Every time I see Jerrold Kessel I know what he's going to tell us. He is the "breaking news" bearer of bad tidings. He gets automatic face time on CNN every time there is a suicide bombing. You can close your eyes and hear him cite the body count, and then describe the retaliation already underway, as in "Israeli Defense Forces are already responding with tanks and planes and armed intervention."
He is a bear of a man, bearded, soft-spoken, clearly very informed but always recycling the same storyline repeated hundreds of times, live via satellite. There is rarely any other. All the news seems to repeat itself. The subtext is always about ensuring security even as insecurity spreads. Week after week, month after month, there's the ever-earnest Jerrold in my living room, the spokesman for the grim reaper.
It's cycle of violence time again. The images are as familiar as the words. Bearded Israeli men out searching for body parts in the streets and Israeli soldiers filling body bags in the "territories." It is a familiar script of a predictable and depressing scenario that seems to escalate whenever peace threatens to break out, even on the smallest scale. The media focus on these incidents, on the bloodshed, just reinforces the sense of tragedy and futility of two peoples pictured only as hating each other. The cumulative impression: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is beyond redemption, beyond solution.

Around and Around
Every side in this conflict charges the media with bias. The Palestinians and the Israelis have media watch groups looking for signs of favoritism and distortion, and there is plenty to find as long as the story is covered only as the play by play of discrete events, atrocities, counter-atrocities.
Yes - the Palestinian media focus on the pain and grievances of its community, with little compassion for the victims of attacks that can always be easily rationalized as understandable or legitimate pay-back to crimes they have suffered. Ditto for the Israelis who argue that they are besieged by journalists who fail to condemn terrorism or understand their legitimate security needs. Paranoia and hostility to the media follow.
Around and around we go as TV News attempts in a mechanistic way to offer "balanced" reporting, two sides of a polyfaceted story. Despite appearances, there is no parity in the objective positions of the parties. One side has built a modern state and deploys an advanced high-tech army; the other is an occupied nation, living in cantonized and impoverished communities with wrecked infrastructures built on an economy of total dependence.
The imbalances are obvious even if the populations are approximately the same in size - it always comes back to the occupied and the occupiers. One side has the backing of wealthy supporters and the world's only superpower; the other, lip service and some support from the European community and Arab States who preach fidelity to their cause but seem unable to effectively advance it.
The reality of the daily experience of occupation is not understood widely in the US because our media outlets rarely explain it, rarely contextualize it, and rarely provide the background that makes for meaning.Much of the news we do get is framed by an understanding of the conflict heavily shaped by neo-conservatives who uncritically support Israel. It is reinforced by effective lobbying aided and abetted by media executives who preach balanced coverage but cling to unbalanced views. These are not only Jews - as conspiracy theorists believe - but also right-wing media mogols like Rupert Murdoch and corporate collegues with conservative leanings.

No Contest
If this were a boxing match, any referee would stop it before the first round because it would be ruled a no contest. But no one is intervening to stop this one, to disarm the parties as Iraq was ordered to disarm, to impose peace. In other conflict situations, media outlets provided leadership. In South Africa, many journalists opposed apartheid, and argued for peace and reconciliation. In the US, some TV outlets sponsored "space bridges" during the cold war to facilitate dialogue and détente. Many of our best journalists spotlight human rights abuses worldwide, crusade for attention to Aids or demand an end to censorship globally. This is never dismissed as "advocacy" or tarnished with the label of agenda-driven journalism.
But when it comes to the Middle East, the media is trapped in a paradigm, which it seems unwilling to break out of. Just look at the issue of weapons of mass destruction. Acres of print were devoted to still unproven charges of Iraqi arsenals; almost no attention paid to Israel's far more advanced deadly weapons program. Meanwhile, many media organizations have called for investigations into the shooting of journalists by the Israeli military, which has to stop.

What Could Be Done But Isn't
Few media outlets have created initiatives or sponsored programs to bring people together across the various divides, to promote tolerance, and give voiceless people a platform to explain their views in a way that Americans can understand. Even media projects that were set up to do so are retrenching. After the Oslo agreement, Sesame Street began to do children's TV programs in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The puppets from each community increasingly interacted. That's been stopped now. Israel's Sesame Street is for Israelis; the Palestinian version is for Palestinians. Children on all sides are today offered few examples of how peaceful co-existence could work. I asked a Sesame Street producer if they were simply mirroring the conflict or seeking to transcend it. Were they leading as a force for change or following in a polarized climate?
Her response was agonized. She admitted that leadership was no longer high on their agenda, and feared that the show would have its run ended if they took that risk. Contrast that attitude with many of the TV shows in America that did integrate their casts to offer positive role models of people of different colors working together even when it was risky to do so.
Ironically, Sesame Street was working with Al Quds Television, a voice of secular democracy whose studios were invaded and trashed by the Israeli Defense Force during one of its operations, though it was never linked with terrorism and even opposed it. A National Lawyers Guild delegation from the US created a video that showed that the soldiers defaced offices, even leaving feces and spraying urine all over the walls. One initiative would be to challenge this type of censorship and suppression. Organizations like Seeds of Peace, the multinational youth group, are creating media. They need support from media companies to promote conflict resolution themes and ideas.

Separating Propaganda from News
Next, we need to do a better job of disentangling propaganda from news, and then discredit it when we see it. A media war is at the heart of the conflict, and it is no surprise that propaganda battles are sharpening. In the last two weeks I saw two examples. A pro-Palestine media watch documented what it claims was unbalanced coverage by the Associated Press and called for a letter and phone call campaign of protest. A pro-Israeli media watch exposed what it calls hate programming on government-run Palestinian Authority public television.
But beyond all of this is a more shadowy media campaign that consciously promotes distorted news to score political points. A media strategy document prepared for an Israeli public relations campaign showed how skillful that lobby is in cultivating public opinion. Commissioned by the Wexner Foundation, it offered a "do and don't" list for use in media training. It is very instructive on how slogans are built into message-oriented political communications: "'Saddam Hussein' are the two words that tie Israel to America and are most likely to deliver support in Congress. The day we allow Saddam to take his eventual place in the trash heap of history is the day we lose our strongest weapon in the linguistic defense of Israel."

Essential Conclusions of the Report
1) Iraq colors all. Saddam is your best defense, even if he is dead...You should be invoking the name of Saddam Hussein and how Israel was always behind American efforts to rid the world of this ruthless dictator and liberate the Iraqi people.
2) Stick to your message but don't say it the same way twice. If they hear you repeating the exact same words over and over again, they will come to distrust your message.
3) It does not help when you compliment President Bush. When you want to
identify with and align yourself with America, just say it. Don't use George Bush as a synonym for the US.
4) "Security" sells. The settlements are our Achilles heel, and the best response (which is still quite weak) is the need for security that this buffer creates.
5) Find yourself a good female spokesperson.
6) Link Iraqi liberation with the plight of the Palestinian people. If you express concern for the plight of the Palestinian people - how it is unfair, unjust and immoral that they should be forced to accept leaders who steal and kill in their name - you will be building credibility for your
support of the average Palestinian while undermining the credibility of their leadership.
7) A little humility goes a long way. You need to talk continually about your understanding of "the plight of the Palestinians" and a commitment to helping them.
8) Of course rhetorical questions work, don't they? Ask a question to which there is only one answer.
When you read this document you realize how manipulated and deceptive the discourse has become, how its very language skews debate and freezes words in our mind - words like terrorist and Zionist, preemptive strike and martyrdom, "those Jews" or "those Arabs" that speak of peoples as a monolithic mass. Stereotyping, labeling, and demonization follows.

Overcoming the "Noise"
Israeli writer David Grossman calls all of this "noise," "a noise we are used to, and are strangely comforted by because it is familiar, predictable and no matter what side you are on, easy to indulge in."
"Few of us, Israelis or Palestinians, can be proud of what we have done during these past few years," he writes, "of what we have collaborated in whether actively or in passive acceptance of the noise - the collaboration of turning away our eyes, of suspending our souls, of anesthetizing ourselves. I often feel suffocated, claustrophobic, caught between the deceptive deceitful words that all interested parties - the governments, the army, the media - are constantly trying to impose on those of us who must live in this disaster area. Yet if we reformulate a situation that already seems beyond hope and set in stone, we are able to recall that there is in fact no divine decree that dooms us to be the helpless victims of apathy and paralysis."
And this goes for the media too. We have to stop promoting the conflict by only showing its violent side and never showing the work for peace that is underway. We need to examine the myths on both sides. We need to puncture the stereotypes. Our vocabulary has to change. The focus on violence has to stop. We need to shed light on the cultures of these two communities - seek and help to promote a sense of common ground. We have to report on fears and hopes. There is also no divine decree that commands media to genuflect in front of the mighty Ariel Sharon or the legend of Yasser Arafat, or, more importantly, to define the story the way they do.

Concrete Tips for Reporters
The media has to break away from the role it is playing in promoting the conflict and try something new. Here are some concrete tips from TV reporter Jake Lynch of the London-based organization Reporting the World about how reporters can promote peace instead of war:
1) Avoid portraying a conflict as consisting of only two parties contesting one goal. The logical outcome is for one to win and the other to lose. Instead, a Peace Journalist would disaggregate the two parties into many smaller groups, pursuing many goals, opening up more creative potential for a range of outcomes.
2) Avoid accepting stark distinctions between "self" and "other." These can be used to build the sense that another party is a "threat" or "beyond the pale" of civilized behavior - both key justifications for violence. Instead, seek the "other" in the "self" and vice versa. If a party is presenting itself as "the goodies," ask questions about how different its behavior really is to that it ascribes to "the baddies" - isn't it ashamed of itself?
3) Avoid blaming someone for starting it. Instead, try looking at how shared problems and issues are leading to consequences that all the parties say they never intended.
4) Avoid waiting for leaders on "our" side to suggest or offer solutions. Instead, pick up and explore peace initiatives wherever they come from. Ask questions from ministers, for example, about ideas put forward by grassroots organizations. Assess peace perspectives concerning issues the parties are trying to address. Do not simply ignore them because they do not coincide with established positions.
These are concrete proposals from an outsider. I am sure media workers in the region have plenty of their own, and suggestions for how to improve coverage interests. American news is becoming more superficial, more sensationalistic and more aligned with government policies and pressure from interest groups. If you want to influence how the conflict is perceived, you have to do more to educate the journalists who come to your countries, monitor what they write, and then press the press to live up to professional ethics and values.