The Guardian’s Mya Guarnieri, and junk-food journalism

Mya Guarnieri’s recent article on CiF prompted me, not for the first time, to ask myself just what makes her ( and others like her who sometimes grace the pages of CiF) qualified to analyse events in Israel according to ‘Guardian think’. A Master of Fine Arts degree from Florida State University is no doubt a worthy achievement in itself, but it hardly seems to be the natural qualification of choice to be demanded from a person engaging in analysis of one of the more politically and historically complicated regions of the world.

Like Seth Freedman with his background in the London stock market and Rachel Shabi with her degree in politics and literature, Guarnieri’s major qualification as far as the Guardian is concerned appears to be that she relatively recently relocated to Tel Aviv-Yaffo. But that in itself is obviously not enough to secure a column on CiF – otherwise we would have several hundred newish residents of Israel’s second city furiously scribbling away on behalf of the Guardian.  The point seems to be that the English-speaking new immigrant should be able to combine a familiar Anglo-centric view of Israel which the Guardian reader will not find remotely challenging, together with the moral justification of being a Jewish Israeli in order to deflect criticism of anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic bias.

And thus the reports the reader is served by writers such as Guarnieri, Shabi and Freedman are like choosing a kosher McDonald’s hamburger in a region rich with unfamiliar, exotic food. It may be kosher, but it’s still a hamburger; it has no connection to the deep-rooted traditions and culture of the region.  It doesn’t reflect anything of the environment in which it is served – instead it keeps the consumer safely within the confines of known and comfortable reference points. It is neither challenging nor outlook-broadening. It demands nothing of the reader other than to file yet another already anticipated experience in the memory file labelled ‘Israel’.

Like all fast-food, this junk journalism can become addictive, both to the consumer and the producer. A perusal of Guarnieri’s blog shows that since its establishment in April 2008, she has been churning out the same old stuff again and again for outlets such as Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, Ma’an and, of course, CiF.  She also contributes to sites which explicitly call for the end of the Jewish state such as Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada. Her promotion of the one-state ‘solution’ and her recurrent theme of Israel as an ever-more totalitarian and fascist state no doubt go down well with the audiences at those outlets, but that doesn’t make her material any more representative of what really goes on in the country which for some reason she has chosen to live than a McDonald’s hamburger eaten between the cramped and bustling market stalls of shouk Hacarmel.

We all know that the struggling mainstream media puts its focus today on websites which constantly need updating in order to keep readers interested. We are aware that the competition between sites such as CiF and the Huffington Post is for headlines and visuals, not in-depth analysis or facts and of the fact that foreign correspondents today rely largely upon recycling other people’s news from local sources because the fierce battle for hits means that they have little time to search out original material.  One of the results of this is the torrent of junk-food journalism supplied by both foreign correspondents, of which there are more per capita in Israel than in any other country in the world, and local writers such as Guarnieri. All this does nothing to contribute to a greater understanding of Israel and the Middle East on the part of readers of sites such as CiF; in fact it seems to merely fossilise their already deeply held prejudices.

If I want to read something which will help me better understand the economic crisis in certain EU countries or the finer points of the banking collapse in the UK and the USA, I do not expect the Guardian to supply me with an article written by a layman whose sole qualification is that he has an auntie in Ireland and wears a Guinness hat on St. Patrick’s day or someone who just happens to have held a savings account with Northern Rock.  And yet, populist junk-food journalism of the kind so readily proffered by CiF on the subject of Israel is swallowed blindly by an audience already so addicted to the poor diet it has been fed for so long that it no longer bothers to ask either itself or the Guardian if a certain writer is actually qualified in any way to contribute to the discussion, let alone to offer serious analysis of the type which influences opinions.

Let me assure the editors at CiF; the ill-informed personal opinions of a poetry graduate or a former inside trader do not contribute to the understanding of one of the more complex issues in the news; they merely constitute yet more of the repetitive sub-standard diet of propaganda which intelligent and discerning readers will avoid for the same reasons that they refrain from eating burgers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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