Monday, June 29, 2009

A difference of opinion...a journalistic question

The Jewish Tribune reports a story about a photograph of American President Barak Obama having a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. You read it right; the paper reported a ‘story’ about a ‘photograph’.

In the photo President Obama is sitting, feet up on his desk, looking interested, and engaged, while talking with the Prime Minister on the phone. It is an amazing photo of the President, and one that should be looked at in its importance as that of the leader of the free world being completely at ease speaking with the Prime Minister of a country which at best is war-torn and at worst explosive.

This very interesting image which has been caught in time forever has been described in a very different manner half a world away. A political correspondent for the Ha’aretz interpreted it in an entirely opposite light. The correspondent writes that Obama is (and I only slightly paraphrase here) ‘sitting, insulting Netanyahu by showing the soles of his shoes, fists clenched, with a stern look on his face as though dictating to Netanyahu; listen up and write ‘Palestinian state’ a hundred times.’

Wild huh? How can a photo be construed so differently? After initially getting downright pissed off, I started to wonder…is this journalism or culture misinterpretation?

I don’t understand the politics enough to read the hidden agenda, but I do understand what I see. And since I have been, and continue to be, a published freelance columnist, I feel that I have just as much right to have a say about my journalistic brothers and sisters.

I understand that one mans beast is another’s beauty. I get that we are all allowed to have our point of view. But for a journalist to be credible the culture of the individual must be taken into account or else the story is meaningless and simply false.

Let’s look at the photo. President Obama’s hands are not clenched. He is clearly engaged in the conversation but ‘stern’ would be is not a word that would readily come to mind when reading his facial features, having listened to him speak on many occasions. His feet up on the desk come across as him being at ease in the conversation. Conversely, both feet on the floor would give the impression of ‘fight or flight’. I understand the showing of ones shoe soles is an insult in the Arab world and the impression could be one of insult, but this is a culture clash folks, and not a religious slight.

I am disturbed not by the agenda the newspaper clearly has, as, it has the right to be for or against whatever it pleases, but more by the journalism that is driving the interpretation. This is a photo of the President of the United States of America in a relaxed state, engaging in a conversation with another Leader. This was not meant to put out any kind of ‘subliminal’ message. Reading any further into this photograph is reaching for something that frankly is not there.

I guess I would have been happier if this had been an ‘Editorial’ piece, and not one submitted by a fellow writer. It gives ‘journalistic integrity’ a dirty face, and politics is already dirty enough.

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