Black Hearts and Red Spades: The Media Gets the “Intifada” Wrong

I first began blogging at the invitation of Sol of Solomonia. I am posting those proto-Augean Stables entries here, and will, after a few days, redate them to their original time-stamp.

In his book on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn cites an experiment to illustrate the problem that people have registering information that contradicts their expectations (what he calls “anomalies” to the prevailing paradigm). The subject sat and watched pictures of playing cards flashed on a screen in front of him and identified them. In the deck were some cards with red spades and black hearts. Initially subjects ignored the anomalous data and read the cards as normal ones. Only when the picture was held up for long periods of time could the subjects identify the anomaly. Only once they readjusted their expectations did they then recognize these cards.

We have a similar phenomenon, only far more serious in its consequences, in the way that the media handled this picture that was taken five years ago today in Jerusalem.


AP: “An Israeli policeman and a Palestinian on the Temple Mount.”

The AP caption, repeated by the NYT, identifies the bloodied civilian as a Palestinian, the policeman brandishing a club — implicitly the author of the youth’s wounds — as an Israeli, and the location as the Temple Mount. I guess one out of three IDs isn’t bad for AP when it comes to the Middle East conflict, although the thrust of the errors literally transforms the meaning of the photo. What the AP did with this caption is to impose upon it the firm expectations of their Politically Correct Paradigm: since the Palestinians are the David and Israel the Goliath, then a bloodied civilian near an Israeli with a club must be the soldier’s victim. And since Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount the day before had provoked Palestinian rage to which the Israelis had responded with deadly force, the injuries must have been inflicted on the Temple Mount.

What happened differs radically.

The victim, Tuvya Grossman, was an American seminary student in Jerusalem whose taxi-driver went through an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem where rioting crowds dragged him from the car, beat and stabbed him nearly to death. He managed to escape and reach the place where this Israeli soldier protected him from his pursuers. This story here actually illustrates the Jihad Paradigm, not the Politically Correct Paradigm. Palestinians, whipped into a rage by false rumors that Sharon had desecrated the al-Aqsa mosque, broke into wild rioting, which Israelis, as much as possible, constrained with non-lethal weapons (like this baton). The Jewish civilian here is the victim, and the Israeli David, scantily armed, stands up to the Palestinian mob.

(Nota Bene: The very term intifada illustrates the way in which the Palestinians themselves — part of the greater Arab world (300 million) and Muslim world (1 billion) — view the relationship of forces. The word, before it became a term for uprising, means to shrug off, as in the way a camel or a horse shakes its hide to chase away a fly.)

It took the NYT 4 days to acknowledge the error identifying the victim as “Tuvya Grossman, an American student in Israel” and a week to do a story on the beating. But by then the damage had been done. Not only was the PCP firmly set in place, but the picture had become an emblem of Palestinian victimization. (This incident triggered the formation of the media watchdog group, Honest Reporting).

This subsequent retraction, and a successful lawsuit against both AP and the French paper Libération, had little impact on those who wanted to believe in Israeli villainy. As in the case of the poison accusations of 1983, Palestinian and Arab media, like the Egyptian Government and their Post Colonial Paradigm supporters, have continued to use the picture as part of their Palestinian victim narrative. To this day, Tuvya Grossman’s picture adorns a poster calling on everyone in the world to boycott Coca Cola in order to stop Israelis from killing Palestinians.

No picture better illustrates the mood of the media at the outbreak of the intifada. “Already already listening” as Werner Erhardt might have put it. The storyboard was up, they just needed the material to start pinning to it. On September 29, it was Tuvya Grossman. The next day, it was Muhamed al Durah.

21 Responses to Black Hearts and Red Spades: The Media Gets the “Intifada” Wrong

  1. Bird Dog says:

    Great. Another Thomas Kuhn fan. “Paradigm” has been overused, but only because it is such a useful concept.

  2. RL says:

    So, did i use it well, or over-use it, here in this post and here in our discussion of political paradigms about the Middle East conflict?

  3. Lawrence Barnes says:

    The trouble with words like “paradigm” is that they too often begin well and then degenerate. People soon use them to mean all sorts of things. Precision is the first casualty and the words become empty shibboleths used by phonies. Best example I can think of: “parameter.” (Almost nobody needs to use this word, and almost nobody knows what it means. Wannabes started tossing it around because it sounds academic or maybe scientific.) Second-best example: “civil society,” which I hasten to add has been well clarified on the Second Draft website; would that the clarification were widely known and applied. Third-best: “dysfunctional.” Your turn….

    In no academic field has there been greater abuse of taxonomy than psychology. Today we stigmatize a person by labeling him anally retentive or schizoid, but few know much more than the terms, which always were of debatable usefulness even for clinical psychologists.

    Jargon imposes an order on reality by resorting to inductive abstractions that lop off corners, trim subtelties, and collapse complexities. Once we have a trendy neologism, we view the real world differently, as if the order our abstractions impose on it were genuine. That’s an invitation to error, for there are no abstractions out there in the real world; there are, for example, literally no instances of a type. That’s our invention; types do not exist. This scholastic love of terminology is the confabulatory wont of the theologian applied to what is claimed to be a science (psychology), and more’s the pity.

    I hate to see the ignorance promoted by an abundance of needless terms spread to politics and history. Whenever inventive taxonomy dictates to epistemology, we are in trouble. But we almost never know it because our language — jargon, to be specific — tells us we are doing just fine.

    Yes, I know I’m flogging a dead horse. I guess that’s the sado-equus-ademptus paradigm (SEAP) at work.

  4. [...] he media calling genocide this half-hour? I remember what genocide is. If before they were shot down in the streets like wild dogs [...]

  5. [...] , was to challenge the paradigm, with troubling consequences. Indeed the very day before, a similar distortion of images from the reg [...]

  6. [...] ld be hard for the Grey Lady to put them on the front page. It would violate too directly the image that they persistently pitch, [...]

  7. [...] of anomalies to paradigms, Kuhn spoke about the disorientation people felt when they were shown a black heart or red spade. Viewing the rushes puts the attentive viewer into a a kind of information vertigo — a [...]

  8. Mitchell Dobrenen says:

    I just had to laugh out loud that the first thing I saw on the page was “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” In college, back in the late 70′s, I was in a class that was required to read one book a week. Of all the books assigned this was the one book that I didn’t read. This book has haunted me ever since. In the mid-80′s it popped up while I was working. In the 90′s it snuck into my life again. And now in the 21st century it has come back again!!! Yes! Yes! Yes! I have read you, now go away and leave me alone! If you haven’t read this book you must.

  9. Mitchell Dobrenen says:

    Lawrence Barnes makes several good points about the meaning of words. As soon as I break out my dictionary and figure out what he actually said I’m sure that I will agree even more with his points.

    I often feel that the media and politicians use words that they know the general public will mis-define, or simple nod their heads in ignorance of their true meaning which the media and politicians hide.

  10. [...] like a coin about the size of a Guinea. Turn the exceptional into the banal, and keep moving on. Red spades, black hearts? I don’t see any. As for “demonizing” the Palestinians, heaven forfend. If some [...]

  11. [...] failure of the “human rights” community to understand what’s going on: black hearts and red spades galore. Melanie Phillips has a superb column which analyzes the current, mind-boggling situation in [...]

  12. [...] in this fundamental failure of the “human rights” community to understand what’s going on: black hearts and red spades [...]

  13. [...] a red spade for the black hearts. « Redefining a Vampire: Europundit’s spoof on the death of [...]

  14. [...] felt the heavy hand of an advocacy-ridden press cramming everything they can, into their pre-potted Israeli-Goliath vs. Palestinian David morality tale. Ever since I discovered Pallywood in 2003, I realized that our Western mainstream [...]

  15. [...] now, almost thirteen years later, some journalists have at least problematized the Israeli-Goliath/Palestinian-David framing story: maybe that doesn’t cover all the cases. It is, after all, a journalistic task to give us the [...]

  16. [...] can be so strong that people can literally not see that a deck has some playing cards with red spades and black hearts. The authors note the psychological discomfort felt by people confronting these anomalies (which [...]

  17. I usually do not write a leave a response, but I looked through some responses on Black Hearts and Red Spades: The Media Gets the Intifada Wrong | Augean Stables.
    I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you do not mind.
    Is it just me or does it give the impression like some of the comments appear like they are
    left by brain dead individuals? :-P And, if you are writing on
    other places, I would like to follow everything fresh you have to post.
    Would you list of all of your public pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  18. [...] fact it is Enderlin and France2 who are using the courts to bully Karsenty into silence. Shades of Tuvia Grossman: we know who the aggressor must be, so we’re rallying around our wounded David, even when he’s [...]

  19. I really Think article, “Black Hearts and Red Spades:
    The Media Gets the Intifada Wrong | Augean Stables” was in fact just right!
    I personallycannot agree together with u even more!

    Finally appears like Icame across a website really worth looking through.
    Thanks a lot, Andre

  20. [...] nearly beaten to death by rioting Palestinians and saved by an Israeli border policeman becomes, at the hands of an AP caption writer, a Palestinian beaten by that same border guard. Since the Palestinians are by definition innocent, [...]

  21. [...] So what’s wrong with Orme, who is no freshman writing his first paper, but a professional journalist who had been writing for the NYT since 1985? There are many possible, overlapping explanations, including the problems this would pose for the “framing narrative” of the conflict to which the press — NYT included — subscribed quite profoundly. [...]

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