A segment from a long essay on the Goldstone Report to appear in MERIA in January, with embedded video.
In some senses, it might be fair to argue that the news media believe that by emphasizing the humanitarian catastrophe, they contribute to peace. By putting pressure on the Israelis, they reason, they can help to stop the bombing. Christiane Amanpour quite un-self-consciously revealed the calculus in a question to Tony Blair:
Amanpour to Blair: “The civilian casualties in Gaza are obviously going to put a big pressure on Israel. How long can Israel withstand this pressure?”
Note that Amanpour asks the question with great confidence – this, she clearly feels, is a good, even shrewd question – unaware of what she reveals about her own thinking. Indeed, from her point of view, this isn’t even advocacy; it’s such a widespread attitude that it has the status of Realpolitik.
Now when such diplomatic dynamics are so obvious to the media, what’s to prevent them from thinking that the more they emphasize the humanitarian catastrophe, the sooner the violence will end?
Aside from the multiple, highly questionable, assumptions that underlie such apparently “self-evident” reasoning, the question also reveals a fundamental position of advocacy or bias – the “solution” will come from pressure on Israel, not on Hamas.
For a fascinating example of the cognitive dissonance that results from confronting Hamas, a journalist asking an Arab spokesman why Hamas doesn’t just stop the fighting, consider this exchange between “rational” BBC interviewer, Karen Ginoni, and the Arab League Ambassador to the UN, Yahya Mahmassani.
“How can those rockets stop when the sky is raining rockets and bombs…?
For some in the world (like Genoni), the damage to ones own people is a reason to stop. For others, it’s a reason to keep going no matter what the cost. Note that Mahmassani he doesn’t pause for a moment. And he uses an intransitive verb, as if the rockets were the actors, a force of nature, a law of nature. This is, for him, a no-brainer.
It’s also a perfect illustration of the Honor-Shame Jihad Paradigm HSJP, recently explored by Ted Belman. There are two dimensions to this decision, both derived from honor-shame concerns, but also mutually contradictory:
1) “If we stop, we’ve said ‘Uncle!’ to the Jews, and therefore lost face terribly; so even if it’s damaging to our people, we keep going.” 2) “We do it so we can parade our suffering at the hands of the Jews before the whole world”; even though showing weakness publicly is anathema to honor-shame warriors (imagine Achilles faking injury).
What’s remarkable about this immediate response is the fact that Mahmassani is neither Hamas nor Jihadi. In principle he’s a mainstream and reasonably moderate spokesman for an Arab consensus. And here there’s no question about what’s the right thing to do: If the enemy is doing terrible damage to your people, of course you keep shooting! How can you stop?
Of course, real democracies cannot adopt such strategies. And in so responding, Mahmassani exemplifies the disastrous lack of democratic currents in Arab political culture.
But, as Genoni’s lack of response to this argument makes clear, the Arab discourse doesn’t compute for a Westerner who values every, especially innocent, human life. Who can take issue with such a non-rational (and fundamentally inhumane) response?
So, almost by default, the pressure is on Israel and, I would argue, the MSNM thinks that it contributes to peace, or at least a cessation to the terrible suffering of the Gazans, by emphasizing the humanitarian catastrophe and increasing pressure on Israel to stop.
The ironic result of this news media “peace advocacy” is a remarkable overlap between Hamas’ and the news media’ talking points – humanitarian crisis, civilian casualties, Israeli brutality…
Palestinian suffering, the hell of war brought searingly home to the viewer, and its predictable impact on the surge of support among Palestinians and international protesters for Hamas as defender of the Palestinian people.
News providers like CNN and BBC began each news hour with an update, each starting off with a collage of Palestinian suffering.
In the end, the news media became tools of Hamas propaganda and, like Goldstone Report, ended up encouraging precisely the war-mongering sacrifice of civilians that they, in their best intentions, were trying to halt.
And so, we lose the cognitive war to people whose moral values civil society in the West rejected centuries ago.