Repeat, repeat, repeat: Israeli settlements are news even when there's no news to report

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and, of course, The New York Times, lead the pack when it comes to ongoing coverage of Israel and the Middle East by elite American newspapers. Some of their reporting is excellent, some of it is done poorly, and some of it is just repetitive.

That's about what one should expect, because journalists succeed and fail, I'd say in the absence of any hard evidence, roughly as much as any other human subset. 

Let's dissect the repetitive. And, yes, I'm well aware that given how often I post on Israel issues for GetReligion, I'm in danger of being repetitive myself. But, here goes anyway.

This week, the Post ran a news feature that its editors (or at least those who produced Tuesday's edition) saw fit to give four-column, above-the-fold, page-one display in the paper's print edition. That, despite the story providing no new information.

The question is why?

Headlined, "A new wave in the West Bank?", the news feature struck me as a rehash of events that the Post and everyone else has widely covered -- which is what Donald Trump's election victory means for Israel's West Bank settlement project.

The bottom line is that Trump, and his designated appointee as U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, appear set to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a free-hand to continue settlement construction. That, of course, is the opposite of what President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have preached, with little success.

If you support the settlements, Trump and Friedman are a welcome good-news story. If you oppose the continued building, as I do, they're utterly bad news.

I noted all this, and other ramifications of the coming Trump presidency for Israel and American Jews, just two weeks ago in a post here.

So why did the Post publish a news feature comprised of information it previously covered and nothing more?

Let's look at possibilities, starting with the most nefarious.

What I mean by this, is that the newspaper is pushing an editorial agenda on its news pages. Certainly this happens regularly in papers across the ideological spectrum despite journalism's verbal nod toward the separation of news coverage and editorial policies.

In this case, that would imply that the Post is pushing an anti-settlement line. (The Trump angle merely adds to the intrigue.) Supporting that logic is that settlement stories in the mainstream American press almost always come off critical of attempts by Israel to settle Jews on land Palestinians say should be part of their hoped-for future state.

So if you're anti-settlement, the more stories run about the issue the better to draw attention to what you see as a wrong. Even if a piece contains no new information, it's still a worthwhile story if this is your stance.

 Is that what's going on at the Post? I don't think so.

In fact, while the paper is certainly not a supporter of settlement expansion, its editorial page has repeatedly stated that the constant criticism by settlement opponents has placed an undue emphasis on a side issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Click here to read a recent Post editorial that makes this clear.

There is also a far more mundane possibility. That is, that repetition is a natural byproduct of the journalistic process. It's something no more sinister than a teething puppy chewing on a chair leg.

The news feature piece was published on the first work day following the New Year holiday weekend. Long holiday weekends often mean it's a struggle to come up with grabber stories to spice up page one on the day after they end (while this may be a blessing for humanity, it's a tragedy for journalism).

I know this first hand as both a news and layout editor during my newspaper days.

My experience taught me that this dearth of strong stories can lower the bar for what gets on page one -- even this year when Trump administration transition stories and yet another terrorist act, this one in Turkey, also commanded page one space.

Then there's this: Foreign correspondents have to provide copy even when there's nothing new to write about. This is how they justify their existence and how their editors justify to accounting departments the high expense of keeping correspondents roaming the globe in an era of squeezed newspaper budgets.

All this is entirely understandable. Also, in this age of click-bait coverage, it's important to keep producing new stories on topics that are hot in social media.

This interpretation leads to the conclusion that repetitive stories -- as annoying as they can be to news consumers, and the professionals who have to churn them out -- are a relatively harmless reality of the journalism trade.

Speaking of annoying, here's an even better (by which I mean worse) example of repetitive "news" from The New York Times, a paper I keep holding up as an exemplar for its coverage of Israel and Jewish issues despite lapses such as this one.

It contains the eye-opening information -- brace yourself --  that American Jews are divided over the settlements and all-things Israel.

Did you click on the link and read it? Please do.

It's a classic example of the he-said, she-said roundup of voices on a subject that readers already know all too well has divided public opinion. And yet journalism's top news organizations keep producing such predictable filler, sometimes it seems just out of habit.

One final note on the journalistic tradition of repetitive stories that I just can't pass up.

Who in America doesn't already know that after the holiday eating season, which for Americans stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year's, the nation's health and fitness clubs are swamped by hordes of regretful overeaters?

But in case someone in the nation's capital has somehow missed that news, on the same day that the Post served up its no-news front page settlement piece, it also ran on its Metro section front page the annual breaking news thriller that the nation's gyms will now be swamped by those who have newly resolved to shed some weight.

I take some comfort in the apparent fact that journalists covering local news can be just as repetitive as those covering international conflicts.

Please respect our Commenting Policy