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Louisville Cardinal Editor Visits Israel with AJC’s Project Interchange

[Archived from January 23, 2009]

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

Emory Williamson takes his studies very seriously. A senior at the University of Louisville, majoring in communications and sociology, Williamson plans a career in journalism. Currently, he is the editor-in-chief of Louisville Cardinal, an independent newspaper serving the University of Louisville community.

Williamson believes that journalists have a responsibility to educate themselves thoroughly about the issues of the day so they can accurately assess the situation and convey the information to their readers clearly and fairly.

So when the American Jewish Committee (AJC) offered him the opportunity to participate in a Project Interchange, he jumped at the chance. Williamson was one of six college editors from across the country that spent seven days in Israel, visiting tourist and educational spots and hearing from Israeli educators, Israeli, Russian and Palestinian reporters and IDF representatives.

The trip, originally scheduled for last summer, was postponed; and the group was actually in Israel from December 30-January 5.

Williamson found the trip to be very illuminating. Israel was an area, he said, “I didn’t know a lot about – only what I’d read before I went,” and that, he said was very biased.

“Before I went,” he observed, “I thought Israel was a war-torn country,” particularly with the war against Hamas underway.
Although the AJC did have to adjust the group’s itinerary, for safety’s sake omitting a planned trip to Sderot, Williamson said he was surprised to see people in Tel Aviv going on with their normal lives despite the war.

He focused most of his attention on how the media cover Israel. “I saw a lot of bias in Israeli media and Palestinian media,” he observed, but he was particularly disturbed by the bias he found in the American media. “When it bleeds, it leads,” he said, “and that’s the only thing that gets our attention.”

The stories and columns Williamson saw said, “the big Israeli army is going in and destroying, but it’s not like that at all.” If 400 civilians die during the war against Hamas, that gets covered by the media, but when rockets hit Sderot, the few injuries and minimal damage mean that the attack is overlooked.

He also criticized the media’s choice of photos in their reporting.

“People don’t understand the difficult position Israel is in,” he continued. “They’re in the middle of the Middle East and are surrounded by Arab nations that aren’t the friendliest. They [the Israelis] need to take care of Hamas. If they don’t, it shows weakness and vulnerability.”

Williamson pointed out that there is a strong connection between Hamas and Iran. “The Middle East is a jungle,” he said, “and Israel is right in the middle. They have to fight to keep the nation alive and to fight for peace.”

“We have it pretty easy here, and we don’t understand what’s going on there,” Williamson observed. “My friends and peers didn’t understand this at all. They’re not used to any type of war. For kids there, this was their daily life.”

He contrasted the revelry and drinking his stateside friends engaged in to celebrate the New Year with the somber mood in Jerusalem, where “a lot of people were scared about the future of their nation.”

Americans need to be smart media consumers and understand what’s really happening. Seeing it first-hand enabled him to get a better understanding of the total situation.

In just seven days, the Project Interchange editors visited Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, northern Israel, the Golan Heights, several Christian sites and a kibbutz. They also visited an absorption center for Ethiopian Jews.

Williamson plans to write about his experience in Israel and to talk about it with family and friends. He also hopes to return, bringing family and friends with him.

The experience has left him “more of a media critic and with a little more understanding of my reporting. There is a general bias every news source has to take. Professionally, I need to watch for it. Even one word can set the tone. Editors must beware, too, with the way they pick photos and edit.”

“I was already very skeptical of media messages,” he continued, “but the average American isn’t and that’s frightening.”

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