Media censorship in America is a little tricky to explain to outsiders, particularly given the U.S. has some of the strongest free speech laws in the world. The press has unusual freedom to report on what it wants, yet when it comes to certain issues, the U.S. media looks like little more than state sanctioned propaganda. The Iraq war was a great example of this, where major networks lined up behind President Bush and cheered on a ludicrous war that the rest of the planet saw as being clearly predicated on some very serious lies.
The Israel/Palestine crisis follows almost the exact same script, where the Israeli occupation of Palestine is portrayed as a Palestinian attack on Israel — an alternate reality that no one else outside of America is witness to.
The censorship on this issue is completely self induced — networks are not forced to toe U.S. policy, but they actively follow it ensuring the official narrative is maintained regardless of fact. Take for example, NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin — an Egyptian American who has been covering the crisis until he was inexplicably told by NBC executives to leave Gaza after personally witnessing the killing of four little Palestinian boys on a Gazan beach. Here was the chilling tweet he sent out:
4 Palestinian kids killed in a single Israeli airstrike. Minutes before they were killed by our hotel, I was kicking a ball with them #gaza
— Ayman Mohyeldin (@AymanM) July 16, 2014
Later in the day, Mohyeldin was asked to leave Gaza. Reported Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept:
According to an NBC source upset at his treatment, the executives claimed the decision was motivated by “security concerns” as Israel prepares a ground invasion, a claim repeated to me by an NBC executive. But late yesterday, NBC sent another correspondent, Richard Engel, along with an American producer who has never been to Gaza and speaks no Arabic, into Gaza to cover the ongoing Israeli assault (both Mohyeldin and Engel speak Arabic).
From a journalistic point of view, it seems bizarre that NBC would pull him given how close he was to the action and the exclusives he was bringing to the network. Richard Engel spent five years in Iraq for NBC, and was the only American journalist to remain in Baghdad — then the most dangerous city in the world — for the entire war. Engel also traveled extensively to Afghanistan, in particular Korengal Valley (known as the “valley of death”), and was kidnapped in Syria while covering the civil war. NBC apparently wasn’t concerned enough about security to pull him from the action then, so why it would pull Mohyeldin from a relatively safer place is perplexing to say the least.
However, there was a tweet that Mohyeldin sent out later in the day, since deleted, that may provide some insight as to why his company decided to replace him:
Mohyeldin’s tweet legitimately questions the State Department’s ridiculous assertion that those who shelled the four boys are not responsible for their deaths. After all, that is what journalists are supposed to do, regardless of whether it’s their own government or not. Yet the U.S. media’s long history of subservience to corporate and political power makes it a precarious proposition, and journalists are punished as a consequence. Most working in the corporate media know that censorship is not an overt rule, it’s implied. As the journalist Hannen Swaffer once stated, “Freedom of the press … is freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers don’t object to.”
Well, NBC is a giant corporation owned by Comcast, and it is beholden to advertisers and investors. And advertisers and investors dislike controversy — particularly when it involves sensitive political issues like war. Bill Press, a former MSNBC host told Jordan Bloom exactly what it was like during the build up to the war in Iraq:
“There is little room for an antiwar point of view, either from the left or right, on television today,” says Press, whose show on MSNBC was cancelled because he and co-host Buchanan were both against the Iraq War. He criticizes the media’s failure to question government assertions about military operations. “It did not do so in Vietnam, the first Gulf War, nor the war in Iraq. For the most part, reporters just recycled propaganda coming out of the White House and helped the White House sell war after war to the American people. Also networks mainly book cheerleaders for the war—because they’re afraid of being dubbed ‘anti-American.’”
Speaking out against Israel’s actions in Gaza is still deemed controversial in the U.S., and network bosses avoid it like the plague. That is why dissenting voices are treated like conspiracy theorists or radical jihadists with a Muslim agenda in America — because no one knows any better.
Mohyeldin brought a powerful human element to the severe crisis in Gaza, highlighting the realities Palestinians are now facing: dead children, grieving parents and destroyed towns. He pointed out the U.S. government’s absurd justification of the bloodshed, providing much needed balance to the otherwise ridiculously biased coverage, and he was rewarded with what appears to be censorship.
[Correction: an earlier edition stated that NBC was owned by GE. It is owned by Comcast]
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.