When News Coverage Mediates Between Parties

By Alice Albl

For the Aug. 26 session of the Conversations in Conflict series hosted by New York Law School’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program, reporter-turned-mediator Carol Pauli discussed the similarities between her past and present professions.

First published in a 2007 paper that earned the CPR Institute’s Student Article Award, Pauli’s theory asserts that journalists often become mediators while adhering to their profession’s ethical demands to maintain neutrality and respect all sources. The narratives that journalists shape can act as bridges of understanding between oppositions. Carol Pauli, News Media as Mediators, 8 Cardozo J. Conflict Resol. 717 (2007) (available at https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/570).

Two interviews by former CBS Evening News anchorman Walter Cronkite were Pauli’s first example of the media as mediator. Cronkite had organized consecutive talks with the heads of mutually hostile nations, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel.

Going first, Sadat expressed a willingness to come to Israel if invited. In the second interview Cronkite mentioned this to Begin, who immediately extended the invitation. Days later Sadat was in Israel and the two countries were closer than ever to peace. In this story, Pauli recognized the flow of a “classic” mediation.

Pauli, an associate professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law in Ft. Worth, Texas,  then explained that other mediation styles can manifest themselves through journalism. The story-uniting goal of “narrative” mediation was met when a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., newspaper wrote several articles about Jaime Gil Tenorio, a migrant worker killed in a local hit-and-run.

Tracing Tenorio’s life led the newspaper to the village of San Augustin Yatareni, Oaxaca, in Mexico. People there often made Poughkeepsie their destination for work to support their families. As recognition for their sacrifices, Poughkeepsie sent gifts to the village, among them computers for staying connected with migrated family members.

Pauli did not discuss the Mexico locales by name in her presentation, but for more information see, e.g. Maria Rose, “Oaxacan Immigration to Poughkeepsie,” Welcome to the Hudson Valley: A Guidebook of Topics in Local Environmental History (June 3, 2013) (available at https://bit.ly/3juDDQB).

Thanks to the articles, said Pauli, the usual U.S. story of malicious “invader immigrants” had been forced to reconcile with the migrants’ realities of hardship and love. The result was a new, shared narrative that any mediator would proudly tout.

While the harmony of respect and neutrality could transform journalists into mediators, Pauli closed her presentation telling mediators to watch what journalists do when the two clash. Their solution in tempering neutrality with compassion might not lead to the perfect scoop, but it does build bridges.

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Recordings of NYLS’s Conversations in Conflict Resolution series are being posted at the school’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program at https://bit.ly/32A3aAP.

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.