“We created an echo chamber [to build support for the Iran nuclear deal]… They [journalists] were saying things that validated what we had given them to say… All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus. Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
— Ben Rhodes, White House then-deputy national security advisor for strategic communications [May 8, 2016; New York Times Magazine]
If the critical need for Mideast Dig could be encapsulated in one quote, it might be what former White House media aide Ben Rhodes conceded [see above] about the way U.S. journalists are often handled by Washington. Rhodes cited Moscow and Cairo as examples of cities where journalists who “literally know nothing” ask the White House to explain to them what’s going on inside those regions. He could just as accurately have added Jerusalem, or any number of other Middle Eastern cities.
Who we are:
Imagine a global, investigative news outfit that gets it right about Israel and the entire Middle East. Imagine a multimedia and multilingual news operation that actually knows how to dig for the facts in the region — and refuses to pull its punches.
Mideast Dig is an independent, nonprofit news organization with a mission to stop the downward spiral in journalism standards on the Israeli-Palestinian and other Middle East conflicts, and a variety of related topics. Among them are Iran; the financing of global terrorism; Islamic extremism; organized crime; Middle East banks involved in money laundering; and the boycott-Israel movement.
We will accomplish that mission by producing groundbreaking, hard-hitting investigative reporting on significant topics and events in the Middle East that do not receive adequate coverage — or that are entirely ignored by our big-media colleagues. We will also vigorously critique articles and broadcast segments that fail to meet long-established professional standards, especially when those failures are swept under the rug by news editors. As the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis so aptly put it a century ago: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
Is it not high time for more sunlight in the Middle East’s media wasteland? In the best traditions of investigative reporting, “The Dig” will drill deeply beneath the surface in the Middle East for underlying realities. True investigative reporting is not just reporting about facts, but reporting the truth about the facts.
The need is dire, especially given the increasing importance to the world of the entire Middle East. However, when it comes to media coverage of the region, it’s hardly a secret that the truth is often consigned to making cameo appearances. Many large, respected news organizations produce inaccurate or superficial stories for an assortment of unacceptable reasons — outright bias; laziness; fear; peer pressure; incompetence; inexperience; ignorance of the region’s history; an absence of investigative reporters in the field; the commission of the omission of vital information; sometimes all of the above.
From New York to London, even rudimentary fact-checking is habitually ignored by editors and producers — often just on the headlines, let alone within the bodies of news stories. On the ground, in cities such as Jerusalem and Cairo, expat reporters who haven’t bothered to learn the local languages (which would enable them to communicate directly with key sources) tend to engage in ‘pack journalism’ — relying on the same translators, ‘fixers,’ stringers, and agenda-pushing NGOs. Meanwhile, media ombudspeople and professional watchdog groups, such as the Columbia Journalism Review, are (at best) asleep. It has become, in essence, a race to the bottom.
The Foreign Press Association in Israel comprises nearly 500 reporters — a reflection of an obsessive focus on one conflict at the expense of so many around the world that are barely covered. We are committed to probing why this is so, and why the output of the vast majority of this foreign press corps leaves so much to be desired. We are equally committed to pushing for a climate where independent and rigorous investigative reporting can be practiced freely in parts of the Middle East where such reporting is extremely dangerous to engage in — from Iran, Jordan and Turkey, to Egypt, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. The list goes on.
We believe that for any real and sustainable reform to happen in an industry — be it law, finance, media or any field — it can only come about from within that profession.
We are incorporated as a nonprofit news organization, and have received tax-exempt status under Rule 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code. We are governed by a corporate board, and benefit from a strong and diverse advisory board. Biographies of the entire team can be found here at our Masthead. Both boards are in formation, with the corporate board currently consisting of longtime investigative journalist Richard Behar, Editor of Mideast Dig; and Maer Roshan, the acclaimed magazine editor and media entrepreneur. Our Board of Advisors includes the famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams; venerable radio host Jim Campbell; veteran editor and media ethics authority Gene Foreman, plus other preeminent reporters, writers and Mideast experts. Renowned journalists James Kirchick and Ben-Dror Yemini have joined as Contributing Editors.
Here’s but one example of the kind of work you will see in Mideast Dig: A New York Observer cover story, co-written by Behar, which exposed a deeply-flawed investigation by Associated Press of the Gazan civilians killed during the last Israel-Hamas war. The AP is one of the world’s largest and oldest news organizations, and boasts on its website that it’s among the “most trusted sources of independent news-gathering.” However, as exposed in the Observer story, the AP grossly failed its own editorial standards in this so-called probe of theirs — with eight posed photographs, intentional mischaracterizations, buried corrections, one-sided sourcing and cherry-picked quotes. All of this contributed to AP’s false conclusion about “most” Gaza deaths being civilians.
It wasn’t the first time AP failed its own written principles, as well as the deep-rooted standards of the profession. Unfortunately, such reporting is all-too-common in the Middle East by numerous major media outlets — from the New York Times to CNN, from Time magazine to the BBC, from the Washington Post to National Public Radio.
It’s time for seasoned media professionals to do something about it. And we are ready to lead the way.
Mideast Dig will produce long- and short-form investigative reports, in-depth analysis, and media criticism — both print and webcasts (and eventually, we anticipate, radio and TV). Our target audience will be opinion leaders, government officials, the media, and the 18- to 34-year-old age group. It is the young who are the most vulnerable to bad journalism.
We will retain staff and freelance reporters of the best caliber. Funding permitting, in order to have maximum impact across cultures, our journalism will be multilingual — from Arabic and Hebrew to Farsi, French, Mandarin, Spanish and beyond. We expect to establish a network of bureaus in the Middle East, U.S., and Europe, and we are in talks with major media outlets about distributing our product and collaborating on joint ventures.
Advocacy is often met with skepticism or ennui by the public. Even those already persuaded that the bulk of reporting coming out of the Middle East is bad journalism are overloaded with material that preaches to the choir. We are not affilitated with any advocacy groups. We will not be afraid to provoke and challenge our core audiences.
In our regular reports, our aim is to become the Politico of the Middle East, and we will be guided by the ProPublica model not just in our investigative reports, but in much of our organizational structure and policies. Just as Politico is essential reading for politics, and ProPublica is a vital source of award-winning investigative journalism on many issues, we intend to be a ‘must-read’ on the Arab-Israeli conflict — for people of all points of view.
In addition, we will provide the public, both general readers and investors, with coverage of business in the Mideast region of a quality unavailable elsewhere. Our correspondents will be deployed to cover Middle Eastern trade and commerce, pursuing stories neglected by both the domestic and foreign media. Special attention will be given to high-tech, and to emerging partnerships between Palestinians and Israelis. The Editor of Mideast Dig is experienced at this complex variety of journalism, and has extensive contacts within the region’s financial world.
A significant part of our mission will be to award fellowships to students at key college campuses. Participants will learn the basics of public-interest investigative journalism — with the focus entirely on the Middle East — while providing the Dig with on-the-ground reporting. The students will have the potential to publish their work on our website. In this campus outreach program, we are inspired by FactCheck.org — a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania that utilizes undergraduates to learn how to monitor and probe political claims in U.S. politics, and how to conduct research using the best available evidence. In our particular fellowship project, we hope to inspire successive generations of investigative reporters to take a strong interest in the Middle East.
We have received startup funding, and are in the process of soliciting operating funds from individual philanthropists, foundations and from the general public. Tax-exempt contributions of any size are welcome, and can be made via PayPal or credit card.
We will accept advertising, and are exploring other sources of funding consistent with our tax-exempt status. We do not accept money from any governmental entity, and there is a strict wall between our editorial mission and the donors and investors providing funds to us. We retain 100% authority over our editorial content and our news judgments. We have a conflict of interest policy consistent with both newsroom standards and those of nonprofit organizations generally.
Please feel free to drop us a line (via the Contact link at the bottom of the website) with any ideas or suggestions. Or write to us at: P.O. Box 12, New York, NY 10021.