This insightful critique was sent to PBS by Daniel H. Trigoboff and is posted here with the permission of the author.
Dear Frontline Staff:
I am writing to express both a modicum of praise and some important
concerns regarding the Frontline Episode "Netanyahu At War" which was
aired on WNED-TV Public TV on 1/5/16 at 9PM in Buffalo, New York. It is
commendable that at times comments from interviewees across the
political spectrum in Israel and in the United States were presented,
and that at times Mr. Netanyahu's perspectives were somewhat articulated.
Nonetheless I came away from this program with some strong concerns and
objections. These were related to frequent bias against the Prime
Minister, embodied both in some aspects of format and also in the
content of many of the narrator's and interviewees' comments.
With regard to format, it was notable that many of Netanyahu's
perspectives, views, and experiences were immediately followed by
comments from a plethora of anti-Israel and anti-Netanyahu sources, and
then the show would move on to a different issue or topic. Journalists
know well that the final comment on a news story or political matter is
often the one that stays with the public, and therefore this positioning
of the negative comments reflected implicit bias in the broadcast
format. A fairer rendition would have had a much more even split between
anti-Netanyahu and pro-Netanyahu final comments.
This was particularly evident with regard to the narrator, whose voice
often intoned "the truth" after the presentation of some statement or
action of Netanyahu's, which was far more often than not contradictory
to the Prime Minister's positions or actions. Also global negative
statements were often permitted about Netanyahu, such as "...people like
Netanyahu, you don't get a second chance..." by Ari Shavit, a well known
extreme leftist author, but no similarly generalized positive comments
were in evidence. Another example was interviewee Martin Kalb's
statements that "...he doesn't and didn't want to have a deal with them
(Palestinians)," as though Kalb was telepathic, or as though Netanyahu's
many concessions to Palestinians - releasing dozens of convicted
Palestinian murderers from jail, offering to negotiate with no
preconditions, remaining supportive of a Palestinian State despite
ongoing Palestinian terrorism and conduct expressive of their wish to
destroy Israel, pulling Israeli troops out of Hebron and signing a
treaty advancing the Oslo process - were of no value. Furthermore after
detailing some of these concessions, the documentary implausibly
proceeded to focus on "how difficult Bibi was making it."
A particularly odious example of this documentary permitting an
interviewee to claim anti-Netanyahu telepathy was the statement,
referring to Rabin's assassination, that Netanyahu "...knew what was
coming and accepted it." Furthermore the documentary often returned to
interviewees making obviously hostile telepathic statements about
Netanyahu's inner workings like Marvin Kalb, who stated "what kind of
objectivity could this man (Netanyahu) bring." Like Shavit, who alleged
that Netanyahu has a "fortress mentality" about Israel, and who compared
Barak Obama to sanctified political figures like Nelson Mandela, but
who, in discussing Netanyahu's alleged "pessimism" couldn't bring
himself to compare Netanyahu to any similarly commendable illustrative
historical figure, for example Winston Churchill.
There were also numerous specific problems with content. To begin with,
"Palestinians" were not displaced by the 1967 war, as the disputed
territories were then controlled by Jordan and Egypt. There was no
country of Palestine then, nor has there ever been such a country. In
fact up until 1964 the Arabs steadfastly insisted that there was no such
entity as "Palestine," and that the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria
were indistinguishable from the Arabs of the surrounding Arab countries.
Furthermore, Saeb Erekat was allowed to claim disingenuously that prior
to Oslo both sides "knew nothing but to shoot." The documentary did not
point out that in 1967, Israel offered to withdraw from Judea, Samaria,
and the Gaza Strip in return for peace, an offer which was spurned by
the Arabs in favor of continuing violent efforts to destroy Israel. So
it wasn't both sides that knew nothing but to shoot, it was one side,
and that side continues to this day to engage in endless violence
against Israeli civilians.
Martin Indyk was permitted to lie by claiming he sat next to Netanyahu
at Rabin's funeral, and that Netanyahu's primary focus at that event
supposedly was his own political fortunes. Yet photographs of that
funeral circulating today make it clear that Indyk was not sitting
anywhere near Netanyahu, and therefore could not possibly have overheard
anything Netanyahu said.
Ari Shavit was permitted to lie about the outbreak of the Second
Intifada by falsely claiming "...Boom! It exploded...", when in fact
subsequent interviews with several of Arafat's minions revealed that
this round of violence was planned months in advance by Arafat, who
wished to torpedo any peaceful process or resolution of the conflict.
The myth of spontaneous Palestinian violence was further intoned by
Diana Buttu, the former PLO negotiator, when even cursory examination of
Palestinian media and leadership statements on a daily basis reveals
violent incitement and murderous antisemitic slurs that would be
completely at home in Nazi Germany. The documentary failed to mention
this incitement or examine its role in fomenting violence.
The documentary opened its discussion of Israel's legitimate war of self
defense in Gaza in 2008-9 by completely failing to reference the cause
of the war, to wit, unceasing attacks by Hamas. Instead the only
exploration of that event was a discussion of Israeli "...targeting..."
of Palestinians, and the only pictures shown were of horrified or
grieving Palestinians. Where were, for example, any pictures of
terrified residents of southern Israel in shelters, under attack by
The documentary focused on the allegedly "outrageous" behavior of
Netanyahu in lecturing Obama in the Oval Office in 2011, while giving
relatively short shrift to the truly offensive conduct of the Obama
Administration in springing an important policy change detrimental to
Israel's national interests - advocating a return to the 1967 Armistice
Lines as a starting point for negotiations, instead of maintaining the
decades long American and Israeli positions that borders will arise out
of negotiations, not precede them - on Netanyahu the day before he was
to arrive in Washington for a scheduled visit. Unfortunately the
documentary didn't cover this diplomatic history, which made this Obama
Administration pronouncement so problematic.
The documentary focused on what it mistakenly represented as an
exaggerated, overblown response by Netanyahu to the egregiously flawed
deal with Iran, while papering over the actual problems with this deal
which justified Netanyahu's anguish. The documentary went so far as to
permit Martin Indyk to state in hyperbolic fashion that Netanyahu was
"no longer rational" in his attempts to articulate the problems with the
flawed Iran deal.
Yet these problems are now becoming all too evident as Iran flouts the
international community by testing prohibited missiles, while
threatening to terminate this deal every time it is called to account
for its aggressive behavior, which recently included firing missiles
near American Navy ships. And permitting Indyk to sling mud in this
fashion, without permitting an opposing view to be voiced - i.e., it
wasn't Netanyahu who was being irrational in opposing the deal, it was
the Obama Administration's irrationality, short sightedness, and over
focus on the President's legacy that led it to conclude a deal that was
basically a surrender to Iran - was hardly responsible journalism.
The documentary concluded with the narrator stating that the "violence
returned to Israel," without mentioning the cause, as though somehow
"the violence" had been away somewhere on vacation. In fact what
happened was that Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian propagandists
launched a series of dangerous anti-Semitic libels and slanders about
Israel and Jews "threatening Al Aksa Mosque," glorifying stabbing and
other attacks against Jews, and continue to do so to this very day. They
are directly responsible for precipitating the current wave of violence
against innocent Israeli civilians, which didn't just "return" despite
the failure of the documentary to include these important facts.
So although this documentary did include a modicum of balance at times,
a lack of objectivity and a clear bias against PM Netanyahu were in
evidence all too often. Frontline should broadcast some corrections of
the errors in this documentary, and redouble efforts to cover events in
the Middle East or in Israel with a higher degree of objectivity.
Daniel H. Trigoboff, Ph.D.
Williamsville, New York