Beckerman advises France2: Just how little do MSM journalists understand?

In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, Gal Beckerman offers France2 some friendly advice. In the process, he shows just how inadequate both the MSM’s clichés about “coming clean” are in dealing with this affair, and how inadequate the imagination of seasoned reporters in even beginning to imagine the role of Pallywood in news production. It illustrates the difference between American journalists who can’t even imagine that al Durah might be staged and European reporters who blandly assert:

    “Karsenty is so shocked that fake images were used and edited in Gaza, but this happens all the time everywhere on television and no TV journalist in the field or a film editor would be shocked.”

The Unpeaceful Rest of Mohammed Al-Dura
How French 2 could have quelled the controversy

By Gal Beckerman
Wed 3 Oct 2007 02:34 PM

No single event was responsible for igniting the Second Intifada, which began seven years ago and effectively killed off the “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians. Or, rather, there are specific causes for why violence erupted in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the cafes and markets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but the reasons depend more on who you’re talking to than on what actually happened—either it was Ariel Sharon’s inflammatory visit to the Temple Mount or Yasser Arafat’s scheming that provided the first push.

Regardless, once the killing began there was one media event that, indisputably and instantaneously, fanned the flames and primed the Palestinian people and the wider Arab world for confrontation: the televised death of twelve-year-old Mohammed al-Dura.

The fifty-nine seconds of edited footage, aired on France 2, was repeated thousands of times on September 30, 2000 and in the days and weeks that followed. A young boy and his father at the Netzarim crossing in the Gaza strip are caught in the crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police and gunmen. The child cowers behind his father who tries to protect him with his arm — a still image that has been reproduced over and over again on posters and postage stamps – and then in the last series of frames he is slumped over, dead. Al-Dura became the Palestinian martyr, a symbol of Israel’s ruthlessness, its disregard for innocent life, the life of a defenseless boy.

The Israeli Army initially took responsibility for the death. But in the years since, a cottage industry of both conspiracy theorists and honest researchers have questioned whether al-Dura really was killed by an Israeli bullet or even – and this, until recently, was mostly the provenance of conspiracy theorists – the whole event was staged as Palestinian propaganda (or “Pallywood,” as one obsessive has described it).

That’s with a link to Second Draft — not the dossier on al Durah, but the Pallywood section. I’m trying to figure out whether the author looked into what I have up there for evidence. I’ve left a comment asking why a visit to the Pallywood section of Second Draft leads to the term “obsessive.” But why didn’t he link to the al Durah section, since that’s what’s up for discussion. In any case, had he linked to my discussion of the argument for staging, he would have better served his readership.

James Fallows, the respected correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, had the most thorough examination of all sides in a June 2003 article.

Not to take away from Fallows, who did a fine piece, but the material available at the Second Draft, where our author has been to visit, is considerably more thorough than what Fallows did. But I suspect that what’s going on here is that Gal Beckerman, reporter for the CJR, heavily favors the MSM in this case (though not necessarily in other cases). Hence “the respected correspondent” James Fallows is definitely preferable to the “obsessives.”

The conclusion he came to, as he reiterated on his blog yesterday, was this:

    I ended up arguing in my article that the ‘official’ version of the event could not be true. Based on the known locations of the boy, his father, the Israeli Defense Force troops in the area, and various barriers, walls, and other impediments, the IDF soldiers simply could not have shot the child in the way most news accounts said they had done…. I became fully convinced by the negative case (IDF was innocent). But I did not think there was enough evidence for the even more damning positive indictment (person or persons unknown staged a fake death — or perhaps even a real death, for ‘blood libel’ purposes).

Fallows felt the need to remind readers of his conclusion because there has lately been a flurry of news surrounding the al-Dura case.

Beckerman’s clear, if unsupported, preference for Fallows is interesting here, since Fallows’ determined refusal to go further in this case has been analyzed by two bloggers in some detail and they come to a rather different conclusion about his position on this, one that puts Beckerman and Fallows in a different context — like the good folks in the emperor’s court assuring the public that the emperor’s new clothes are just dandy.

Shrinkwrapped noted that Fallows is an example of someone

    who is committed to the truth but cannot yet work his way out of the conflict between what he thinks he knows of the world and the truth that contradicts his world view. This is neither a trivial nor a singular phenomena; it is universal and emerges from the deepest, pre-rational strata of the mind…

    Our Media are our eyes on the world. It is problematic but unavoidable that the unconscious biases of the reporters will effect how their stories are presented, and more importantly, what stories are not presented. The recognition that the al-Dura blood libel was a conscious deception of Western dupes, masquerading as men of integrity, is a potential paradigm shattering event.

    The MSM have seen their credibility slowly erode for many years now. The mix of distortions, occasional overt lies, and neglect that have been increasingly exposed by the new media, all have served to hollow out the support for the MSM as people who do not have an emotional investment in the MSM are unable to avoid recognizing just how slanted the “news” has become.

And Helen, at Umbrellablog notes that:

    What he [Fallows, and apparently here Beckerman - rl] would not and could not even countenance was the obvious second point, which is that this was a record that was carefully staged in order to discredit Israel and justify the continuing intifada with all its horrors (mostly for the Palestinians). I don’t know Mr Fallows and cannot, therefore, comment but he sounds to me no different from the people who almost literally stopped their ears against the truth about Communist regimes because they did not want to know or admit.

As Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet political prisoner and Israeli politician, pointed out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday, French courts ruled last year in favor of France 2 in a defamation suit that it had initiated against Philippe Karsenty, a self-proclaimed media watchdog. Karsenty had called for the firing of the channel’s Jerusalem bureau chief and its news director for allegedly covering up the true story behind the al-Dura footage. France 2 won it’s case and the courts ordered Karsenty to pay a fine for insulting the two journalists with his accusations. Last month, Karsenty appealed the ruling, and the decision on the appeal is pending. Sharansky was writing as a way of pressing the Israeli government, which had been reluctant to step into the fray over the past seven years, to make a definitive statement on what really happened on September 30, 2000.

France 2 itself is largely to blame for the fact that this controversy refuses to die. The initial news report on al-Dura’s shooting was based on video shot by a sole Palestinian cameraman, Talal Abu Rahmeh. He collected twenty-seven minutes of raw footage that was edited down to the infamous fifty-nine seconds. Though numerous legitimate researchers have demanded to see the unedited video, France 2 has consistently refused. The one time it did air the additional twenty-seven minutes for a panel of three French journalists, this jury concluded, according to Sharansky, that full footage included “blatantly staged scenes of Palestinians being shot by Israeli forces, and that France 2’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief Charles Enderlin had lied to conceal that fact.”

Possibly in response to Sharansky’s op-ed, the Israeli government, through the director of its press office, announced today that it too had come to the conclusion that, “the events of that day were essentially staged by the network’s cameraman in Gaza, Mr. Tilal Abu-Rehama.”

The story might be settled soon, though. As part of Karsenty’s appeal, judges in the appeals court last week ordered France 2 to show them the full twenty-seven-minutes of footage in November.

This is good news, if only to clear up an episode that has inflamed passions on both sides. Israel may be moving too fast by asserting that the killing was staged. But it is telling, as Fallows points out, that those trying to prove foul play “seem more fervent about turning up all available evidence and getting to the bottom of things than their antagonists do,” though he does add that he’s “skeptical that large-scale conspiracies can be pulled off — and kept secret for seven years, which is how long it has been since the original event.”

I tend to trust Fallows in this.

As the Iago the Parrot says when Aladdin refuses to bow down to the (now) Genie Jafar, “Why am I not surprised?”

I imagine the tapes will probably show that the Israeli soldiers did not kill the boy, and that the cause of his death was either unclear or the result of a Palestinian bullet. Either way, it should be pretty obvious that when you’re dealing with such murkiness, the best thing to do is throw as much light as possible on the story. It just seems strange that it has taken two court cases to force France 2 to do just that.

What an anti-climax to a poorly researched article, and riddled with deeply disturbing implications.

1) If I understand correctly, Beckerman’s main point is “full disclosure” — in other words the way for France2 to have avoided all this mess is if it just showed the tapes at the start. But what if those tapes are as bad as the Nixon tapes? Maybe France2 didn’t show them for good reason? We “obsessives” don’t argue conspiracy — Enderlin either chose to go ahead despite doubts, or got duped — but coverup. For Beckerman to waltz in this point as some kind of “media consultant” and tell France2 (whom he seems to be confident has nothing to hide (why?), “Gosh, if you all had just been more open at the start, you ‘could have quelled the controversy.’” But even he admits that the evidence of the tapes hardly makes France2 look good. So how would it quell the controversy?

2) He still is confident the boy got shot at Netzarim Junction, thus illustrating precisely what Shrinkwrapped and Helen have pointed out (above): it’s just too much for MSM folks to imagine that this might be staged. Thus, even though Beckerman acknowledges that the tapes show extensive faking (and if he had bothered to read the account of the France2 Rushes available on the page he links to, he’d know that Pallywood occured to me as a result of seeing these tapes), it doesn’t occur to him that that’s an important clue. But the implications of his remarks are even more disturbing. Let’s just go with his conjectures. Let’s say that probably “either unclear or the result of a Palestinian bullet…” If that’s the case, isn’t that a terribly serious indictment of France2′s Middle East correspondent Charles Enderlin, who told his audience — on the basis of his cameraman Talal abu Rahmah’s testimony, that the father and son were shot as “targets of fire coming from the Israeli position”? Or is it that, as long as it’s not proven to have been staged, then France2 is okay in its airiing of this inflammatory story?

What’s going on here? Another version of “What does it matter who killed the child?”?

16 Responses to Beckerman advises France2: Just how little do MSM journalists understand?

  1. Eliyahu says:

    RL, I find beckerman’s article offensive in its shallowness and simplemindedness and simplistic, flippant approach to a serious issue. I don’t think that it’s “obsessive” to be concerned over a political Big Lie –perpetrated by the state media of an important power– that has had such lethal consequences for so many people. The alleged al-Durah killing is a blood libel worthy of previous cases like Tisza Eszlar, the Beilis case, the Damascus Affair of 1840 [which never turned up proper corpus delicti (latin experts can put this in plural) of the victims], the charge that Jews poisoned the wells during the Black Death of the 14th century, etc. The scale of damage that this lie has done may match that of the “poisoned-the-wells” charge more than that of the other cases mentioned. And this clown –at Columbia no less– is flippant about “obsessives” over a Big Lie. Maybe he is not as naive as he sounds. Maybe he’s disingenuous.

    This brings me to a disagreement with fp. Yes, I know the difference between expressive and instrumental behavior. But there is no clear distinction between them in all cases, at all times and places, in all situations. Sometimes a quantity of expressive behavior becomes instrumental. That said, beckerman’s first name suggests that he may come from Israel. If so, it is a further indication of the corruption and incapacity of thinking of the Israeli “Leftist” mind.

  2. fp says:

    rl,

    yes. it is being assumed that the real problem is israel, no matter who killed the boy and the preoccupation with the staging is a distraction.

    fp
    http://fallofknowledgeandreason.blogspot.com/

  3. Joanne says:

    Beckerman is trying to be, uh, even-handed and reasonable. But that seems to be interpreted as not diverging too far from the politically correct consensus.

    It’s ok to be skeptical, but I found it annoying that Beckerman is lumping Richard Landes with “conspiracy theorists,” as if Landes were of the same ilk as 9/11 “truthers” or others like them. Beckerman’s condescension is palpable, and obnoxious.

    This attitude appears to be one way in which MSM journalists deal with the bloggosphere. They use the fact that many bloggers are indeed highly polemic or marginal as an excuse to dismiss ALL bloggers. Then they can feel free to be dismissive of information that comes from responsible bloggers.

    They have to realize that the bloggosphere is not AM radio. It is not a haven for loudmouthed right-wingers. It is a haven for anyone and everyone, including loudmouthed right-wingers, true…but also including genuine writers, intellectuals, academics, and serious researchers. It’s not a question of whether the bloggosphere is reliable or not; it’s a question of which sites within the bloggosphere you choose to consult. The bloggosphere is just too varied and too vast to generalize about.

    But the MSM has a stake in ridiculing bloggers. The latter are a threat. Networks have already lost a vast audience to cable and videos/dvd’s. Newspapers are often struggling. So the MSM fighting for their status and their market share. I don’t think the bloggosphere is much of a threat yet, but the more bloggers’ critiques about MSM coverage turn out to be true, the more they’ll be noticed, to the detriment of the MSM’s credibility.

  4. shimshon says:

    i think the case that france 2 seriously misled their audience and was an accomplice to incitement is very clear. that being said i think it would be wise for those who care about this case to focus on the idea that this was not an israeli bullet and that F2 lied about it. there is no way to prove that this was staged. even if their are other staged events on the tape, it wont prove that the al-durah incident was staged. if that becomes the argument France 2 will get off lightly, because, as i said, there will be no proof. The focus of landes and others should be to show that france two misrepresented what was on the tape and that this led to the deaths of hundreds of people. from what i understand there is clear evidence that it was not an israeli bullet and that France 2 should have known that. instead they misled viewers around the world. this should be the focus of the argument. its clear and easy to demonstrate. getting away from this will be detrimental.

  5. Eliyahu says:

    shimshon, when you say “not an Israeli bullet,” you seem to imply that young al-Durah was actually hit by a bullet or that he was killed by a bullet. But there’s no proof that he’s dead. And I think that that would be even more important to stress

  6. MSM Bias and Pallywood: Incompetence or Malice?

    I make it a point to never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence. I hold to this point even when the outcome of such incompetence is harmful to what I consider to be important interests. However,

  7. shimshon says:

    eliyahu,

    You are right, there is no proof that he is dead, but there is also no proof that he is not dead. That is exactly the problem. No one will listed and France 2 will not admit anything if there is no proof. If the focus is on the possibility of the event being staged, France 2 will simply disagree and that will be the end of it. Only those willing to dig deeper will discover anything, and what they do discover will not be conclusive. If on the other hand the focus is on the fact that France 2 broadcast a claim that Israeli’s shot the boy and that this is demonstratably false, then you have a case that will be heard.

  8. fp says:

    shimshon,

    even that is not the issue.

    the issue is who will change its mind about the sides in the conflict based even on clearcut evidence that israel did not shoot him and the whole thing was staged? my guess: practically nobody. and will the staging stop, or the MSM be less dupable? my guess: no chance.

    so in this sense standing up for the truth, while admirable, is expressive, not instrumental.

  9. shimshon says:

    FP

    You are right, the issue is about changing minds. But i dont think you are going to convince any skeptic that the video was staged. even if he is open minded. there is simply no proof. you will convince people however, that Israeli’s did not shoot the boy and that the media lied about it to show israel in a bad light. that is easily proved. But as i said above, no one will hear this provable case if the debate is about whether or not the event was staged.

  10. fp says:

    shimshon,

    correct.

    but there is a difference between PROVING that it was staged vs. a very high probability that it was. anybody with half a brain who knows anything about the cultures of the two sides would have to take at least the latter position. that would be reinforced by the disclosure of the rushes showing the other stagings at the time.

    the problem is that the common position is CERTAINTY that he was killed by israel intentionally, which is not skepticism and is impervious to evidence, particularly in the situation which you correctly described.

  11. [...] a recent post at Augean Stables, Richard Landes opens a discussion of the al Durrah affair with a contrast [...]

  12. [...] a recent post at Augean Stables, Richard Landes opens a discussion of the al Durrah affair with a contrast [...]

  13. shimshon says:

    fp

    you are right that the common position is that Israeli’s killed the boy intentionaly. but i disagree that most people know all the evidence and still believe that it was the israelis who shot him. the problem is that the evidence isnt getting enough attention. this evidence will continue to not recive attention if the debate is about whether or not the event was staged. RL should stick to a case that is provable. argueing something that is not provable just gives other amunition to use against him, as happened in this article… this makes it appear (wrongly but nevertheless it is portrayed this way) as if their are extreemists on both sides. if RL had focused only on the evidence that could be proved this would not have happened.

  14. fp says:

    shimshon,

    indeed, people dk the evidence. but my point is that they don’t care about evidence: they are forming their opinion based on propaganda and they cannot distinguish between that and evidence. that is a consequence of the collapse of education: people are no longer taught how to think critically and independently, but rather to conform and the mechanics of employment.

    by this time, therefore, even if evidence is produced and disseminated it won’t change minds, let alone of the kind that is provable only in the sense in which you propose RL to stick to.

  15. Eliyahu says:

    Shimshon, I’m with fp here. We’re not dealing with a public that thirsts to know the truth. Some are, of course. But we are now dealing with a mystique of a “palestinian people,” which of course never existed in history. Traditional Arab geography since the Crusades did not use the term palestine or Filastin, which was used before the Crusades, but only for part of what the Roman/Byzantine empire called palestine, that is, for Palaestina Prima, grosso modo, the southern part of the Land of Israel. The northern part, including northern Transjordan and the Galilee, Golan, etc., was called Urdunn, whereas the Romans had called it Palaestina Secunda. However, the Arab name Urdunn led to speculation that the Romans may have changed the name of the northern area from Palaestina Secunda to Iordan, Iordana or Iordania not long before the Arab conquest.

    I got away from the main point. We are now dealing with a mystique, a cult, a fanatic, emotional movement, a craze, that is not interested in facts but rather in emotional satisfaction, such as that provided by revenge against the Jews/Zionists for alleged crimes against “palestinians,” for allegedly despoiling the “palestinians” and drinking their blood [figuratively speaking in the Western mind, maybe, but concrete in many an Arab mind].

    For many Westerners annoyed by a sense of guilt over the Holocaust, belief in Jewish wrongs against innocent Arabs [palestinians] is very satisfying and so is the vicarious sense of revenge that Arabs take against Jews on behalf of the European self-image of innocence. This is all very complicated, but I agree here with fp. BTW, here is one reason why so many in the West want/need to believe that the “palestinians” are innocent like –like a Crusader knight perhaps, or maybe a knight in quest of the Holy Grail [you don't want to accept this?, Shimshon?]– although “Arabs” [mentally dissociated from palestinians] may be slightly guilty.
    The “palestinians” must be seen as separate from Arabs for several reasons, one of them is that only as separate from Arabs can they be identified with Jesus, that is, they have become a people crucified yet innocent, indeed innocuous. This identification was made as far back as 1967 in Temoignage Chretien, a French Catholic publication. Ironically, of course, this EuroChristianWestern policy of favoring the PLO/Arabs has helped to drive native Christians out of the country, out of Beth Lehem in particular. Meanwhile, certain Arabic-speaking Christian intellectuals native to the Land of Israel continue to vilify Israel before Western audiences. Consider Azmi Bishara and his brother who lives in Paris. Many Beth Lehem Christians were angry at Israel for allowing arafat to rule over them, by the way.

    I also agree with RL that it is important to stress that the whole thing seems staged and that the boy probably was not killed. The burden of proof that the boy was killed and that the “event” was not staged should be on the accusers, as in any court.

  16. fp says:

    I would add to this the context of fear.

    in addition to what eliyahu says — which is, of course, accurate — Europe is desperate to avoid violence. that’s why it has a strong history of appeasement and why it required the US and USSR to save their butt from the nazis. and during their initial rise the nazis did not exhibit the degree of nihilistic cruelty of islamist terror. when one side is mass murderous and the other is scared shittless we know what happens.

    the west is no longer taught history. hence people can develop their own history based on the most vocal propaganda and their own predispositions. the reality of what really happened does not exist for comparison with what they hear or read. that’s one of the main reasons why holocaust denial has become respectable all the way to Columbia and Oxford.

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