One of Charles Enderlin’s favorite defenses is to accuse his critics of believing in “conspiracy theories.” Here is Larry Derfner, whom Charles cites approvingly in his book on the subject, dismissing Philippe Karsenty and me as “conspiracy nuts”:
No doubt about it – Phillippe Karsenty and his allies have a lot of evidence that the killing of Mohammed al-Dura was a hoax, that it was staged by France 2 TV in cahoots with the Palestinians. In fact, Karsenty, Richard Landes and the rest of the conspiracy theorists have so much evidence that it may even add up to .001% [Enderlin mistranslates as 100% - rl] of the evidence that the Mafia, or Castro, or the Pentagon killed JFK. They may have the merest, slightest fraction of the evidence there is that Shimon Peres masterminded the Rabin assassination, or that the Mossad was behind 9/11.
Now that the Israeli government has come out with a report on the al Durah affair which is at least as sharply critical of his work as the French Court of Appeals in 2008, we can expect Charles and his defenders to come out with both conspiracy barrels blazing.
There is, however, a fundamental difference between a “coup montée” (a planned sting) and a conspiracy.
In the former case, it’s a small group of people who coordinate their activities in order to violate rules without the knowledge of the wider public. In this case, we are dealing with a cognitive or narrative hoax, in which some group of players wants the public to believe even though it didn’t happen. These are common in the history of the modern press, and they play a key role in broader “propaganda” campaigns aimed at swaying public opinion.
The Al Durah coup was pulled off by a core of planners and actors, a larger circle of people who cooperated once the tale had been set in motion, and finally a broader circle of believers who were duped by the coup. In a basic sense, the issue is how many people need to know it’s a fake, and how many are duped? If it takes a really broad group of people who know it’s a fake and play along (including people at high public levels), then we’re dealing with a conspiracy. If it only takes a few who know and many more who are duped, it’s a sting.
Here are a survey of the minimum of planners of the hoax to pull this off the Al Durah hoax:
- the crew at the site:
- certainly: Talal abu Rahmah, the gang around his shouting and yelling “The boy is dead” when he’s still sitting up, the al Durahs, the people charged producing automatic gunfire, the “street” who watched this, as other staged scenes.
- possibly: The two other cameramen (AP Reuters) who left when their jobs were done, a Palestinian marksman tasked with firing at the scene, starting with the jeep scene…
- at the hospitals (Gazan and Jordanian):
- certainly: Gazan doctors willing to identify the body of an older boy with a tattoo as that of Muhammad al Durah and to produce an official report; Jordanian doctors willing to continue the hoax of the father’s “wounds”.
- possibly: a wider range of hospital officials and journalists.
- at the funeral:
- certainly: the people who had already prepared posters of the “dead boy.”
- possibly: a larger group of people who knew this was a fake
The key to understanding how this is not a conspiracy theory is to understand that it did not have to be a conspiracy, that on the contrary, a small group of people could work together to launch the hoax and a much larger circle of people, for various reasons well worth considering, eagerly adopted the hoax.
The circle of dupes involves most of the people Enderlin cites when he mocks the notion of a conspiracy:
- in the media
- a Western chief correspondent willing to edit the material in a way to give it believability and a TV station ready to run with the story. Charles Enderlin may or may not have been part of the planning committee. My guess is, he’s a dupe, at least in part because of his arrogance. When he admitted to me that the Palestinians stage scenes all the time, I asked him if so, why not al Durah? To which he responded, “They’re not good enough to fool me.” Apparently not. As for his superiors in France2 who gave him the green light, they were almost certainly fooled by believing in their correspondent.
- a compliant press ready to run with the story once it broke. Among these, most notably, were journalists like Suzanne Goldenberg and Robert Fisk who found proof of abu Rahma’s account at every turn, and fed the flames of a post-moden blood libel.
- in the higher echelons of Arab culture
- King Hussein of Jordan, who visited Jamal al Durah in the hospital and donated blood almost certainly did not know that he was being duped. He had no reason to question the fact that the bandages and blood on Jamals wounds might not be real.
The difference between a conspiracy theory and a scam/hoax/sting is that in order for a conspiracy to take place on a large scale (e.g., the US government planning the 9-11 attacks, or the Jews planning to take over the world), it would take thousands of people in very high places. In order for a hoax to take place it just takes a lot of dupes. And in the case of Muhammad al Durah, it was a lot of willing, even eager dupes.
When people think that claiming al Durah was staged necessitates a conspiracy, they assume that the mainstream news media could not be fooled across the board by a fake, that if there were serious evidence against the story as the media reported it, then surely investigative journalists would have spoken up.
Alas, no. The current state of the mainstream media, especially where coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned, is an Augean Stables of encrusted bad habits. As Charles Enderlin said, when confronted with evidence that his cameraman Talal abu Rahma had filmed multiple staged scenes, “Oh yes, they do it all the time.” And the journalists who should have put an end to such behavior, apparently had/have no problem with that.