If you're hoping to enjoy a long, successful career as a reporter in the U.S. mainstream media, don't follow the lead of journalist Rania Khalek. For starters, Khalek doesn't shy away from providing candid coverage of sacrosanct topics like Israel and the U.S. military.
Her refusal to kowtow to the politically correct view on Israel does not play well in U.S. newsrooms. Corporate media owners want reporters who they trust will cover foreign policy issues from a pro-government angle. Since Israel receives unanimous and unconditional support from Washington -- no matter the scale of the nation's brutality against Palestinians -- there is little doubt which side the U.S. press will support in its reporting on Israel and Palestine.
Even progressive media outlets in the U.S. are guilty of downplaying Israel's atrocities. "What I've noticed is that Palestine and how it is reported on is a good barometer for how far progressive news outlets still need to go," Khalek said in an interview. "I see a lot of apologism taking place for Israel. You still have progressive outlets like The Nation giving Israel legitimacy and credibility it doesn't deserve."
The same mentality governs how the mainstream media covers the U.S. military. As long as news reporters stick to the script that says the U.S. military is an institution that occasionally makes mistakes but whose mission is honorable, they will stay out of trouble. Don't dare go and provide a serious analysis of the motives of the war planners inside the White House and Pentagon.
"There are certain sacred ideas that we're not supposed to come out against. And one of those is that the U.S. military is good," Khalek said. "The corporate press is invested in a lot of companies that profit from militarism abroad. You'll see an ad for defense contractor Lockheed Martin and then the next segment is on whether we should invade Iraq again."
Even the most gung-ho media mouthpieces for the U.S. military will come under attack if they upset the sensibilities of military-first Americans. After getting accused of lying about riding in a U.S. military helicopter that was hit by "enemy fire" in Iraq, NBC News journalist Brian Williams issued an apology by employing the "support-the-troops" defense. He described his helicopter story from 2003 as a bungled attempt to thank "our brave military men and women, veterans everywhere."
"Soldiers are revered as flawless heroes. The most sacred thing in America is the troops. You can't criticize the troops. Even in liberal circles, it's off- limits," Khalek explained.
The military, Israel and other sacred topics, according to Khalek, should be fair game for reporters. Khalek, who reports for the online news outlet Electronic Intifada and serves on its editorial board, began covering the Israel-Palestine conflict a year ago. Prior to joining Electronic Intifada, she reported on racial justice issues. She also served as the gender columnist for Extra!, the monthly magazine of media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, or FAIR. In a recent budget-cutting move, though, FAIR switched from a 16-page magazine to a four-page newsletter format. One of the casualties of FAIR's publication shake-up was Khalek's column. It was canceled.
"Being in journalism in general is difficult. Being a freelance journalist who writes about what I write is even more difficult because few people want to publish what I write about for the most part. It's not just Israel-Palestine. It's with a lot of other issues that you'll find it hard, especially if you are woman who is not white like I am," Khalek said.
As Khalek emerged as one of the top U.S. journalists covering domestic and foreign policy flashpoints, her readers grew to appreciate her honest reporting and her unabashed support for the underdog. But journalism wasn't always what Khalek thought she would be doing. "I became a journalist by accident," she said. "I was on a completely different path. I majored in exercise science and was working in cardiac rehabilitation and preparing to go to nursing school."
But in 2008, Khalek came across the daily TV and radio news program Democracy Now! "My jaw was on the floor. I was learning about all these things that were happening in the world that I wasn't being told about by the mainstream news," she said. "That's why I'm so passionate about independent media because it had a massive impact on me. It completely changed my life."
At Electronic Intifada, Khalek pursues unique angles to Israel's treatment of Palestinians. She aims to offer readers a window into the real Israel. "Israel is a full-on apartheid state that's engaged in ethnic cleansing and has an increasingly right-wing government that is perfectly comfortable with employing genocidal rhetoric toward the Palestinian population," she said.
As an American, she feels an obligation to expose how U.S. tax dollars are spent, given that Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. As of early 2014, the United States had provided Israel with $121 billion in assistance.
Khalek also recognizes that other nations, including the United States, take their cues from Israel. That's why in-depth coverage of Israel is so important. There may be other regimes around the world with worse human rights records than Israel, but none of those countries are extended the same respect as Israel.