Campus Media Watch, which members say formed around a commitment to fair coverage of the Middle East, has its eye on Columbia in its first semester as a Student Governing Board-sponsored group.
The group has worked with several organizations that focus on advocacy for Israel, like the campus pro-Israel political affairs committee, LionPAC, and media watchdog groups such as HonestReporting.
CMW "constantly monitors the media in all of its forms, including lectures, speakers, events, and publications, and attempts to correct any inaccuracies that are encountered through rigorous fact-checking and careful analysis," according to its website.
While many of the group's core members are involved with Israeli advocacy, Daniel Hertz, SEAS '10 and president and founder of CMW, said a summer fellowship he did with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a pro-Israel media watchdog group, taught him to use facts and statistics to dispel what he said were false assumptions about controversial subject matters.
He added that has reached out to campus groups from across the political and cultural spectrum, and that the group is committed to accuracy.
One of the group's other founders and vice president Zahava Mandelbaum, GS/JTS '12, is a Hasbara fellow, an Israeli organization that trains college students to be "effective pro-Israel activists" on American college campuses.
Early on the group received help from LionPAC, Columbia's student pro-Israel political affairs committee.
"We brought them in and they were a part of seeing how we function—how we run meetings," said Eric Schorr, GS/JTS '12, director of public relations for LionPAC.
He added that CMW is not an arm of LionPAC, but they will co-sponsor events together, as they did last semester.
Hertz said his group's work depends on its membership; they intend to examine inaccuracies regarding the Middle East in media, classes, and campus events, as reported by students.
"We're really trying to focus on Columbia now," he said. "It looks like there's enough work to do here."
This semester Hertz decided to take 'Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies' with associate professor Joseph Massad, who has come under fire for remarks that some say challenge Israel's right to exist.
But some question whether CMW can remain unbiased while maintaining affiliations with Israel advocacy groups.
Yusuf Ahmad, SEAS '12 and chair of the public relations committee for the Muslim Student Association, said MSA had been approached about co-sponsoring events with CMW but not explicitly about ensuring accurate media coverage.
"Although Campus Media Watch may have a genuine desire 'to ensure that students will be able to base their beliefs on legitimate, unbiased information,' [as stated on their website] conflicting commitments and goals on the parts of CMW's core founders creates a significant challenge: can CMW provide unbiased coverage while simultaneously acting as fellows trained by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs to improve Israel's image?" he said in an email message.
CMW has placed Massad's course under "Class Watch" and Hertz blogs about what he says are inaccuracies in the lectures. After the first class session he blogged that most of the authors on the syllabus were among "Israel's greatest detractors" and had written pieces that were "virulently anti-Semitic," but so far he has said he'd like to reserve judgment on the class and professor.
Taylor Sanders, CC '13, attended a recent information session and found the group's mission to be appealing.
"I think they have the potential to really bring the speakers on campus into discussions with some of the facts," he said.
SGB recommended the group for recognition in December, although 34 groups voted against approving it, to 27 in favor. At SGB Town Halls, each SGB group gets one vote, except Hillel, which gets five. A two-thirds vote would have been needed to overturn SGB's recommendation.
But Beezly Kiernan, CC '11 and SGB secretary said the board believes CMW will play an important role in mediating tensions between both sides this year.
"There's a lot of bickering on this campus between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups. A lot of the time the bickering isn't well structured and therefore doesn't really lead to constructive discussion," he said. "Hopefully the establishment of Campus Media Watch will elevate the Israel-Palestine debate on campus to a civil, academic level by ensuring that pseudo-truths and falsehoods propagated by the media are analyzed fully by all parties on campus."
An earlier version of this article described LionPAC as a lobby group. LionPAC calls itself "Columbia University's pro-Israel public affairs committee" rather than a lobby group, though it does go on a lobbying mission to Congress every year. Spectator regrets the error.