Could any good come out of the latest and most publicized instance of a journalist protesting pro-Israeli coverage in the media? Now that former MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal’s appearances have been cancelled for her stating the obvious—that Israeli voices overwhelmingly outnumber those of Palestinians, including at MSNBC—will anyone at the network be embarrassed enough to actually do something about it?
As Jebreal told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, “I hope that MSNBC and other networks will actually revise their policies and will have more voices. It doesn’t have to be me. It’s not about me. We have a media scandal that we need to expose. We are responsible for these failing policies in Gaza and in Israel.”
The latest controversy began when Jebreal, a Palestinian and a former anchorwoman on Italian TV, appeared on Ronan Farrow’s MSNBC show, and he asked a good question: Why the discrepancy between what American officials like John Kerry think privately about Israeli airstrikes on Gaza (“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” he said sarcastically on a Fox News hot mic) and what they say in public?
Among the reasons, Jebreal said, are AIPAC, donors like Sheldon Aldelson, and the mediasphere itself. “We’re ridiculous,” she said. “We are disgustingly biased when it comes to this issue. Look at how many airtime Netanyahu and his folks have on air on a daily basis, Andrea Mitchell and others. I never see one Palestinian being interviewed on these same issues.”
That last point is hyperbole, especially regarding MSNBC, which, she later conceded, is “better than others.” But point taken, and the point stings, especially when she directed it, however briefly, at Andrea Mitchell, the NBC correspondent whose MSNBC show airs right before Farrow’s.
Within hours, Jebreal learned that she was persona non grata at MSNBC, where for two years she was a paid contributor and the only Palestinian in that role. Later that day, she tweeted, “My forthcoming TV appearances have been cancelled! Is there a link between my expose and the cancellation?”
The next night, Chris Hayes, considered one of MSNBC’s more sympathetic hosts on Palestinian issues (and a Nation editor at large), had Jebreal on. While he agreed with her that Israeli voices far outweigh Palestinians in the media, including his network, he said that airtime is a “bad metric” to judge fairness, and that it’s very hard to book Hamas spokespeople. She countered that not all Palestinians are Hamas (which, by the way, she criticizes as “extremist” and “the ultimate liability for the Palestinian people.”)
Hayes also said that media like The New York Times and MSNBC are better at showing the Palestinian side now than they were in earlier Israeli/Gaza conflicts. She replied that more footage and more stories on the devastation in Gaza don’t make up for a lack of context—they’re not delving into the history and the effects of the Israeli occupation.
As for her cancelled bookings, Hayes said, essentially, that’s what happens when you bite the hand that feeds you:
Let me take you behind the curtain of cable news business for a moment. If you appear on a cable news network, you trash that network and one of its hosts by name on any issue—Gaza, infrastructure, spending, sports coverage or funny Internet cat videos—the folks at the network will not take kindly to it. Not some grand conspiracy at work—a fairly predictable case of cause and effect.
“Not the greatest of moments for the generally high-minded Chris Hayes,” Eric Wemple writes. “Read those words again and see if you don’t find a shrugging endorsement of network suits seeking to stifle a dissident in-house voice. To the credit of MSNBC and Hayes, of course, he invited Jebreal back on air precisely to rehash her anti-MSNBC slam.”
Still, Jebreal says she was stunned. “I never experienced anything like this,” she told Goodman:
I mean, I understood doing what I did in Egypt would lead me to be kicked out of the country. I understood in Italy, where Berlusconi controlled most of the media. I was shocked, because most of my friends in the Middle East would tell me, “You know, you will have an issue in America.” And I always thought, “No way. We are truth tellers. We are fact checkers. We are people that actually cover both sides. This is what America stands for.”
Jebreal isn’t the only TV journalist who’s been punished recently for questioning the party line on Israel and Gaza. After CNN correspondent Diana Magnay tweeted that a group of Israelis who cheered the shelling of Gaza and allegedly threatened her were “scum,” she was reassigned to Moscow (where she might be skating on other thin ice).
Even more hair-trigger was NBC’s reaction in pulling highly respected reporter Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza. NBC didn’t explain its action, but shortly beforehand, Mohyeldin had delivered an emotional report about four Palestinian boys killed by Israeli airstrikes while playing soccer on the beach in Gaza. Just minutes before, Mohyeldin had been kicking the ball around with them. After a huge social media backlash, an apparently contrite NBC returned him to Gaza.
This might be stretching, but the Mohyeldin incident makes it seem possible that shame and some raised consciousness among the NBC staff could begin to change the peacock network’s kneejerk response on Israeli-Gaza issues.
In covering the Jebreal episode, Max Blumenthal found both frightening intimidation and green shoots of dissent behind closed doors at NBC/MSNBC:
An NBC producer speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed Jebreal’s account, describing to me a top-down intimidation campaign aimed at presenting an Israeli-centric view of the attack on the Gaza Strip. The NBC producer told me that MSNBC President Phil Griffin and NBC executives are micromanaging coverage of the crisis, closely monitoring contributors’ social media accounts and engaging in a “witch hunt” against anyone who strays from the official line.
“Loyalties are now being openly questioned,” the producer commented….
According to the NBC producer, MSNBC show teams were livid that they had been forced by management to cancel Jebreal as punishment for her act of dissent.
Given that MSNBC has the most diverse lineup of hosts and guests of any news network—and that with Jose Diaz-Balart’s new show, the anti-Fox network can finally boast a Latino host—and given the backlash it’s facing over Jebreal, the channel is probably keenly aware of the need for more Palestinian guests and contributors.
But if MSNBC does bring in more Palestinian voices, how much would it let them say?
Update: At the top of this post I wrote initially that Rula Jebreal was “canned for stating the obvious.” I meant “canned” to refer to MSNBC cancelling her scheduled appearances, not to terminating her contract. As mentioned later in the story, the contract ended last month when Jebreal chose not to renew it. The text has been updated for clarification.
Here is Jebreal on Chris Hayes’s show:
Jebreal comes on Ronan Farrow’s show at about 6:30: