.” But the scores of people who have died by his interview subject’s orders? Bob Schieffer doesn’t have time for them.