My close personal friend Grammarpuss writes of her concern over her beloved Guardian. She says she’s worried about its “editorial line on Israel, which is only partly balanced out by the continued presence of Jonathan Freedland on the comment pages”. So that’s an editorial line against Israel, we are to understand.
(To be honest this subject for me is like picking at a scab. I really, really, really know it only leads to trouble, but I just can’t help myself. So I’m gritting my teeth as we continue, here…)
Now I’m full of respect for Grammarpuss. She and I have a lot in common. Scarily much, in fact. Except shopping – can’t stand that. And she writes delightfully. And – and this is a big “and” – she really doesn’t lose the plot on this one, as many do. She doesn’t think the paper is anti-semitic, and she doesn’t rant wildly. She also says she’s a leftish enough to vote leftish if she lived in Israel. So she recognises that it’s perfectly legitimate to disagree with the current Israeli government. Indeed, it’s a democratic right which isn’t extended to some other places in the region. So she’s cool and calm and collected. Quite refreshing for anyone talking on this subject.
So what, exactly, is this “editorial line”? Columnists aren’t told what opinions to have, so far as I know. Journalists in the field presumably follow the most important stories they can. It’s true that one of the most telling differences between national newspapers is what stories don’t make it to press, but I’m not sure there are enough Israel stories of international import to be spiked. Maybe the editor goes around saying what can and can’t be said, and how it can and can’t be said. But I suspect UK editors really don’t have the energy to start laying down – and enforcing – the law on all these details. I’d guess they’re much more concerned with UK politics.
How does this “editorial line” manifest itself? How is it seen? How does it compare with its rivals?
This gives me a cheap opportunity to trot out my simple and mostly serious analysis of Guardian/Israel coverage [PDF download, 20k]. It’s from 2003, when I had a far less rational Guardian/Israel discussion with someone, and had far too much time on my hands. The argument went along the lines of:
The Guardian is so anti-Israel / How do you know that? / It’s common knowledge. / I’ve not noticed it, how can I tell? / It’s obvious. / Not to me…
…and so on. I genuinely wanted to find an objective way of looking at this. So we agreed a methodology, I spent too long counting words, produced a beautiful document, and… well, we’re still talking.
Rereading the document I’m still pretty pleased with it. At least I can’t find any embarrassing typos, and you can never have too many statistics and coloured bar charts, can you?
From the conclusion:
The Guardian devotes proportionally less space to Israeli sources, a middling number of words to Israeli sources, and the greatest number of words to official Israeli sources. It also devotes the least number of words to official Arab sources.
The Times devotes the greatest proportion and number of words to Israeli sources, but also the greatest proportion and number of words to Arab sources.
The Daily Telegraph generally measured between the two on proportional measurements.
But read it for yourself. Or don’t. See if I care.