Palestine Media Watch and the U.S. news media : strategies for change and resistance
Handley, Robert Lyle
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Toward the start of the Palestinian Intifada in 2000, activists formed a media watchdog group called Palestine Media Watch (PMW) to challenge U.S. news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tired of coverage that blamed the conflict on Palestinian terrorism, PMW monitored news coverage, met with newsworkers, and bombarded news organizations with complaints in an attempt to root the conflict’s cause in Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. I study PMW’s efforts to produce change in coverage, and examine its campaigns’ effects. Most critical research examines the news system’s production of “propaganda” and news models suggest that media monitoring is one mechanism through which an entire “ideological air” is supported. “Guardian watchdogs,” like the Israel lobby, guard the ideological boundaries around news content that are erected by others. This study considers PMW’s efforts in terms articulated by the dialogic and dialectical models, which gives agency to dissident movements and requires study of the strategic interactions between media and movements to understand framing struggles. These models suggest that “dissident watchdogs,” like PMW, can affect news coverage. What is not clear is the extent to which dissident watchdogs can affect news content when they can make appeals that resonate with professional journalism but that do not resonate with the country’s ideological air. I examine PMW’s strategies to produce content changes between 2000 and 2004, detail the group’s interactions with newsworkers, and document the outcomes of those interactions to understand the struggle to affect media framing. The watchdog, when it systematically monitored coverage and individually critiqued news staff, produced substantive changes in content and practice but these were limited in number. When the watchdog bombarded news organizations with complaints it was able to produce several superficial changes, but these changes resulted in no meaningful impact on the news frame. These findings indicate that the dominant narrative is incorporative enough to accommodate “journalistically useful” points without resulting in a fundamental or substantive change in the frames that inform newswork. Thus, the emergence of dissident media monitors to “neutralize” guardian monitors is only one step toward affecting the entire “ideological air” that informs newswork of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues.