Editor urges readers to decry anti-Israel bias

When Carl Schrag asked audience members if they had a problem with their local newspapers' coverage of Israel, half the people raised their hands.

"I'm tired of hearing pro-Israel Americans tell me that they've canceled their subscriptions because they're sick and tired of the newspapers making them sick and tired," said the former Jerusalem Post editor. "You're abandoning the field and leaving them to shape public opinion. You've got to write letters, have a dialogue with writers and editors, so you have a chance of effecting a change in the coverage."

Schrag spoke to an audience of about 60 April 2 at the Jewish Day School of the North Peninsula in Foster City. His talk was part of a speaker's series sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Council and several other organizations.

Articulate and humorous, Schrag urged listeners to monitor and respond to "mistakes and misrepresentations" in the media.

Trying to diffuse a perception that the American mass media has an anti-Israel agenda, Schrag walked the audience through the process of news-gathering. In a hypothetical story about a shooting of Israeli settlers in Hebron, the reporter has an easy time getting good quotes from a minister in the Palestinian Cabinet. But he doesn't get the Israeli Defense Force spokesperson until the last minute, so those quotes wind up at the bottom of the story. Then the story is cut from 800 to 300 words to make room for an ad.

"So much of it is about people trying to fill space and time," said Schrag. "It's not out of malice of anybody; it's just a human machine that's flawed."

Not everyone was convinced by his explanation. "I don't buy this argument, that all these decisions are made at the last minute," said Karen Epstein of Foster City. "Not when there's this consistency."

Schrag said the media have been guilty of "stupid errors in judgment" and mistakes. He cited an Associated Press photo of Rachel Corrie, the American activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza. According toSchrag, the photo showed a very visible Corrie standing and yelling through a megaphone in front of a bulldozer, but the caption did not make it clear that the photo was actually taken hours earlier.

"You see that photo and you think, that Israeli soldier must have been trying to run her over," said Schrag.

He urged the audience to read a variety of news sources, including American, Israeli and British papers, as well as an Arabic-language paper like the Jordan Times, to get a broader perspective. "Don't expect the San Francisco Chronicle to be the 'San Francisco Voice of Israel' or the San Jose Mercury to be the 'San Jose Jewish Bugle,'" he said.

"People are reacting from a gut feeling — they're at a loss, they don't know what to do," said Schrag, following the talk. "They focus their frustration on the local newspaper and they want it to see things how they do."