The Fauxtographer’s Temptations: Advocacy Journalism and the Lebanese War

Stuart, one of the commentaters at this site has sent in a translation of a Le Monde article on the Fauxtography Scandal. It is emblematic of everything that ails the MSM, everything that created and maintains the Augean Stables.

I will post a fisking later of the whole piece in his translation, followed by the original for those who either prefer French or want to check his/my translation. But in the meantime, there is a particularly revealing passage at the end of the article about matters of “unethical behavior” among journalists working for Western media outlets in the Middle East, and the reluctance to reveal its presence that, I think, sheds a bright light on the problems we face. So I will first post this segment of the analysis here, and follow with the full fisking later.

War in Lebanon and Fauxtography

The conflict has triggered a controversy on the Net of conservative bloggers suspecting images of being manipulated.

…………

The photographers admit with difficulty the existance of little arrangements. One of them admitted on the Net having seen photographers in Lebanon asking rescuers to pose with the victims adding that “the dead bodies, they were real.”

Today he regrets having made the statement and wishes to remain anonymous. “I wanted to encourage the handful of photographers who have carried out such condemnable practices to act with greater ethics.” In reality, my statement mostly harmed the Lebanese people. Rather than reflecting on the atrocities carried out on one side and the other, each one is searching in the images for the means to prove that there were no war crimes…”

Now as a medievalist who is trained to look for evidence of supressed material, this is precious. The journalist herself tells us that photographers admit these manipulations “with difficulty” — obviously they’re not supposed to do it, and if they can they’ll deny it. Like the ad for mouthwash that has someone asking advice “for a friend with bad breath,” the reluctant photographer admits that a “handful” of photographers do this, but hastily adds “the bodies were real.” (As if manipulating real dead bodies for sensational pictures were somehow a mitigating circumstance.)

But even that is too much. He now regrets his remarks and seeks to assure his anonymity. In the primary community to which this photographer “reports back,” this was not a “good” thing to say. So he self-censors.

Who is it who so objects to these remarks that it makes him regret them? What is this primary group to which he answers back? Not, apparently, his public, who clearly would like to know what’s going on “behind the scenes” as it were.

He insists of anonymity. Why? What does he risk having it known that he’s admitted that a minimal amount of staging goes on? The obvious answer is, he risks offending the powers that be on the scene, i.e., Hezbollah, and thus at the very least losing “access” to more pictures, and more seriously losing the use of any or all of his limbs. But to say that outright would be to admit to intimidation. That’s also not supposed to happen.

Instead we get a marvelous piece of ideological justification that clues us in to the intellectual world this anonymous photographer inhabits and reports from, and answers back to.

In reality, my statement mostly harmed the Lebanese people. Rather than reflecting on the atrocities carried out on one side and the other, each one is searching in the images for the means to prove that there were no war crimes…”

Wow! Let me unpack this for those not used to the language of PCP advocacy journalism (i.e., those who brought us Pallywood). Our anonymous’ statement “mostly harmed the Lebanese people,” and therefore he should not let his public (us!) know even that watered-down admission. Among other things, this means that he gauges his statements according to their effect and not either their relevance or accuracy.

According to what criteria do we judge this “greater good”? The answer appears to be: “According to a calculus in which the perceived interests of the Lebanese people are at the front of my concerns, indeed sufficiently strong that these perceived interests override my willingness to give outsiders information that they might find important to know.”

In other words, “I won’t offer them any support for the argument that they’re being given Pallywood as news.” This is remarkably close to the remark that Charles Enderlin made to Esther Shapira that “I will not give the Israeli Army the rushes so they can whitewash themselves.”

He’s saying in effect that as part of his advocacy journalism, he militates for that which he believes to be the “right” or “deserving” side, and controls information with an eye to implementing that which works towards his goal. In this case, “the good of the Lebanese people.”

So what issues determine what the good of the Lebanese people is?

Rather than reflecting on the attrocities carried out on one side and the other, each one is searching in the images for the means to prove that there were no war crimes…”

Now that’s a really good one. Strictly speaking, it is strictly neutral. “Both sides” are carrying out atrocities; “each one” is searching for the means to exonerate its side; let us journalists and photographers not let that happen.

But the reality here is, that Hezbollah is not trying to exonerate its side from targetting Israeli civilians — it revels in the number of Israelis killed. And of course, Israelis don’t orchestrate media events around dead civilians. Indeed the media seems largely uninterested in showing Israeli civilian casualties, and none of the outspoken moral institutions — from the UN to the NGOs to the “statesmen” seem inclined to hold Hezbollah accountable.

Hezbollywood, on the other hand — the images here in question — serve a particular one-sided goal: they consistently demonize the Israelis and if not justify, certainly to buoy the hopes of Hezbollah. That’s why Hezbollah spends so much time courting and intimidating the press…. it matters.

So even-handed appearances aside, this remark basically means: “I’m sorry I mentioned the staging because it gives Israel the opportunity to get off the moral hook by claiming that phony coverage is manipulating Western outrage. Moreover, as I see it, it is in the interests of the Lebanese people to have Israel on that moral hook since they are the ones bombing the Lebanese, and getting them to stop will make the Lebanese situation better.”

What if PCP is Wrong? The Consequences of Well-Intentioned Error

But now we come to our real problem. What if our photographer — talented perhaps, but not a particularly deep thinker on matters of morality and geopolitics — is part of a community that systematically misreads the situation with the mistake only a beginner in liberalism persists in repeating: liberal cognitive egocentrism? That is to say, he systematically interprets the “other side” (the one whose culture is so different from his own) in the most generous liberal terms? What if his exclusive concern for the Lebanese people and loud silence about the good of the Israeli people reflects the degree to which his Politically Correct Paradigm (PCP) has imbibed the demonizing of the Israelis — they are the Goliath, why should he give them any sympathy?

But what if there are dead bodies here in such profusion on both sides of the line not because Israelis like to kill innocent civilians (Hizbullah’s account), but because Lebanon is in the grip of religious zealots who worship death and thrive on it? What if the vast weight of responsibility for the catastrophe that just befell the southern Lebanese was a) a mere fraction of the devastation that would have reigned down had it been, say, the Syrians who were reacting to an attack by declared mortal enemies hiding among civilians, and b) overwhelmingly the result of both long-range and short-range behavior from Hizbullah that systematically sought not only to shield themselves behind their civilians to take advantage of Israel’s constraints, but also to further spread hatred and violence throughout the world with their lethal narratives.

What if… ?

Then the entire reasoning of our photographer and the larger journalistic culture in which we need to place his solidarity (i.e., his desire for anonymity among, his regrets at breaking rank with) is working against his and their stated concern, the Lebanese people. What if the peer-group pressure of the an unconscious advocacy journalism pushes people to make terrible mistakes, to play the dupe to the demopaths, and, as with the Palestinian case, by running the “lethal narratives,” empower the very people who victimize the Lebanese people. In other words, what if our well-intentioned journalists were actually encouraging Jihad with their advocacy journalism based on the PC Paradigm and not the Jihad Paradigm.

One would imagine that a true advocacy reporter — i.e., someone truly committed to the principles of a civil society and concerned for civilians on both sides — would to expose the full range of sources of Lebanese suffering, rather than this confected demonization of the Israelis intended to help the Lebanese.

And certainly, among these sources, our intrepid reporter would emphasize to Westerners who have difficulty imagining what this world is like unless they’ve studied the Middle Ages and the early Modern period — what it means to be increasingly in the grip of a powerful mafioso-like organization which invokes religious war with calls to genocide, promotes a death cult, targets enemy civilians and easily sacrifices its own people, desecrating the corpses for PR victories.

But he need not be that much of a hero… just an honest and reasonably modest individual who does his job as he’s supposed to. With rare exceptions, journalists are not supposed to be visionaries who make decisions about what to tell people based on how that will lead them to the “higher good.” Journalists are supposed to give us clean, accurate, relevant information and let us make decisions as to what it means, and how to get to the “higher good.” The difference between propaganda and journalism is that one manipulates and the other informs; the former disempowers, the latter empowers the reader. Our journalists have no business making these kinds of decisions, for which they are completely unqualified.

Here what the readers (i.e., we still living in free societies and capable of making decisions on the basis of a free press) need most is an honest appraisal of how accurate the information our MSM provide us with. If the information is staged, if photographers break their ethical rules in order to get “exciting” pictures that get into the MSM, and if those “spectacular” photos lead the opinion makers to get morally hysterical about one side of the conflict while overlooking the moral depravity of the other… then I’d say we’re all in trouble.

The word is that when US Intelligence people wanted advice at the end of WWII, they went to medievalists because we’re trained to reconstruct a large picture from fragmentary evidence. When I saw Talal’s work, heard Enderlin’s reaction, and watched Bob Simon “cover” the Al Durah affair, I realized that Pallywood never could have happened without a wide-ranging and systemic failure in the MSM.

And nothing embodies that failure better than this passage from a typical product of Le Monde, on the brave new world of accountable MSM that the blogosphere heralds. Nothing makes it clearer that the members of the MSM who do work in the Middle East have to come clean about what’s going on. In a time of crisis like the current, we cannot afford a MSM that stinks like the Augean Stables.

Global Jihad Warming and the Media Greenhouse Effect

And when the MSM plays into this manipulation rather than denounce it, they not only sacrifice the innocent Lebanese people who do not want this religious mafia to take over and use them as sacrificial shields, but they damage civil society the world over. On the one hand, they blind us to the deeds and motivations of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, so that demopaths can ask us to join demonstrations under the rubric: “We are all Hizbullah!”. And on the other hand, they encourage the hatreds and angry desires for revenge that feed the global Jihadi appeal. Global Jihad warming shot up by 5 degrees after Qana as Muslims the world over looked in growing horror and outrage at the spectacles of these dead children milked transmitted by a misguided and eager media.

If it had turned into an international PR disaster for Hezbollywood, in which the world looked aghast at the ghoulish manipulation of dead bodies, whose very deaths were primarily the responsibility of a religious death cult, one can imagine that the temperature might have dropped considerably. Not only would the Jihadis not have found new fuel for their hatreds, but the real moderates would have found much strength.

But instead of exposing Hezbollah, our photographer reports in ways that channel Hezbollah’s agenda in the name of the Lebanese people. Instead of helping a people in the death-grip of a vicious elite, the media helps the vicious elite by broadcasting it’s poisonous propaganda as news — “the bodies were really dead.” And in so doing, they act like a hot-house, increasing the temperature of Global Jihadi passions by advertising these lethal narratives and incensing the world. How can a Muslim anywhere be anything but outraged that the USA would support a bunch of murdering maniacs like the picture he gets of the Israelis from the MSM?

Why?

Why does the same media who never cease to chide George Bush, Benedict XVI and any other critic of Islam with “making things worse” engage in such consistently dangerous activity that almost unquestionably makes this worse. Why don’t they speak out? Why don’t they denounce?

There are many troubling answers to this question including psychological ones. Here I want to focus on two: Intimidation and Advocacy.

We do not know, and our media will not let us know, just how bad the intimidation. If you don’t look closely at incidents like the kidnapping of Bob Simon (January 21, 1991), or the recent forced conversion of two Fox correspondants, then you have very little clue as to the degree of terror against the media that is currently operative in Arab, increasingly any Muslim culture. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, the assassination and kidnapping of reporters became a chronic feature of the landscape in the 1970s and 1980s, just the time Pallywood got going according to our current estimation.

This should not be surprising. It is characteristic of honor-shame cultures that criticism of those with power is viewed as an assault and a legitimate object of retaliation… all the more when a death-cult takes over.

What appears in the allusions to intimidation our anonymous journalist has made — and whose implications seem to have escaped Le Monde‘s reporter — suggests that this culture of enforced solidarity operates at nearly full force in this arena of Middle East newsreporting. It’s the only way to understand how Pallywood not only takes place but persists, year after year… how something like Al Durah can remain uncorrected for now six long years of constant, visible damage.

But there is an alternative explanation: that these journalists are committed ideologues and advocates, that they either don’t know what they’re encouraging global Jihad or don’t agree that that’s what they’re doing, people like anonymous who readily back down on even mentioning photographers giving into the temptation to “fix” scenes, “for the good of the Lebanese people.”

These are the ones who must decide now, whether they will continue to ignore the stench of the Augean Stables, continue to call those who pay attention to it “right-wing,” continue to adhere to a now clearly destructive — as well as dishonest — paradigm that holds Israel fundamentally responsible for Arab suffering.

These are the ones who need to find enough modesty to consider that they might most resemble the members of the Emperor’s court the day he processed naked in front of his people, who have swallowed a “line” that denies the very reality before our eyes, who need to be a good deal more professional and less ideological. As I said to Charles Enderlin the first day I met him and watched the rushes: “at least consider as a working hypothesis the possibility that you’ve been duped.” (And please don’t answer as he did: “Impossible, they would never even think of cheating like that because I’d catch it right away.”)

Time for honesty, no matter how painful. It is not for you to decide what information is “good for the Lebanese, or Palestinian people.”

An Appeal to Members of the MSM

So please, Mr. Anonymous, and all the other reporters and photographers who know better… how about some honesty? How about some accountability not to your handlers who give you “access” but to your readers who depend on you? How about some small cracks in the omertà that has created our Augean Stables?

Then people might be able to assess for themselves who they hold responsible for the victimization of the Lebanese people, rather than you telling us. Then people might be able to defend against an emotional manipulation by the Jihadis that plays on precisely those humane feelings that these Jihadis do not share (indeed they despise), in order to demonize Israelis, who do share those concerns for life and innocence.

That’s how blood libels work. They project the hatred of the libelers onto the libeled and hope to arouse violent hatred with the resulting tale. Why on earth would our modern MSM want to vehiculate such medieval cruelties?

5 Responses to The Fauxtographer’s Temptations: Advocacy Journalism and the Lebanese War

  1. Barbara says:

    A famous Time correspondant is revealed to have been a senior North Vietnamese Intelligence Agent – and all of his erstwhile colelagues are quite happy about it! (Except it seems for Peter Arnett, bless his heart)

    http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/050523fa_fact4

  2. Eliyahu says:

    Wow, Richard.
    You compare our times to the Middle Ages, perhaps the hysteria after the Black Death or the Peasants’ Crusade, or the fanatic jihads. Unfortunately, the comparison is all too apt as we seem to be fast regressing, thanks to the media and the politicians and the NGOs and other do-gooders, and so on.

    Back on earth, I love the term “the Lebanese people.” Perhaps they are brethren of the “Iraqi people” and just about as real. We may ask if this is the same Lebanese people that was slaughtering each other over the 15 year civil war. Or does the Hizbullah represent the true LEBANESE PEOPLE, in the abstract, Hegelian sense, perhaps, even though the Shi`ites are a minority, albeit a large one? Do the majority of Lebanese have the right to be considered part of the LEBANESE PEOPLE if they reject Hizbullah domination of their country and intimidation of their government? Likewise, is there really an Iraqi people insurging against Yankee imperialism when the overwhelming portion of the victims of the “insurgency” are Iraqi civilians slaughtered by fellow Muslim Iraqis [mostly Sunnis killing Shi`ites, although the Shi`ites are getting their licks in too]??? We recall that in imperial Rome, everything was done in the name of the SPQR, THE ROMAN SENATE AND PEOPLE, although this Roman people was a minority of the population. And anyhow, is the abstract LEBANESE PEOPLE allowed to massacre the Israeli people, which is what Hizbullah was dearly and clearly trying to do?? Or perhaps the Israelis, being mainly Jews, do not deserve to be called a people, but merely a millet, an oppressed, degraded religious community under Islamic overlordship? Stalin said that the Jews were no longer a nation since they did not have a common territory or language or economic life. Well, now the Israelis do, but Commie prejudices die hard. So the Commies can agree with the jihadists who are likewise patronized by the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Arnie Toynbee’s home estate.

    by the way, on the intimidation of journalists in Lebanon, see Barbara Newman’s book, called something like Covenant with Death in Beirut [or some such title]. She names names and describes the methods of intimidation and corruption of journalists during the civil war.

  3. Cynic says:

    In the Arab-Israeli conflict, the assassination and kidnapping of reporters became a chronic feature of the landscape in the 1970s and 1980s, just the time Pallywood got going according to our current estimation.

    Oh how apposite this is:

    The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate strongly condemned the kidnapping of Abu Amr, saying it was the latest in a series of assaults on Palestinian journalists and media outlets in the Palestinian territories.

  4. [...] te: Le Monde article in blockquote bold; quotes from other sources in blockquote italic; a previous post of the end of the a [...]

  5. Abu Nudnik says:

    Indeed the media seems largely uninterested in showing Israeli civilian casualties,…

    That’s because the Israelis don’t want their dead to be shown on TV and the papers. They know how ghouls behave at the sight of Jewish blood. Remember the Ramallah lynchings and how the AFP videographer begged to be let back into the PA so he could continue to report while promising to follow “the rules?” i.e. a promise he would never publish anything to tarnish the reputation of the PA. That’s some objective journalism! Naturally, the Israelis stripped him of his accreditation: good thing too.

    The naivité of the Western public is dismaying: that’s because, though Marxism failed, the West is still guilty about colonialism which is only a natural outgrowth of high birthrates such as is now seen in the Islamic world. The West is infected with self-loathing and that’s why they see the other in a romantic haze. Perhaps the other has his faults too?

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