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?”?