US Press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Bain of His Existence (Slate)

GOP rivals level new and surprisingly devastating attacks on Romney's business record. John Dickerson discusses.

2. Guantánamo -- 10 years and counting (Miami Herald)

This editorial warns that Congress is moving backward in upholding civil liberties.

3. Will Independents Vote GOP In 2012? (Wall Street Journal) ($)

Survey data show it would be a mistake to assume that dissatisfaction with President Obama will translate into votes for GOP nominee. David Brady and Douglas Rivers investigate.

4. The power of super PACs (Washington Post)

This editorial looks at the power of super PACs and the dangerous fiction behind them.

5. Protecting Marine Protected Areas (Los Angeles Times)

This editorial writes that the state doesn't have nearly enough enforcement staff to ensure compliance, so various environmental groups are gearing up to watch over their local waters.

6. Where Are the Liberals? (New York Times)

All circumstances point to a golden age for liberalism. But the left is maxed out, David Brooks argues.

7. Ron Paul's social problem (San Francisco Chronicle)

This editorial argues that Ron Paul's opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his criticism of Washington's war on drugs, has made him appealing to some voters who would otherwise never vote Republican.

8. The FCC, the Supreme Court and policing indecency (Los Angeles Times)

Punishing a broadcaster for inadvertent remarks over which it has no control makes no sense, this editorial states.

9. Please Hold the Cheese (New York Times)

The Republicans' double-debate weekend offered a vivid illustration of why Americans are so cynical about politicians, Frank Bruni writes.

10. Government employees' free speech on trial (Washington Times)

Mark Mix writes how the Supreme Court challenge strikes at the root of Big Labor's political clout.

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Why is it getting harder to report on Israel-Palestine?

The politics of the conflict are changing – and with them, the diplomatic and journalistic challenge.

Throughout the centuries, Jerusalem’s Old City has drawn pilgrims, tourists, and conquerors. This week it has been the focus of renewed media attention after a series of violent incidents.  For those ties of history, politics, and faith which link it to the rest of the world have also made it a magnet for reporters: some admired, more abused or admonished.     

Last summer, Israel’s international image took a beating. Some two thousand Palestinians – the overwhelming majority of them civilians, according to the United Nations – were killed during the Israeli Army’s operation in Gaza. Israeli casualties – at more than 70, almost all of them military personnel – had been far higher than in other incursions into Gaza in recent years. 

As the dust settled above the flattened buildings, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, gave a news conference specifically aimed at the foreign press.

It was aimed at them in that they were both the audience, and the target. Mr Netanyahu said, “I expect, now that the members of the press are leaving Gaza, or some of them are leaving Gaza, and are no longer subjected to Hamas restrictions and intimidations, I expect we’ll see even more documentation of Hamas terrorists hiding behind the civilian population, exploiting civilian targets.”

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz challenged Mr Netanyahu’s claim in a story headlined “Foreign Press: Hamas Didn't Censor Us in Gaza, They Were Nowhere to Be Found”. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East Editor echoed this when we spoke for my new book, Headlines from the Holy Land. “They’re all hiding,” he remembered of his experience of Hamas during that that conflict. “They had a spokesman who hung out at Shifa hospital. And he was very much a spokesman. He didn’t tell us what to do.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been covered by countless words and hours of airtime. It has also exhausted extensive diplomatic resources seeking to solve it. The diplomatic desert seems almost to have led to a situation where PR is a substitute for policy. Take Mr Netanyahu’s attempts, above, to rubbish reporting. Earlier this year, the Israeli Foreign Ministry posted, and later removed, a cartoon sneering at, and patronising, the foreign press. Why bother with politics, when you can poke fun?

The politics, though, are changing – and with them, the diplomatic challenge.

Religion is playing a growing role. Daniel Kurtzer was United States ambassador to Tel Aviv 2001-2005. He was also there as a diplomat in the 1980s. Then, he remembers “a fostering of the idea of Islamism as an antidote to nationalism. The natural consequence of that was and has been the growth of religious feelings, so certainly on the Palestinian side that’s the case, but it’s even now grown on the Israeli side”. He concludes: “I haven’t seen any success yet in integrating this move towards religion into the diplomacy of trying to resolve the conflict. It’s a real challenge.”

It is a challenge for correspondents, too – and their efforts are rarely admired. Shortly before the bloodshed in Gaza began, the head of Israel’s government press office, Nitzan Chen, shared with me his opinion of foreign correspondents in Israel. “Like the Israeli journalists, they are cynical, critical. I don’t want to make generalisations because some people are very professional and very unique, see the facts before they write the story. But the majority are lazy.”

Anyone covering the conflict needs a thick skin, and sometimes more. In addition to the risks involved in covering all armed conflict, conversations with Palestinian journalists will often quickly uncover stories of harassment and threats of violence from armed groups. 

The brevity of daily news stories means they rarely have room for discussion of religion, or   competing historical narratives. Yet, for all its shortcomings, real and imagined, the journalism of the Israeli-Palestinian press is most people’s only source of information about a conflict which has connections to so many parts of the world. If it were not important, presumably the protagonists would not waste time criticising it.      

James Rodgers is the author of Headlines from the Holy Land: Reporting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, just published by Palgrave MacMillan. He was the BBC’s correspondent in Gaza from 2002-2004. James will be taking part in a panel discussion next week at City University London. You can register to attend here