Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Watching this war

This is from Al Jazeera's website:


When assumption trumps objectivity
by Habib Battah

After four weeks of devastating Israeli air raids across Lebanon, American news network NBC began its Nightly News bulletin with its anchorman, Brian Williams, asking: "Does the US really have any influence in this war?"
Hours earlier on sister network MSNBC, anchorwoman Chris Jansing seemed to be at a similar loss. "Can anything be done to stop the violence?" she asked.

But to an American audience, the thought of a Syrian or Iranian news anchor posing the same questions would be fit for a comedy skit.

After all, the Syrians and Iranians wield an obvious "influence" over the course of the conflict according to the NBC channels, which like CNN, Sky and many other Western new organisations reported relentlessly on claims that Hezbollah’s rocket imports were made possible through the help of its two "rogue" allies.

But where was the parallel analysis of multi-billion dollar weapons shipments bound for Israel from the United States? Most Western broadcasters reported religiously on the number of rockets fired at Israel each day of the month-long conflict, often comparing fresh figures with those of previous days and weeks, even peppering the audit with analysis and commentary.

Absent however was almost any accounting of the daily tonnage of US-manufactured munitions dropped from an unknown fleet of US-manufactured jets levelling an untold number of Lebanese homes and villages.

Sanitised

On American television screens, the US role in this conflict was a relatively sanitised one, pictured as diplomatic rather than military; seen across negotiating tables and in visits to foreign capitals — a far less sinister role than that repeatedly attributed to the Iranians and Syrians over allegations of their financial and logistical support.

In fact, so penetrating was the alleged connection that some channels, such as Bloomberg Television, began referring to Hezbollah on second reference as merely "the Syrian- and Iranian-backed group". But why did Bloomberg not choose to identify Israel, the largest official recipient of US foreign military assistance for decades, as "the US-backed state"?

Whether the decision was deliberate or unconscious, the prevailing notion of non-military US involvement is just one of many underlying assumptions communicated by the US media about the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, assumptions that were continually reinforced in comments made by anchors and by hired analysts.

Viewed as part of an overall package, the assumptions appear to reflect US foreign policy, particularly the relationship with Israel, much more than the pursuit of journalistic objectivity.

Of course it would be unfair to generalise by suggesting that the Western media did a poor job of covering this war. On the ground in the midst of air strikes, ground fire and naval attacks, American and European journalists, particularly those reporting from south Lebanon, genuinely risked their lives to tell the story.

Contradictory

The efforts of many Western reporters operating out of towns such as Tyre at a time when the Israeli military vowed to fire on any vehicle that moved were no less valiant than those displayed by their colleagues from the Arab media. However, a clear difference emerged between battlefield reporting and the animated conversations that went on thousands of miles away in air-conditioned studios. At some points it even appeared as if the two were completely contradictory.

Beginning with the war in Iraq, American media outlets developed an obsession with hosting former military personnel as analysts, so much so that it now appears as if large American networks have become a sort of retirement programme for the US military’s top brass. An inherent problem with this formula is a tendency to reflect the views and strategic interests of the US government rather than offer critical analyses that shed light on the complex realities of the battlefield.

Take coverage of the Israeli commando raid on Baalbeck during the third week of the conflict on August 2. The Israeli military had reported that it kidnapped five Hezbollah members, but MSNBC's reporter on the scene quoted local villagers who said those apprehended were "just nobodies".

Hezbollah also claimed that ordinary civilians, not fighters, had been kidnapped. Meanwhile Israeli newspaper Haaertz quoted Lebanese sources as saying that more than a dozen civilians were killed in the attack.

Details may still have been sketchy on the ground in the Bekaa valley but in MSNBC's East Coast studio, the view from its military analyst, Rick Francona, was starkly clear. Francona, a former lieutenant-colonel in the US Air Force, swiftly praised the attack as an "excellent raid" and "well done" on Israel’s part. He then began to postulate confidently about the motives behind the operation, saying "Israel obviously had intelligence of high-profile targets" and naming Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, as a possibility.

Optimism

But even Israel’s chief of staff, Dan Halutz, appeared to be playing down the operation, with an article in Haaretz quoting him as saying "the soldiers had not aimed to take any individuals in particular, but rather to demonstrate that the IDF [Israeli military] could reach any part of Lebanon".

Not only does Francona manage to analyse the situation solely from Israel’s point of view, but his optimism even appears to exceed that of the Israelis themselves.

Weeks later, on August 23, the Lebanese press would post pictures of the Baalbeck captives returning home, indicating that all five men had been returned to Lebanon through the International Committee of the Red Cross, which served as a liaison with the Israeli military.

The chief suspect had been Hassan Nasrallah; not the leader of Hezbollah but an elderly village farmer that shared the same first and last name. "They wanted to use us for propaganda about the arrest of Hassan Nasrallah," the former detainee told Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper in a reference to the Hezbollah leader.

Among the other returned captives were relatives and friends of Nasrallah, the farmer that is.

Looking back at the initial coverage, one would wonder why MSNBC and countless others chose to report the claims of the Israeli military machine over those of witnesses on the scene.

Malicious

The Baalbeck incident was by no means isolated. Time and again, the TV generals seemed so confident in Israel's stance that any talk of malicious activity was dismissed regardless of pending investigations.

Another case in point was Israel’s attack on a UN post, killing four observer troops, on July 26. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, quickly condemned the strike as "apparently deliberate", noting "a co-ordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long-established and clearly marked UN post".

The Irish foreign ministry said one of its officers at the post had made at least six warning calls to the Israelis during their bombardment. Reports also emerged of email correspondence from a Canadian soldier giving warning that the Israelis had been striking near the UN position for "weeks upon weeks", according to the soldier’s wife who was quoted by Canadian TV as calling the Israeli attack "intentional".

Meanwhile UN officials quoted by Reuters said "the firing continued even as rescue operations were under way", while Annan called for a "full investigation" into the "disturbing incident".

But these multiple claims seemed to be of little consequence to the CNN military analysts back home. A retired US Air Force general employed by the station dismissed the controversy outright, saying the Israeli strike was simply "a screw-up, a major screw-up".

Assumptions over Israel’s intentions were not limited to analysts but also to senior journalists, such as Tim Marshall, Sky’s foreign editor, who confidently labelled the attack as "inadvertent" and "an accident waiting to happen" on the same evening as it had occurred. It was almost as if Marshall were pre-empting the Israeli government’s apology and denial of wrongdoing, which would not come until the next day.

'No evidence'

Instead of adopting a cautious approach to a developing story - as any good journalist would - the authoritative voices from CNN and Sky seemed merely to reflect the views of Israel and its allies. Listening to a press statement from the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, it almost seemed as though the press outlets had become a conduit for official statements. "We take them at their word," Bolton said of the Israeli reaction. "There is no evidence to the contrary."

Less than a week after the killing of the UN observers, the headlines shifted to another attack by Israel, this time in Qana where at least 28 civilians, including 16 children, were killed as a result of air attacks. Qana also happens to be the site of an attack by Israel in 1996 that killed more than 100 people - Israel denied responsibility at the time but subsequent UN investigations were inconclusive.

Israeli officials also denied responsibility for the more recent bloodbath, accusing Hezbollah of somehow staging the attack by firing from the area, using the civilians as human shields. Israel's UN ambassador, during a speech at the Security Council, even went so far as to entertain the possibility that Hezbollah "wanted and wished" for the mass killing.

American news outlets began to pick up the claim, despite the absence of ground reporting or any other kind of supporting evidence. As bodies were being carried out of the rubble, a CNN anchorwoman in Atlanta turned to an Arab media analyst and asked if Arab TV channels acknowledged Hezbollah's use of civilians as human shields. The analyst did not refute the claim but merely indicated that Hezbollah criticism was a taboo subject for regional news networks.

Human shields

Later CNN military analysts would describe Hezbollah as a "terrorist organization" that breached Geneva Conventions by using human shields. Despite the lack of physical evidence in either direction, it seemed just as easy for the in-studio analysts to assume Israel's innocence as it was for them to assume guilt on the part of Hezbollah, even when the Israeli military did the actual shooting.

Israel’s third "accident" came on August 11 when six innocents were killed as its missiles struck a civilian convoy fleeing the bombardment in South Lebanon.

Three days later, when the smoke began to clear and a shaky ceasefire took hold, the Lebanese death toll had reached 1,100, the vast majority being civilians. On the Israeli side, the majority of deaths were military, 117 soldiers and 40 civilians, according to Reuters. (Hezbollah casualties were quoted as a separate figure with the group claiming no more than 80 and Israel claiming more than 500.)

The vast disparity between Lebanese civilian deaths and those of Israeli civilians remained formulaic throughout the war, but the TV generals seemed to tell a different story, constantly using the adjective "indiscriminate" to describe Hezbollah’s rocket attacks and "very accurate" in describing Israel’s tactics and weaponry.

In fact, on several occasions, Israeli officials interviewed by American broadcasters touted Israel’s policy of restraint and gave warning of the country’s ability to pursue a "scorched earth policy" in Lebanon.

Interviewers often accepted such a response either by ending the interview at that point or moving on to different questions. One can hardly imagine an American interviewer remaining silent if an Arab official spoke of flattening the Jewish state in such genocidal terms.

Unrealistic

Few phrases were repeated more often during this war than that of "Israel’s war against Hezbollah" and "Israeli strikes on Hezbollah targets" mainly in South Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut.

The examples of this usage on NBC, CNN, Sky and many, many other channels were simply ubiquitous throughout the month of war coverage — the two phrases used many times a day as an introduction to the whole package of reporting, all framed as a war solely on Hezbollah. However, on the ground, there could not have been a more unrealistic assessment of reality.

According to a report released by Oxfam on August 14, the destruction across Lebanon included "7,000 homes, 160 factories, markets, farms and other commercial buildings, 29 water and sewage-treatment plants, electrical plants, dams, ports and airports, 23 petrol stations, 145 bridges and overpasses; 600 kilometres of roads".

The figures do not include damage to television towers, which were attacked in at least four different places across the country, disrupting signals and causing millions of dollars in damage to the Lebanese broadcasting industry.

Where were the TV generals to explain the threat of media coverage to Israel’s war on Hezbollah? Lebanon’s entire transnational road system was incapacitated by Israeli missiles, but when anchors rationalised this by speaking of "Hezbollah supply lines", where were the military men to explain that weapons could easily be smuggled through back roads and mountain passages?

Was it clear that Hezbollah did not have its own discreet transportations routes to begin with?

And when the Lebanese international airport was struck repeatedly, where were the generals to explain that rockets had traditionally been carried into Lebanese territory on flat beds and not commercial airliners?

The battlefield analysts seemed so transfixed on analysing Israel's invasion tactics that they rarely looked at the conflict from the opposite end of the map. So much airtime was devoted to Israeli commanders and military spokesman claiming victory, but Hezbollah representatives seemed to have been boycotted by the American press much as they had been boycotted by the American government.

Basic

In reality, Hezbollah was claiming victories of its own, but at times it seemed as if the American media were too busy reflecting their government’s viewpoint to have noticed.

The TV generals dutifully relayed Israel’s daily claims of destroying rocket launchers and medium-range missiles by shading overhead maps with digital pens. But rarely did they discuss Hezbollah's attacks on scores of Israeli Merkava tanks in what was seen as valiant effort at resisting one of the world's most powerful military machines.

If the shading of military maps proved too complicated for the American public to comprehend, broadcasters and commentators often broke down their assumptions in more basic terms. When Israel, for example, decided to launch a land invasion to claim all Lebanese territory south of the Litani river, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer simply referred to the attack as "what some are calling a new Normandy," and "Israel’s D-Day"; a reference to the Allied powers' invasion of Nazi territory in World War II.

When Blitzer began to discuss that day’s events on the battlefield, he, like dozens of other American broadcasters, spoke of Hezbollah rockets landing in "Israeli neighbourhoods". Israel on the other hand, retaliated by bombing "Hezbollah strongholds".

But in reality, these strongholds were also neighbourhoods and support among their residents for Hezbollah could not have been any less than Israeli citizens' support for their own military. If Hezbollah areas cannot be considered neighbourhoods, then why not refer to Israeli neighbourhoods as "Israeli military strongholds"?

After all, a recent report in the Guardian newspaper in Britain by Jonathan Cook alleged that Israel also built military installations and mortar batteries near residential areas. In any case, the lack of balance is problematic: it conveys humanity on the one side and vague militarism on the other.

Omitted

As another example, Blitzer conducted one of two CNN interviews with the grieving wife of an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hezbollah. But where were the parallel interviews with the families of Lebanese held by the Israelis? How could audiences really identify with the other side if all of its emotive, humanising details were repeatedly omitted?

In a show that aired on MSNBC during the first week of the conflict, Chris Matthews illustrated daily life in Haifa by comparing it with a city in California; "very modern", he explained. Cosmopolitan Beirut, on the other hand, where the nightlife rivals any capital in Western Europe, did not get a mention in the entire show.

Detail from Israel also entered the religious realm during a separate broadcast with Rita Cosby, an anchorwoman who qualified a report of rocket attacks on the city of Nazareth as an attack on the "home town of Jesus".

But where was the mention of Jesus’s wine-making miracle in the Lebanese town of Qana during the mass killings that took place there? And what of the many other biblical references across Lebanon, in Tyre and Sidon when the two cities were subjected to continuous Israeli shelling?

In the end, some broadcasters ditched the metaphors altogether. Tucker Carlson, an MSNBC talk-show host, actually criticised Israel’s tactics in fighting Hezbollah while interviewing an Israeli spokesperson. But he made no qualms with objectivity during his concluding statement. "I hope you succeed," he told the Israeli official. "And I hope you do it quickly."

Can one imagine an American broadcaster ever conveying such enthusiastic support to a Hezbollah official?

29 Comments:

Blogger James Quigley said...

So they mentioned the 4 UN soldiers killed, and even mentioned their were emails being sent for weeks saying they were getting bombed, but they carefully left out how the UN soldier said it wasn't Israel's fault as Hezbollah was firing missiles from on and around the UN post? Al Jazeera talks about as straight with no spin as Rush Limbaugh.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Bryansaid said...

I must agree, Al Jazeera in not a creditable news organiztion by any standards. I also must question this sites judgement for using them as a news source, I have enjoyed this blog up till now and hope this was just a temp. lack of judgement

5:03 PM  
Blogger Solomon2 said...

I think Al-Jaz is as close to a good, independent news organization as the Arab world has at the moment. They included enough information in the report so that just about anyone can read in between the lines and figure out what really happened. I wonder if the Arabic version is the same way.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Doc said...

I agree with solomon2--Al Jaz is comparable to CNN reporting.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Doc said...

So Israel will lift its blockade Thurs evening. Good job Mr. Annan.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Al Jaz is a terrorist news source. They show people having their heads chopped off. they spread fear and hate.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Doc said...

they dont condone that shit--they are just reporting it. someone has to show it, otherwise who will know that it happened and get outraged?

8:07 PM  
Blogger Doc said...

they dont condone that shit--they are just reporting it. someone has to show it, otherwise who will know that it happened and get outraged?

8:07 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

They're a direct link to terrorists and always have been. They act like a news agency but they promte anti western/jewish info.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Doc said...

the same way fox or cnn promotes anti-islam, anti-arab.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

During the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, I monitored both al-Jazeera and CNN regularly; with only a few exceptions the stories were pretty much the same. While there were some overtones of culturl bias, it really did not affect the reporting of the facts. But like CC, I found the reporting to be a bit sanitary.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Gee always refering back to CNN & Fox and other forms of news. I guess if I listened to Air Amreica I could be as smart as you guys......

which News Agency is approved by the Dem's in America? It has to be approved by the Dems or it will be false in your eye's.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Doc said...

The dems are just as stupid as the repubs.

we are just saying that the us media, no matter what angle, is just as biased as other world media. in fact, more biased.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Good God if you hate everything American get the FUCK out of our country. You whine bitch and complain but why are you here you using bitch? Go home, go back to Leb where people want you there. Stop living the American dream and bashing us in the same day. You are so fucked up it's not even funny. You have nothing good to say about us so leave once and for all. I'm actually starting to like Howrad again, you've set the stabdard for hating leb's.

11:56 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Oh ya Doc, don't go away mad just go away.

Get off welfare, stop using food stamps in short get a job. Save some money and move your knuckle dragging moronic family and go home. I here their a few thousand people short over there. WEll only one thousand, Israel held back a bit.

12:05 AM  
Blogger kevin said...

I Have to agree all new agency's are bi est al-Jazeera is no more or less then CNN or FOX. CNN is pro democrat and FOX leans to the the republican view. I don't think they are intentional but reporters have opinion and people with like opinion tend to want to join with others of the same. The answer is to read many different sources.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Doc said...

yes, kevin. exactly

1:08 AM  
Blogger Doc said...

yes, kevin. exactly

1:08 AM  
Blogger Doc said...

yes, kevin. exactly

1:08 AM  
Blogger Peach said...

Hey sammy poop! Guess who's back?!

2:44 AM  
Blogger RS said...

During this conflict the most accurate and unbiased television news stations by far reporting the war were Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, both in Arabic. They were far more objective than any of the commenters above (those who cannot understand Arabic that is) have any idea about. This article on their website is a clear example of that. It is also written by the editor of Middle East Broadcast magazine who knows his stuff, and one of the bloggers on this site, Habib Battah. The questions that the article itself poses are perhaps really what might be discussed by the readers and commenters of Beirut Live.

2:56 AM  
Blogger clare said...

It seems to me that all news agencies present a slanted view because all reporters and analysts have their own opinions and it is probably no different in the Arab world. I think the perception here is that Al-Jazeera is terrorist friendly and anything they say is suspect. I'm not saying it is true, just what the perception is. It seems that when civilians are killed anywhere the notion of "human shields" comes into play. I've always been sceptical of this idea and remember when it was used in the first war with Iraq. I'm beginning to doubt alot of what I see in the news.

2:59 AM  
Blogger HCB said...

Here's a good example of the unforgivable stupidity of our idiot in chief, Bush. Remember when he couldn't get the body armor for the troops? What's killing the troops in Iraq today, among other things, are RPG's - rocket propelled grenades. Israel has developed a system to intercept and destroy them. The United States has tested it. Israel's tests showed it worked 90% of the time. The United States tests showed it worked 100% of the time. So - lots of excitement and let's buy them.

Not so fast, says the Army - and remember who's the commander in chief. Raytheon is "developing" its own RPG defeat system and it will be ready in five or six years - maybe. Trouble is, if we buy the Israeli system, there's no reason to continue paying Raytheon millions of dollars to try developing a competing system. So - we'll just have to do without until Raytheon completes its work.

That's our commander in chief and his little idiots running around pretending to know what they are doing and talking about. Kill the soldiers while we protect the milions of dollars Raytheon expects to make.

And keep the troops there forever so we can keep on spending money on bombs and rockets forever. But not on protecting the troops.

Why is it Bush's fault? Because, as he likes to say over and over - he's the commander in chief. If he says it's not his fault, start removing heads.

3:44 AM  
Blogger HCB said...

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14686871/
Link to the article about the "Trophy" anti-RPG system and how we're refusing to use it

3:46 AM  
Blogger clare said...

I voted for Bush, but I never agreed with the idea of war in Iraq. I just never understood why we went there and cannot understand what we are hoping for or what plan there is to achieve it. Very confusing. I think the war on terror became confused somehow and we ended up with a situation where everyone was afraid to disagree with an Iraq invasion because of 9/11. There was really no discussion from the media or political opponents because of fear of appearing weak on terror and most people somehow believed it was payback even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. But given the choices we had I would probably reluctantly vote for Bush again because of other issues.

6:34 AM  
Blogger clare said...

I voted for Bush, but I never agreed with the idea of war in Iraq. I just never understood why we went there and cannot understand what we are hoping for or what plan there is to achieve it. Very confusing. I think the war on terror became confused somehow and we ended up with a situation where everyone was afraid to disagree with an Iraq invasion because of 9/11. There was really no discussion from the media or political opponents because of fear of appearing weak on terror and most people somehow believed it was payback even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. But given the choices we had I would probably reluctantly vote for Bush again because of other issues.

6:34 AM  
Blogger HCB said...

I think, Clare, the problem was the choice - Between Bush and Gore and then between Bush and Kerry. Dumb and Dumber both times. Bush brought nothing with him, saw 9/11 as an opportunity and rode it on his way to show his dad how he should have handled Iraq. He started with his dream of being a fireman on the WTC pile and then with being a cop while he told the UN off on the Iraq run-up and then with being a carrier pilot when he flew in to announce "mission accomplished" and then with being a folksy hero during Katrina when he said, "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job, here." Bush's problem is that he is constantly trying to prove to himself that he's right and that he's smart. He listens to all the wrong people telling him how smart he is and what he should do.

I don't think Kerry would have done any better. There's a good chance he'd have done worse. Bush is a fool and Kerry is a simpering wimp. And Gore? Good lord ...

However, until voters start thinking and stop deciding based on fear and nonsense, it will never change. Bush keeps us looking backward - worried and looking over our shoulders and willing to spend blood and money to protect ourselves from the bogey man. Bin Laden must be laughing like a loon - the "war on terror" is costing lives and our children's future while Bin Laden does nothing more than say, "I'm gonna getcha." Our education system is failing, our health care system is failing, our military is being worn out and we're spending a couple billion a week on running with the hope of standing still in Iraq and Afganistan.

But how do we get good, smart people to accept the hassle and grind of running for high office? By default, we wind up with people who aren't too smart, want prestige and recognition and are willing to do what it takes to get it. That's why Colin Powell said no and why Bush let the "Swift Boat" liars loose.

"All politics is local." Do you know some good, smart people who would like to be president?

2:34 PM  
Blogger M2Timechange said...

Hcb, can we find a good and smart leader to be President?

The Leadership character model of a good leader

Leadership is about character – “who you are” not what you do. Without integrity, leadership behaviour rings hollow. Also notice that the leadership scale is balanced between the qualities of respect and responsibility. When there is respect in an organization, everyone feels a sense of partnership, equality and fairness.

Leaders must develop and refine the following qualities of integrity, respect, responsibility, accountability and emotional mastery.

Integrity

Leaders must be honest, credible and completely trustworthy. A person with integrity doesn't twist facts for personal advantage, is willing to stand up for what is right, keeps all promises, and can be counted on to always tell the truth. A person with integrity makes sound decisions, especially when faced with moments of indecision, temptation and conflict. Without integrity, no leader can be successful.

Respect

Respect helps create a culture of partnership and teamwork. Leaders who demonstrate respect show an unconditional high regard for others, acknowledging their values and people, regardless of their behaviours. Respect comes through in all situations, even during times of conflict or criticism.

Responsibility

Great leaders accept full responsibility for personal success and for the success of projects, teams, and the entire organization. Becoming responsible requires developing and refining the following core qualities of Accountability.

Accountability

Leaders must hold themselves 100% accountable for making decision and is not afraid to hold others accountable.

Controlling anger may be the most important aspect of emotional mastery for those in powerful positions. Outbursts of anger can quickly destroy a sense of organizational equity and partnership.

If current leaders’ posses and exhibit 60% of the above characters we could consider them a good leader and we shall leave peacefully. We shall travel any where in the world wihtout any fear.

3:09 PM  
Blogger clare said...

I agree hcb, there was really no choice in the previous 2 elections. The first time Bush ran I could not bring myself to vote for him and voted for Pat Buchanan knowing of course that he did not stand a chance. I voted for Clinton the first time, but not the second.Unfortunatly I am not excited about anyone. The republicans seem to be holding onto a sinking ship and the democrats have not had the courage to stand up against the war until recently. They have no credibility with me because of this. I try to vote my conscience and always vote for life regardless of party. I wish there was someone local who looked promising!

2:54 AM  

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