The Corporate American Media Distortion of the ICJ Israel Genocide Case

Corporate American media distorted and dismissed the South African genocide case brought against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  It did so both prior to the decision by the ICJ and afterward.

The Israeli-Hamas conflict is a tragedy on many scores.  But for many, the Israeli response was unwarranted, leading some to argue that perhaps it was a violation of the 1948 Treaty Against Genocide, of which Israel is a signatory.  South Africa filed a complaint with the ICJ alleging this claim, asking for both a ruling that Israel’s actions do amount to genocide and a preliminary decision demanding Israel halt any actions that might constitute such action.

Immediately much of mainstream American corporate media dismissed the complaint.  Bret Stephens of the New  York Times  labeled the genocide charge against Israel as “moral obscenity.”  Ruth Marcus  of the Washington Post described the ICJ preliminary ruling as a “perversion of justice.”   The Economist argued that the term genocide is being “misused” here.  The Los Angeles Times banned reporters who signed a letter condemning Israel’s action from covering the story in part, because they demanded that terms like genocide and apartheid be used in the coverage.  The Wall Street Journal described the case against Israel as “moral inversion.” For much of the mainstream corporate media, the South African case was simply a political stunt and the ICJ should dismiss the complaint.

Yet the ICJ did rule.  It did not dismiss the genocide complaint. Instead, it declared in part that: “In view of the fundamental values sought to be protected by the Genocide Convention, the Court considers that the plausible rights in question in these proceedings, namely the right of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to be protected from acts of genocide and related prohibited acts identified in Article III of the Genocide Convention.”   The ICJ also ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this Convention,” including the killing of members of the Palestinians.

Yet for much of the mainstream American media, the story was not that there were plausible genocide violations on the part of Israel, but that instead the ICJ did not issue  a full order to it to halt all conflict.  The ICJ decision was twisted in its reporting.  While the ICJ did not say stop all military action because there might be some legitimate self-defense actions under international law, it did say stop all acts that might amount to genocide.  Effectively this might be all the actions Israel is engaged in.  Contrary to most  American media reports, this was a major loss for Israel.

So why the bias and skewed reporting?  Some will quickly jump to pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian biases in the American corporate media.  Perhaps, but this is a simplistic answer.  The real answer is in at least three other forces.

One, is the tendency of the corporate media to heavily rely on the same official US government sources for its information and reporting.  There is an almost government-media industrial complex that forges a consensus, especially when it comes to foreign policy and national affairs.  This complex includes  Washington foreign policy think tanks, professors at prestigious universities, and government officials who form the foreign policy establishment and consensus.  This consensus reflects a bias that more often than not has led to major US foreign policy mistakes. The corporate media turns to them for  their news and reporting, reinforcing a tunnel vision when it comes to debate and discussion on foreign policy issues.

Two, the excessive media concentration in the hands of fewer and fewer for profit corporations excludes a diversity of opinions and alternative voices.  The corporate media reports what the Washington consensus is, excluding alternative and international voices or perspectives.  Not surprisingly, while US media accounts downplayed the ICJ litigation, much of the media across the world and outside the US gave it serious credence.

Three, and perhaps the most important, this bias is what is most profitable.  The days are long since gone when American journalism lived up to its ethos of reporting the news fairly and impartially, reflecting the truth. Instead of publishing “all the news that fit to print,” it may be more accurate to say it publishes “all the news that’s profitable to print.”  The readership of the corporate media lives in its news bubble and biases. Instead of challenging their beliefs,  the corporate media panders to it for profit.

Simply put, it was not profitable or in the interest of the corporate media to fairly report the ICJ genocide case. The biases were deeply imbued in the structure of the mainstream corporate media and a Washington foreign policy consensus that has repeatedly tilted the news.

David Schultz is a professor of political science at Hamline University. He is the author of Presidential Swing States:  Why Only Ten Matter.