ADL’s new media institute looking to analyze and counsel, not criticize and cancel, inaugural director says

Deborah Camiel tells eJP that the organization is looking to formalize existing ties between the ADL and Hollywood, work to get more accurate portrayals of Jews in media

When the Anti-Defamation League launched its Media and Entertainment Institute in September to combat antisemitism in the news and in Hollywood, it couldn’t have known that a major conflict would break out in Israel three weeks later, accompanied by a massive spike in antisemitism around the world.

The near-constant media coverage that has accompanied the war and rising antisemitism has faced criticism from the Jewish community, including the ADL, of anti-Israel and, in some cases, antisemitic bias. Last month, Deborah Camiel was brought on board as the inaugural director of the institute to guide it through the current moment and beyond. 

At such a fraught time, if anyone can “change hearts and minds in the fight against antisemitism ” — as the group’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt put it — it’s Camiel, a veteran award-winning journalist who spent 10 years in the documentary unit at CNBC and six years with CBS News.

Camiel sat down with eJewishPhilanthropy to discuss her plans for the ADL’s Media and Entertainment Institute amid what she called the “significant moment for the media industry and Hollywood to appreciate the need for realistic, accurate and human portrayals of Jews and Judaism.”

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Haley Cohen: ADL’s history with Hollywood goes back to the organization’s founding in 1913 — What are some fresh ideas you plan to bring to the ADL to address stereotypes, negative portrayals and antisemitism in film and on stage? How will the work look different on the news media side? 

Deborah Camiel: The new Media and Entertainment Institute is going to engage formally with industry leaders and partner organizations to educate on the impact of antisemitism and Jewish stereotypes and advocate for content that illustrates the full diversity of Jewish life. 

This is not new for the ADL. In a way, the institute is formalizing a relationship that has been long-standing. Over the years, our national and regional leadership has formed relationships with industry leaders. Most recently, we launched an entertainment leadership council and formed a partnership with United Talent Agency. 

The institute is also going to lead efforts to analyze bias in news about Jews, antisemitism and Israel and promote what we hope is going to be even-handed, accurate coverage in the press.

We are starting out with a focus on five areas. 

  • Publishing research: We are looking at a report evaluating negative and positive Jewish representation in film and TV. We’re also doing analyses of news coverage to see where the bias lies, it’s clear to me that there is bias news coverage 
  • Establishing and distributing guidelines and best practices that can be adopted by journalists, producers, writers, studios and news organizations to ensure more accurate portrayal of Jews and point out things we think are unbalanced
  • Education for professionals who will be writing and creating Jewish characters
  • Recognizing and lifting up positive portrayal of Jews, as well as balanced media while holding studios and news organizations accountable for biased content
  • Developing more partnerships with advocacy organizations, working with media to portray accurate portrayal of all marginalized groups both on-screen and in the news 

HC: Was your interest in this position sparked by the Oct. 7 terror attacks? 

DC: Yes. After Oct. 7, I found myself watching coverage that I felt at times was uninformed and sloppy, and at times antisemitic. I was constantly calling, giving feedback, speaking to my former colleagues at news organizations about what could be improved and what was missing. You have to know this story in a very granular way sometimes to spot where things are one-sided. 

HC: Which community organizations or industry leaders are you planning to mobilize? 

DC: In terms of advocacy groups, we think [the LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit] GLAAD has been doing a fantastic job of encouraging fuller portraits of people. 

We’re looking forward to many partnerships and to be a strong advocate for Jewish representation. 

HC: Given the moment we are in, what does or doesn’t Jewish representation on-screen do to defray or increase antisemitism? How do you plan to work on increasing and defining authentic Jewish representation on screen? It can’t just mean all positive representations — because there are Jewish villains. And it can’t mean that all Jewish practice on-screen is Orthodox either.

DC: We’re talking more about quality than quantity. It’s not uncommon to see Jews in movies or on television. But it’s most common to see Jews portrayed as stereotypes – what we think of Jewish tropes that create either a negative impression of Jewish people. Why is that an issue today? Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t know a Jew. So, many people are only learning about Jews and Judaism through media at a time of rising antisemitism. We have to take a hard look at how Jews are portrayed on screen and that’s what we’re planning to do. 

HC: How will your experience as a former longtime reporter help you in this role? Is journalism today more biased than it was when you started out? 

DC: Since the horrific events of Oct. 7 and the war that has followed, ADL has noticed numerous incidents of biased reporting. Opinions stated as facts. Use of very unreliable sources. The failure of news organizations in general to offer the nuance and context necessary for even-handed reporting. Those journalistic lapses lead to the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation. Sourcing is a huge problem. We feel the misinformation deepens polarization on both sides of the conflict. News media organizations have a responsibility to report fairly and fully on current events. We are going to study this bias and address antisemitism in the news.

An example that we see is news organizations that have made the decision to not label Hamas a terrorist organization and also not talk about the massacres of Oct. 7 as a terrorist act. If you’re using the word “terrorist” for ISIS, Al-Qaida, it should certainly be applied to Hamas. The U.S. has labeled Hamas a terrorist group, and it is important for Americans to understand that context when they are reading or watching the news about this war.

Much of the reporting in the war reports Palestinian casualties from Gaza without noting the percentage of combatants — Hamas terrorists — that were killed. Many of the news outlets report about women and children killed but they don’t note one of the most important components of war reporting, we need to know the number of combatants killed. Both the IDF and Hamas have those numbers. Many times what we’re seeing is actually failure to get an IDF comment about a given story. 

Those are the sort of things that we are going to call to the attention of news outlets that frankly need to do a better job. 

We’re also seeing reporting of the same stories over and over instead of reporters asking what other ways can I look at this conflict? 

When I was actively reporting from Israel, which I did for 13 years, I was not observing as much as I am now from this perspective. But right now the amount of slant and the gaps in the information are very concerning. Those gaps don’t help people understand what is going on. You need some context, including who Hamas is, where are those numbers you’re quoting out of Gaza coming from. 

HC: How much of that is ignorance in reporting versus intentional bias? 

DC: It depends. News agencies aren’t as fully funded as they used to be. So part of the problem is that some of these outlets don’t have bureaus in the places they’re reporting about. It can be an attempt to very quickly get up to speed on one of the most complex stories to report on in the world. But sometimes it’s just bias and antisemitism. 

We will be distinguishing between those. But my general feeling towards reporters is that most take their job very seriously and are interested in what is happening on the ground for their viewers. We would like to point out where we think their reporting could be improved. 

HC: Going back to Hollywood, we’ve seen so many A-listers speak out against many other causes, why have so many remained silent after Oct. 7? Do you think there’s a pressure to speak out and a pushback for doing so? Should actors be dismissed from movies or shows because of their views? 

DC: ADL is not a cancel culture, but a counsel culture. We believe in counseling. We’re not going to tell producers what they can and cannot do. Rather, we will share guidelines to help industry leaders avoid common stereotypes. We are not interested in limited artistic freedom. We are interested in fuller, fleshed out representations of Jews.