Stuart, one of the commentaters at this site has sent in a translation of a Le Monde article on the Fauxtography Scandal. It represents a good example of how ill-informed the French MSM is about their Augean Stables, and how ill-equipped to even understand much less deal with the challenge of the blogosphere in this regard. The author, Claire Guillot (CG) does not appear to be ill-intentioned; on the contrary, she seems to want to try and be even-handed. The results, however, are telling.
[Note: Le Monde article in blockquote bold; quotes from other sources in blockquote italic; a previous post of the end of the article has been included and developed.]
War in Lebanon and Fauxtography
The conflict has triggered a controversy on the Net of conservative bloggers suspecting images of being manipulated.
It was “Little Green Footballs” that broke the scandal at the beginning of August. The conservative American blog accused Adnan Hajj, stringer photographer of the Reuters Agency, of having manipulated by computer a photo of Beirut to thicken the smoke after an Israeli bombing. Indeed, the retouching was crude.
The agency presented its excuses and removed the incriminating photo. But the blog then presented as evidence another of Mr Hajj’s photos where he had duplicated a rocket fired by an Israeli plane. The photographer, who apparently does not know how to use Photoshop very well was sacked and all of his archives deleted.
“There was a chain of human errors” pleads Tom Szulkovenyi, director of photography at Reuters. “This story is contrary to all our principles and has never happened before.”
Of course, at this point, an astute journalist might say, “how can Tom Skzukolvenyi (TS) know this, especially given how he was fooled by the admittedly crude work of his stringer… and how can others check the validity of this claim, when TS has removed the large cache of photos from this apparently unreliable stringer from their archives, thus making any further examination of his work impossible? And the latest news from Reuters is that TS’s CEO Tom Glocer thinks just the opposite, that these matters are widespread.
But nothing like those observations follow… on to right-wing cabals:
“Reutergate” becomes the starting point of a cabal on the Internet: dozens of bloggers, for the most part Americans or Israelis, of the right or extreme right, self-declared “citizen journalists” who set themselves up to investigate from their living rooms. If you believe them, the case of the “fauxtography”, according to this neologism which is typical of the Internet, splatters the whole profession in Lebanon: photographs which have been manipulated or are manipulating, handed over to be retouched, or even set up to give a truncated image that is pro-Hezbollah, or even anti-semitic, of the conflict.
Wow! Nothing like letting your readership know just who they’re dealing with. Shades of Charles Enderlin dismissing his critics as “groupuscules d’extrême droite.” And like Enderlin and the rest of the die-hard, bien pensant “left,” this ready resort to splattering the whole group of critics, actually gets the issue exactly wrong. Most of the folks now labeled “right-wing” are actually refugees and exiles from a “left” that lives in a fantasy-world of denial. MENA is not right-wing; indeed it has an explicitly progressive agenda. They’re just not fellow travelers. Same with Charles Johnson, Roger Simon, Neo-Con, and many of the players in the blogosphere. They’re just not still in dogmatic slumber.
These attacks are taken up without caution by thousands of web surfers, sometimes relayed by the traditional media (the American station Fox News, the German tabloid Bild, the site of the Wall Street Journal), even by politicians. The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, qualified as “an urban myth” an Israeli attack aimed at two Red-Cross Ambulances on 23 July, basing his allegations on the site Zombieguide [sic], which found the impacts “suspect”.
Of all the things to pick on as an example! Few of the critiques were as probative as this. Has CG even read this material? “Suspect?” Rather: “The entire incident was a crude fabrication.
[Zombietime notes: UPDATE: After this essay was posted, the Red Cross removed the high-resolution ambulance photo from its site, in an apparent attempt to hide evidence. Subsequently a Red Cross official explained that they did so “in order to not to go into a controversy in order to keep the moral high ground on the issue.”
Of course CG, rather than address this case in any detail — has she read the evidence? — will shift to ground where she feels more solid.
The “proofs” furnished by the the blogs often rest on a misunderstanding of the work of photographers or the field. Thus, for example the dating of the images. The blogosphere cries set up when it sees the same dead little girl in Cana on 30 July at different moments in the day. “The time published on Yahoo! is that of the time it was loaded not that when the photograph was taken” explains the photographer Lefteris Patarakis (AP). “The photographers do not transmit all the photographs at the same time”.
Of course, that summary is as if frozen in time… that brief moment when Patarakis and AP had a rejoinder. The avalanche of evidence for staging hardly depended on that particular detail.
Another more morbid anecdote: when Lefteris Patarakis photographed bodies that had been taken out of the wreckage at Cana lined up, his photo was denounced on the Internet because one of them looked like it was getting up. When in fact it was a case of rigor mortis (stiffening of the body after death)…
I’m among those one who made the error, corrected it, and then pointed out a) that these were all bodies of dead men, when we were informed that 68 women and children died in the building. It turns out it was half the number, with men included.
It also happens that the web surfers become engulfed in the detail of the errors or inaccuracies in the texts accompanying the photos. The site of the New York Times published at the end of July a series of photographs by the American Tyler Hicks after the bombing of Tyre. In one, an inanimate man is being helped in the middle of the rubble. In another, there he is again, resuscitated, coming to help one of the victims! In fact, the man was trying to help the rescuers before being injured and being helped himself.
“In fact?” How does she know this? The details of the photo suggest anything but what she here presents as “fact.” On the contrary, it looks like, having done his work in the rubble, he wanted to get into a photo as a victim of Israeli bombing as well. What kind of injury can he have received from evacuation the wounded that would have him in this pose?
[Man, pictured earlier removing casualties from rubble in Tyre, mysteriously “down.” Note his green baseball cap clutched under his arm.]
“None of these photographs had been manipulated or set up” write Michel McNally, the photography head of the daily paper. (…) But an inaccurate heading could have led one to believe that this man was a victim of the bombings.”
This is remarkably assertive for a situation that he apparently does not know much about. The evidence for staging, especially among the local photographers, is strong, and in this case, with his rigid pose, no signs of injury, and his hat tucked under his arm, extremely likely.
The paper made a rapid correction.
They corrected their caption, but made no acknowledgment of the likely staging of the photograph: The man, according to the new caption. “had fallen and was hurt.”
But once the rumour was launched on the Web, nothing can stop it. This is where the bitterness of the photographers comes from: “The bloggers say that they are doing investigative journalism” explains Lefteris Patarakis, “but none has a superior, there is not verification, no process, they write what they want, without ever making corrections (…), But people don’t distinguish between that and the other media.
Well it might have been a good idea for CG to interview a blogger on this. I for one corrected immediately (without waiting for correction from outside), and received approval from the “dextrosphere” for that. On the other hand, Lefteris Patarakis has more than just this (questionably unfair) complaint lodged against him. He has a long record of problematic work to answer for… but apparently not to CG, who presents him as an honest and wronged man.
The Belgian photographer Bruno Stevens, who has worked a lot in Lebanon, remarks that often the bloggers act “in bad faith. They do not search for the truth, but mix truth and falsehood, to turn the debate so that we do not talk any more of massacres.”
Well, maybe he shouldn’t be talking of massacres, which generally refer to the indiscriminate and intentional slaughter of large numbers of people, not the accidental collateral damage caused by attacking an enemy’s military operation, or the death of one person.
Who’s in bad faith here? The bloggers who investigate staged scenes, or the photographers who film them? The people who want to know what’s going on “behind the scenes,” or journalists like Stevens who would deny us this knowledge lest we make it hard for them to accuse Israel of massacring Lebanese civilians?
The bombings of Cana (28 dead of which 16 were children) is an example of this founded on the omnipresence of one of the rescuers on the photo – in fact the head of the civil defence for the region of Cana.
No mention of the fact that the media initially reported “over 60 dead all of them women and children,” for days based on a list of residents minus those who were identified as alive (a ludicrous procedure when the area had been warned to leave for some time before the incident), and then reduced to 28. No mention of the extensive evidence that Mr. Green Helmet was directed much more than the rapid evacuation of bodies.
One gets the distinct sense that CG did not read eureferendum’s report on this in which Richard North concludes as follows:
After three weeks of intensive work, with the active assistance and co-operation of the internet community – often called the “blogosphere” – we now believe we have enough evidence confidently to assert that many of the incidents recorded in visual form by the media were indeed staged. In fact, we feel we can go further. In our view, the bulk of the relief effort at Khuraybah [the real name of the location referred to by the media, in acquiescence with a Hizbullah-inspired effort to associate it both biblically and with a 1996-incident as Qana] on 30 July was turned into a perverted propaganda exercise. The site, in effect, became one vast, grotesque film-set on which a macabre drama was played out to a willing and complicit media, which actively co-operated in the production and exploited the results.
Indeed, this very late article in Le Monde (i.e., six weeks after the incident and the scandal), has reproduced precisely the initial and woefully inadequate response of the MSM at the time: North notes that
Their [the MSM’s] tactics have been both predictable and wearyingly familiar. Instead of addressing our substantive points, they have concentrated on details, picking on our errors and false starts, arguing that such flaws irredeemably damage our case. Others have branded us “right-wing”, “pro-Israeli” or simply “conspiracy theorists”, as if that could explain away the evidence we have gathered.
CG has not done her homework. Or maybe she did, and felt that informing the French public of these shortcomings in the anglophone MSM would not be a good idea. After all, the francophone MSM is worse in these matters across the boards.
The bloggers have rebaptised this tragic episode “Hezbollywood” and called it a complete set up to accuse Israel. Whereas Tsahal themselves recognize it as a crime in their report.
Where does CG get her information? The report the next day from the IDF states:
…[T]he attack was carried out as a result of the continuation over the last few days of rocket fire from the targeted area against Israeli communities. Residents of all villages in the vicinity, including Qana, were warned in advance to stay out of areas from which rockets are launched against Israel. “IDF acted tonight against terror targets in the village of Qana. Qana has been used since the beginning of these events as a hideout and the place from which approximately 150 rockets have been fired at the territory of the State of Israel, in 30 salvos, some of which struck Haifa and points north,” said Major General Gadi Eizenkot, head of the Operations Branch, today. IDF is distressed by all harm done to uninvolved civilians, despite the fact that it comes as a direct result of the Hezbollah terror organization’s criminal exploitation of Lebanese civilians as human shields.
The result of the IDF investigation states:
“The Hezbollah organization places Lebanese civilians as a defensive shield between itself and us while IDF places itself as a defensive shield between the citizens of Israel and Hezbollah’s terror. That is the principle difference between us.”
How does one represent such statements as admission of having committed a crime? Is CG misreading the IDF’s suggestion that it was a Hizbullah crime as self-accusation?
“Why was there such a triggering of blogs?” Patrick Baz, asks AFP’s director of photography for the Middle East. “We never had that in the Israeli-Palestinian wars.”
Why not earlier, indeed. Partly because the MSM are so stunningly blind to these things that even when confronted with widespread evidence of fakes, they refuse to deal with it — unless it’s so public they can’t avoid it. As far as I can make out, the kind of systematic faking of footage that makes up possibly the majority of Western news reports from the Arab-Israeli conflict, goes back to the first Lebanon war in 1982.
So here, I’ll take a little credit. Pallywood was not yet out in previous wars, and as far as I know, all the bloggers who worked on these fakes had seen Pallywood. As a friend said, “It’s like Pallywood was the scent in the nose of the bloodhounds. Now the blogosphere is on to these fakes, they’ll nail them again and again.”
As for the idea that this hasn’t happened before because it hasn’t caused a scandal that managed to break through the walls of MSM defenses, that’s on the order of Enderlin saying, “I must be correct because the IDF hasn’t objected.”
According to him in Lebanon “Israel lost the images war. On the Israeli side, we only saw the army, tanks. On the other side, we only saw victims. Hezbollah remained invisible.”
“We only saw…” That’s thanks to whom? The MSM (Anglophone, a fortiori Francophone) showed far more pictures and interviews of Lebanese casualties than Israeli casualties. The NYT’s Ombudsman defends their 8:1 photo ratio by claiming it represents the ratio of civilians killed on each side.
Indeed, Times editors responsible for both photography and news articles had those cumulative numbers of the deaths on each side in their minds each day. “We were totally aware,” said Michele McNally, the assistant managing editor for photography. “Absolutely.”
Of course if those casualty figures are (wildly) inaccurate — and it is historically the case that those Arab sources systematically inflate casualty civilian figures and deflate military — then such “even-handedness” does little to explain the coverage. The headlines blare 40 killed, the correction quietly mentioned it was only 1. Garbage in, garbage out. And we, the consumer of MSM eat the garbage.
Nor were the Hizbullah invisible. The MSM photographers were instructed not to photograph Hizbullah among the civilians, and by and large they complied.
Robinson-Chavez was in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon for five weeks. He explained why readers don’t see pictures of suspected Hezbollah guerrillas, whose stronghold is southern Lebanon. They are recognizable because they’re young and bearded and have walkie-talkies — and don’t want to be photographed. He said they intentionally are not armed when photographers are around. He was detained by several one day and then released.
Notes David Bernstein at Volokh Conspiracy,
Personally, if I were “detained” by an anti-American terrorist group, I’d be scared out of my wits, and would go out of my way not to make nice to that group so long as I was in the territory they controlled. And that would include what photos and reporting I chose to send to my bosses back in the U.S.
Neither Patrick Baz of AFP nor CG show any interest in any of this. Where’s the bad faith here?
In his article “War, lies, and videos”, in Liberation 31 August, Shmuel Trigano, President of the Observatoire du Monde Juif, takes up the arguments of the bloggers according to whom, “manipulated, the media reactivated the antisemitic myth of the child-killing Jew.” Bruno Stevens responded to him on 5th September in the same paper defending his fellow photographers, “honest professionals playing no part in a conspiracy.”
I posted on Trigano, but never got around to fisking Stevens response, but just one detail will give you a sense of the tenor. In referring to the issue of “collateral damage,” Stevens writes:
When any army kills four to five times as many civilians as enemy combattants, it’s not “collateral damage,” a fashionable expression since the Gulf War, but on the contrary, a strategy of terror and collective punishment of an entire people.
Now where he gets his statistics I don’t know. I doubt he’s read the account at Wikipedia. The more likely statistic, after factoring in the deflation of Hezbollah casualties and the inflation of civilian casualties has been factored in looks more like 1:1. Moreover, given the extensive role of Hizbullah in both firing from civilian areas and preventing civilians from leaving, the responsibility for the civilian deaths lies with them according to the Geneva convention regulations in this matter. The eagerness with which Stevens wants to indict Israel and to absolve him and his colleagues of any manipulation of public opinion suggests just the opposite of what he claims in his attempted rebuttal of Trigano.
But the problem goes well beyond that. What kind of advocacy journalism is Stevens involved in that he feels empowered to make these kinds of accusations? And how much of an impact does wanting to make that advocacy have on what he tells us?
Manipulation of photographs certainly does not just date from the digital era. One can remember the retouching of pictures under Stalin. But the digital age has certainly helped. Before Adnan Hajj, there was Brian Walski in 2003 American photographer sacked from the Los Angeles Times for a collage of two photographs showing British soldiers after the American invasion of Iraq. Today, agencies limit their use of Photoshop to cropping, lighting, and removal of dust specs.
But Patrick Baz recognises also that there is “a temptation to make photos more spectacular to sell them. There is such competition…Everyone wants to be in the “play report” [catalogue] which provides a list of photos taken up by the press.” Toys a little too clean amid the ruins in Lebanon raised suspicions…
“Raised suspicions? These are extensively used techniques that go back at least to Jenin (April 2002). They are unquestionably staged and therefore blatant manipulations of our emotions.
[Zombietime notes: This Reuters image, for example, which was found in various media outlets, came with this caption: “A mannequin adorned with a wedding dress stands near the site of an Israeli air raid in Qana July 31, 2006, where more than 54 women and children were killed a day earlier. REUTERS/Sharif Karim (LEBANON).”]
The photographers admit with difficulty the existence 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. 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.) Given the reluctance to admit such problems, my guess is that this handful is actually a much larger group.
But even that grudging remark seems, in retrospect, 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.
Actually, if we go to the original posting by Bryan Anonymous, we find that he describes a far more widespread practice than CG’s reference might lead us to believe:
i have been working in lebanon since all this started, and seeing the behavior of many of the lebanese wire service photographers has been a bit unsettling. while hajj has garnered a lot of attention for his doctoring of images digitally, whether guilty or not, i have been witness to the daily practice of directed shots, one case where a group of wire photogs were choreographing the unearthing of bodies, directing emergency workers here and there, asking them to position bodies just so, even remove bodies that have already been put in graves so that they can photograph them in peoples arms. these photographers have come away with powerful shots, that required no manipulation digitally, but instead, manipulation on a human level, and this itself is a bigger ethical problem.
whatever the case is—lack of training, a personal drive as a photographer to show what is happening to your country in as powerful a way as possible, or all out competitiveness, i think that the onus is on the wire services themselves, because they act as the employer/filter of their photogs work. standards should be in place or else the rest of us end up paying the price. and i’m not against the idea of local wire photographers, but after seeing it over and over for the past month, i think it is something that is worth addressing. while i walk away from a situation like that, one wire shooter sets up a situation, and the rest of them follow…..
The real question, then, is: 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.
On the contrary, if we follow the thread of responses from his fellow photojournalists, we find strong disapproval of his remarks on several grounds — all of them unconcerned with the public’s awareness of a problem, all of them protective of the credibility of the profession:
Now I’m angry. I want to put a stop to these incendiary rumors right now. I would like Bryan to specify where and when this alleged choreography had occurred, instead of making broad, generalized statements which damages the reputation of all photographers in general and defames Lebanese photographers in particular (Timothy Fadek)…
This is an astounding allegation. It’s also an allegation that will undoubtedly be picked up by the blogs and add a huge amount of fuel to the anti-media propaganda war (Andrew Moore)…
oooooooooFFFFF!!!!!….im with Tim and Andrew: Bryan’s allogations are staggering (and frankly, ring of a certain amount of polemnical choreography themselves, however, if he witnessed these events, I trust that he will come forth and further elucidate his experience) (Bob Black)….
Note that for these professionals the very outrageousness of the claims makes them scarcely believable. I got the same response from American professionals about Pallywood: “You are making damning accusations. It’s hard to believe this could be as widespread as you say.”
So on the one hand, we get Enderlin and Eppelbaum telling people privately, “It happens all the time,” and professionals like ABC’s Gerald Holmes (stationed in Israel from 1999-2002), and photographers-on-the-scene Bruno Stevens and Timothy Fadek insisting that they never saw any staging or directing of events, indignantly defending the “honest professionals playing no part in a conspiracy.” And on the other hand, we have strong evidence and choked admissions of scandalous practices that appear widespread. Something’s wrong… deeply wrong.
Let’s return to the photographer’s revealing comment that he “insists of anonymity.” Why? What does he risk having it known that he’s admitted that a minimal amount of staging goes on? Granted his fellow photographers may be angry with him, but his name is all over the posts at the Lightstalkers list.
The obvious answer is, he risks offending the powers that be on the scene, i.e., Hizbullah, and thus at the very least losing “access” to more pictures, and more seriously losing the use of any or all of his limbs. As the Hizbullah “media handler” Hussein said to Michael Totten after reading one of Totten’s blog entries that displeased him:
“Who do you think we are? We know who you are, we read everything you write, and we know where you live.”
We know where you live. He threatened me with physical violence. And for what? For making fun of Americans on a blog.
But for anonymous, or CG for that matter, to speak openly of intimidation would be to admit to something 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 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., to the language of 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 about staging. 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.”
[I note here some surprise. If I am correct that the photographer quoted here by CG is the same as the Lightstalker commenter, then I find these remarks somewhat surprising. At least in his comments at the website, he shows a good deal more professional integrity than this.]
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. Remember Stevens refuting Trigano: if we admit to this manipulation it permits people like Trigano “to turn the debate so that we do not talk any more of massacres.”
But the reality here is, that Hezbollah is not trying to exonerate its side from targeting Israeli civilians — it and its Muslim sympathizers revel in the number of Israeli civilians 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 Hizbullah. That’s why Hizbullah 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.’ Or, to paraphrase Bruno Stevens, ‘how can we “do good” if we can’t accuse Israel of civilian massacres?’
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? They are innocent victims, their hostility to Israel is “legitimate resistance.” If only Israel would stop its aggressions, things would settle down.
In and of itself, the PCP not only makes sense (to us), but seeks “the moral high ground.” The problem is, that demopaths (people in no way committed to this liberal high ground) use it as a weapon to demonize Israel and dupe the well-intentioned liberal. What if, for example, our photographer’s exclusive concern for the “good of 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 massacring 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 and many of our journalists’, like Bruno Stevens, account), but because Lebanon is in the grip of religious zealots who worship death and thrive on it and, hiding amidst the civilian population, are raining down death and destruction on Israel? 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 a PC Paradigm which at this point closes the Moebius Strip of Cognitive egocentrism? Could they, by not attending to the Jihad Paradigm — too painful, easier to demonize Israel — actually be strengthening Jihad?
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, people like Bruno Stevens, have no business making these kinds of judgments and decisions, for which they are completely unqualified, no matter how prophetic they might feel.
What 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 article, a typical MSM product of Le Monde, scornful of 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
For 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 Muslim demopaths in the West can ask us (their presumably progressive allies) 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 — “nothing will prevent us from talking about Israeli massacres.” 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 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 in Iraq (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 and they can successfully intimidate the Western press into denying the very existence of their intimidation.
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, and find enough courage to speak up. These are the ones 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.”
After this extraordinarily revealing paragraph, whose devastating implications seem to have escaped the Le Monde journalist, CG ends with the following pious (and, from the perspective of the French media, self-serving) conclusions:
The most optimistic hope is that the blogs will encourage each one to redouble his efforts to be careful, in particular when verifying the text alongside the image sent by the photographers. ” If the AFP has not been stained – apart from a few denyers (negationistes), its because it was the first to create an office close by” suggets Patrick Baz. “There were three of us in Beirut, on site, to review the photos. Whereas Reuters chose to move their photo editing away to…Singapore. The agency moreover has just changed its head of Middle East photography, Jack Dabaghian. As for AP, its has just redistributed its professional code of conduct, clarifying to its photographers that from now on all use of Photoshop must be validated by a superior.
No, that’s not the best that can be hoped for, it’s the least that can be hoped for. The best is that — if indeed by the ethical standards of the profession expressed by the photographers at Lightstalkers these violations are scandalous — we hear about them loud and clear… that MSM writers like Claire Guillot cease to cover for them with thinly-researched, deceptive and slanted accounts that minimize the problem, interview the main operatives — conscious and unconscious — of Pallywood, marginalize the whistleblowers, and keep the public in the dark.
An Appeal to Members of the MSM
So please, Brendan Anonymous, and all the other reporters and photographers who know better… how about some courage and honesty? How about some accountability not to your handlers who give you “access,” or your fellow journalists who circle the wagons around their professional reputations, but to your readers who depend on you? How about some small cracks in the omertà that has created your 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 manipulaton 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? When will they awake from the slumber? CG?