Former Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl, who was last seen on air delivering an unexpected resignation in 2014, spoke to UCF students about her reasons for quitting on March 28.
She discussed the importance of media literacy, particularly in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Wahl said Israel is not blameless in the conflict, she believes that the European media has covered it in a way that is overly critical of the country.
Knights for Israel, a pro-Israel student organization, hosted the event where Wahl cited what she considered “blatantly biased content” about the Russia-Crimea conflict reported by Russia Today, also known as RT, as her reason for leaving.
“Personally, I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin,” Wahl said during her final moments on air. “I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth. And that is why after this newscast, I’m resigning.”
Since leaving RT, Wahl has investigated potential media biases in the news coverage of other topics, particularly in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She partnered with Jerusalem U, a Jewish Educational Organization, to create a documentary called “Media 101: Reading Between the Lines” that explores the issue. It was shown before Wahl’s speech.
Ben Suster, a 21-year-old biotechnology major and the current president of Knights for Israel, said he organized Wahl’s visit as a way to raise awareness of the biased ISIS attacks.
“Has the suicide bombing in Lahore, Pakistan received as much coverage as the bombing in Brussels? Not at all. Not even close,” Suster said. “There’s a significant human element to the media we follow that we know so little about. They are prone to error, biases and inclinations towards narratives that advance their respective self-interests just like any other human.”
Many of the other attendees at the event shared Suster’s sentiments and were eager to hear the opinions of a professional journalist on the matter.
“It’s no secret that there’s a lot of bias in the media and that things are being altered all the time. It’s interesting to hear a perspective from someone who’s actually behind the scenes working for the media, who gave up her job because of the things that were going on [at RT],” said Rachel Sorsher, a senior psychology student.
Marc Diamant, a current member of Knights for Israel and 19 year-old computer science major, was excited by the event’s potential to generate an open discussion about the conflict and the way that it’s covered.
“Well, knowledge is power. Both sides of [the Israel-Palestinian conflict] demand to be told from their perspective – that’s how you come to your viewpoint,” Diamant said.
During the airing of “Media 101: Reading Between the Lines” and the Q&A session that followed, Wahl discussed her experience at RT, as well as the anti-Semitic attacks that followed her resignation.
“In the wake of resigning from RT, I began to face a lot of backlash coming from some unexpected sources accusing me of being part of a Jewish, Zionist, Neocon plot. Now I’m not Jewish, and I don’t have any connection to Israel. Being a journalist myself, I began to wonder: could the media have something to do with it?”
Wahl offered an acronym for media consumers to distinguish reputable, accurate news sources from those with an agenda: CLUMSY. Each letter stands for Censorship, Local Fixers, Unconscious biases, Media outlets, Social Media and You. Wahl said that examining each of these aspects of media can help consumers find the least biased sources available.
During the Q&A session, Adam Manno, a junior journalism major, asked Wahl if there might be a conflict of interest, because the documentary was produced by a pro-Israel organization. Manno also pointed out that the documentary featured only “two Palestinians…and about six or seven Jewish perspectives.”
“That’s a totally fair question,” Wahl said. “I was hesitant to work with a Jewish nonprofit organization because I thought that it would be perceived as biased, and then I realized that it was ridiculous of me to not want to work with an organization simply because they were Jewish.”
Wahl said that because she had been the target of anti-Semitic sentiments following her resignation from RT, she thought it was particularly important to partner up with Jerusalem U.
“Are there things that I personally would have done differently to make [the documentary] more balanced? Perhaps, but I think that the voices that we spoke to were very non-extremist. I think they were fair. Hate on either end is not appropriate,” Walsh said.
Originally published in Central Florida Future.