Three weeks ago, Israeli jets bombed an oil-fired power station at Jiyyeh in Lebanon, dumping thousands of tonnes of oil into the ocean.
Israel’s blockade of the area has made clean-up impossible. The oil spreads unchecked along the palm-dotted shore of the Mediterranean Sea, coating tourist beaches, destroying vegetation, slaughtering endangered sea turtles and threatening the survival of several species of fish and seabirds.
You may have heard of this story before, and you might not, depending on where you get your news.
It doesn’t show up on a search of Canada.com, the CanWest Global site, nor on the Fox channel.
CBC News gave it passing mention, and the Toronto Star put it on the front page, but the more conservative and pro-Israel the media outlet, the less likely they have been to mention one of the worst environmental disasters in modern history.
Picture a similar spill on the North American coast: Beaches from Halifax to Fort Lauderdale ruined, black-coated seabirds washing up on shore, urban landscapes blackened.
Now imagine that this tragedy was caused by an attack on a US oil refinery, a bombing, causing several deaths as well as untold environmental and economic damage.
Now picture the front pages, the TV screens, the magazines. Imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Terror Strike!
Hourly coverage, in-depth analysis, interviews with experts, with witnesses, with the people in the street, the parents of the dead, the neighbours of the perpetrators, the tar-blackened volunteers.
Journalists and officials would vie over who could whip hyperbole to its frothiest peaks: Carnage of Unprecedented Levels; The World Will Never Be the Same Again; A Threat to Our Way Of Life.
In a frantic effort to keep the story cooking and to fill the endless hours of coverage such an outrage would demand, an army of analysts and experts would be recruited to pontificate on the possible consequences, the root causes, and the new measures needed to protect America from future threat.
But in the end, only one explanation would be acceptable, and anyone who’s been following the media for the past five years can recite it chapter and verse without a pause for breath.
This act would have been perpetrated by fanatics who hate freedom, who hate our modern democratic values, and want to turn the planet into one great war-blackened hijab-wearing fundamentalist terrorist prayer mat.
Media tunnel-vision is not restricted to acts of war. Last week tens of thousands of protesters blocked the streets of Mexico City, demanding a recount of election votes.
Lopez Abrador, the left-wing candidate who lost the federal election by .06 per cent of the official vote count, presented 900 pages of evidence of voting irregularities, but the electoral tribunal called for a review of only 10 per cent of the vote.
This story hasn’t been entirely ignored by the conservative North American media. It has received considerably more coverage than the Lebanese oil-spill, for instance, almost all of it focused on what a sore loser Abrador is.
Contrast this to Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, last year’s great democratic movement, lead story material in almost every media outlet in North American and Europe every day until the declared winner stepped down and freedom and democracy prevailed.
What was the difference in these two cases?
The point can be made that UN observers gave the Mexican election a passing grade, but then they did the same in Haiti last year, for an election that the voters knew very well had been a massive fraud.
After days of unrelenting protest Haitians succeeded in overturning the vote and attracting a modicum of media attention, but compared to the great triumph of the Orange Revolution, it was a momentary blip on the screen, glimpsed once and then gone.
When protesters succeeded in overturning the Ukrainian election it was a great moment in history, but it took more than history to put it on the front pages.
It was also a great moment for American-backed, pro-free-trade conservative politics, and that’s what made it more worthy of coverage than left-wing, anti-American, anti-free-trade democracy movements in Haiti and Mexico.
Media bias is no scandal. Journalists are not robots, not yet anyway, and we all bring a point of view to the job.
You read this column, you know what its writer believes, you examine the facts, and you form your own opinion, aware of the author’s bias as well as of your own.
But bias at the top, the kind that simply excludes some stories and overplays others to the point of propaganda and far beyond, is a more insidious force.
Remember this as you watch the unfolding coverage of the alleged plot by British men to blow up planes en route to America: In May of 2003, US officials caught a gang of white supremacists with 500,000 rounds of ammunition, hundreds of bombs, and one weapon of mass destruction, a cyanide bomb capable of killing tens of thousands of people.
The gang was also in possession of false identification, gas-masks, and virulent anti-government and racist propaganda.
The story went unmentioned in the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and pretty much every other major news outlet in the US.
England’s brown-skinned plotters, who have blessed the airwaves every night since they were apprehended last Thursday, were caught with a plan, and nothing more.
The alert media-consumer keeps an eye open for bias in the news presented, but the greater threat to truth in reporting comes from what’s left out.
Unless you’re going out of your way to find other sources of information, your idea of what goes on in the world is influenced by powerful corporate moguls with extremely conservative views, whose bias is best reflected not in the opinions they present, but in the weight of coverage they give to certain events, and in the facts they leave out.