Category Archives: Blogosphere

What the Media’s Coverage of Palin Tells Us About Them

John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin has certainly thrown the political and journalistic worlds for a loop. Initially, the coverage of Palin reflected the astonishment and the degree of unpreparedness of the MSM in McCain’s selection. Then, as the media recovered, and went about its work of covering the heretofore little-known Palin. Does their coverage of Palin reflect something about the media in this country? What can we learn?

To Find the Principles: James Wald’s Blog is Back

An old friend from graduate school, who is a professor of German History at Hampshire College and has sent me many an excellent tip and/or comments over the years has put his blog back in action. Among the new entries, all of which are worth reading, he has several on the odious comparison of Israel to the Nazis.

Nasty Nazi Analogies: Amherst Activists Call Gaza Israel’s Concentration Camp

Friday, June 13 was certainly an unlucky day for our local “Women in Black.”

Like many activist groups, the Women in Black attract the predictable mixture of benevolent civic-minded souls, misguided idealists, and myopic, mean-spirited dogmatists. These days, the latter two categories seem to predominate. Their recent demonstration revealed their complicity in the bigoted behavior that is becoming dismayingly common, in Amherst and elsewhere, among the supposed “left” in general and the pseudo-“peace” movements in particular.

Fridays at midday, the Women station themselves in front of the hideous Bank of America building opposite the Amherst Town Hall and Common and hold up signs calling attention to their causes of the moment.

This was the sight that greeted me as I left the bank, where I had stopped in preparation for a trip to Europe on academic business:

amherst women in black

Taken aback, I explained that I was a professional historian and asked whether I could help them with their problem: The sign was deeply offensive and inappropriate. Were they incredibly insensitive, I inquired—or just really, really stupid?

Read the rest.

And another:

Nasty Nazi Analogies in Amherst: Gaza is Like the Warsaw Ghetto?

From a flyer distributed to drivers in the center of town, dated 10 May 2008:

gaza flier amherst

“The Amherst Vigil for Peace and Justice in a Nuclear Free World . . . continues to advocate for an end to the arms trade, for an end to nuclear weapons at home and abroad and for social justice around the world.”

Evidently, “social justice” does not in this case include doing justice to the historical truth or to the agonizing complexities of contemporary politics.

The perverse and perversely consistent desire of enemies of Israel to identify with the Jewish fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto (whose leaders, incidentally, were left-wing Zionists) is a peculiar phenomenon worthy of further study, though the fundamental tendency is clearly to mobilize support by claiming the ultimate underdog status.

Read the rest.

CNN’s Wedeman: I Black Heart Palestinian Children

Second Draft has sent out several alerts and Breath of the Beast has posted two analyses of Ben Wedeman’s coverage for CNN of Israel’s crackdown on Hamas organizations in the West Bank, including schools and a shopping mall. Several blogs have taken up the call to publicize this (see below).

First, view Wedeman’s handiwork.

It’s actually rare that we get a look inside the workshop of a journalist and see what he makes his report from. In this case we know that the Israeli army gave Wedeman exclusive footage, expected that he would do something focusing on the kind of hate-mongering that goes on in Hamas-run organizations.

This tape would strike any normal, “cognitively-egocentric liberal” as disturbing to say the least. Kindergarteners, dressed up in Hamas uniforms (with black masks) storm the stage and “kill” two kids dressed as Israeli soldiers and drag them across the stage; then they prance around the stage to martial music for at least 10 minutes. For those familiar with the workings of Palestinian schools, where ceremonies that emphasize the bloodthirsty are common, however, this is hardly surprising.

girl with bloody hands
A kindergarten girl shows her “bloody hands” at a graduation ceremony in Gaza. She is mimicking the behavior of one of the lynchers of two Israeli reservists, beaten to death in Ramallah on October 12, 2000.

ramallah lynching bloody hands
The model. Note that while the Palestinians did everything to prevent this footage from getting out to the West, this had nothing to do with their being genuinely ashamed of this savage behavior.

What it does constitute, however, is a valuable entryway into perhaps the single most serious cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict: Palestinian hate-mongering. The reason why “Oslo” logic fails is not because the Israelis don’t concede enough, not because they continue to expand settlements (any “normal” foe, seeing the land it wants for a future nation being eaten up so, would hurry negotiations, especially when the “settler” government has agreed in advance to clear settlements), not because they don’t get enough “dignity” in the land deal, but because Palestinian leaders think only in zero-sum terms, dream only of destroying their neighbors, and teach their children well. And thereby, a father’s hell will surely go on.

The “Public Secret” Dossier: Revelations about the MSM from the Al Durah Affair

This constitutes a longer version of the op-ed piece at the Jerusalem Post where I exercise my “right of reply” to respond to Larry Derfner’s most recent attack on my arguments. The essay contains links (more to be added), three additional documents, and a number of paragraphs dropped from the published piece.

The Self-Destruction of the Al Durah Faithful

When I first began work on the al Durah affair, I knew I was on to a story whose unraveling would reveal a wide range of cultural dynamics at the beginning of the 21st century –

  • the dramatic dysfunctions of the Mainstream media’s news reporting,
  • the resurgence of various forms of Judeophobia, from the paranoid anti-Semitism of the Muslim world to the joyous moral Schadenfreude of the European “left”,
  • the mainstreaming of an active-cataclysmic apocalyptic movement in global Jihad, and its weapon of choice, suicide attacks on civilians.
  • the cultural vulnerabilities of Western democracies faced with an asymmetrical war so lopsided they cannot take it seriously
  • the pathologies of Leftist and Jewish self-criticism,
  • the disorientation of liberals, prisoners of a special, optimistic, politically correct brand of cognitive egocentrism, and
  • the moral failure of the “progressive left” from the dawn of this century (Al Durah, Durban I, Response to 9-11) to defend progressive values in a cognitive war we are badly (and inexcusably) losing.

By any standards this offers a fairly good scope of issues to illuminate with a “thick description” of one single incident, even if it strikes many as what one French friend classed as a “human interest story” (faits divers).

Part of what attracted me to the topic was its quality of “public secret.” Everywhere I looked there were public secrets: from the obvious staging of Pallywood and the stunning complacency in private of the Western media (“oh, they do that all the time”), to uncanny refusal of otherwise rational people to reconsider despite the deeply troubling evidence. Karsenty calls it the “so what” defense: No blood… so what; no bullets… so what; 55 seconds not 27 minutes filmed of an alleged 45 minutes of non-stop Israeli firing… so what; no “death agonies” that Enderlin cut to “spare the public”… so what; no ambulance evacuation scenes… so what; the kid moves after he’s supposed to be dead… so what; Talal lies… so what; Enderlin lies…

Indeed quite early on, in addition to seeing this story as having strong parallels to the Dreyfus Affair, I began to see it as a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Here the tailors are Talal and his friends who spin their story; Enderlin is the chamberlain who comes back from examining the evidence and announces that the tale is good and true, the MSM are the courtiers to whom he gave both the evidence and the talking points for announcing the great news in order to prepare the tale’s public exposure, the media launch of the icon of hatred, the martyr Muhammad al Durah. And a string of lonely individuals, from Shahaf, to Juffa, to Huber, to Poller, to Landes, to Karsenty, tried unsuccessfully to say, hey wait a minute, this martyr’s narrative robe is woven of wholesale deception. And each of us were told, as does the father of the child in Andersen’s tale, “Hush child.” Only whereas in the original tale, the “revelation” was that those who couldn’t see the magical cloth were “fools and unworthy to rule”, in this one, those who saw a fake were “far-right-wing Zionist conspiracy freaks.”

Like many such “public secrets,” this tale does not wear well over time. (The French call them secrets de Polichinelle, secrets like pregnancy that will, eventually, out.) What I did not expect, was how often the defenders of al Durah would reveal the nature of these dysfunctions I was trying to chronicle and explain. Now Larry Derfner has added his text to the dossier of self-revelatory texts that explain so much about the al Durah affair. He has, as a result, inspired the formal launching of the Al Durah Affair’s Public Secret Dossier. So in his honor, I propose to go over some of these extraordinarily revealing texts and compare and contrast them.

1) Letter of Ricardo Christiano to the Palestinian Authority, October 13, 2000.

2) News analysis of William Orme for the New York Times, October 24, 2000

3) Response of Adam to James Fallows’ Atlantic Monthly article June, 2003

4) Nouvel Obs Letter of Support to Charles Enderlin, May 27, 2008

5) Larry Derfner’s Second Column on Al Durah in Jerusalem Post, June 18, 2008

Letter of Ricardo Christiano to the Palestinian Authority, October 13, 2000

On October 12 (less than two weeks after the al Durah footage first aired and provoked rioting throughout Israel’s Arab population), two Russian-born reservists took a wrong turn and landed in Ramallah, Arafat’s “Oslo” capital. Palestinian police took them into custody, but the rumor of their presence spread rapidly. A lynch crowd soon stormed the police station, and in a frenzy, Palestinian men beat the soldiers to death with their bare hands, threw their bodies out the window, and a mob below literally tore apart their bodies, beaten to a pulp, dragging the parts through the street, shouting all the while, “Revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Durah.”

Bad News Bears: Gerstenfeld and Colleagues Show How Bad Spin Works against Anyone

I just heard a talk from an American historian working on the history of “spin.” His conceptualization of the problem has me thinking about the phenomenon in new ways. I actually think that a history of spin might shed interesting light on the media coverage of the Middle East. It’s not that spin is bad, or even dishonest. One describes one’s house differently to the tax assessor from how one presents it to a prospective buyer, and there’s nothing necessarily dishonest about it — especially since both the assessor and the buyer know what you’re up to. But like all those checks we get at restaurants that have mistakes, if the errors are consistently in favor of the house, you know you’re up against something less than honest.

And spin is identifiable, possibly even quantifiable. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

    In public relations, spin is a sometimes pejorative term signifying a heavily biased portrayal in one’s own favor of an event or situation. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often, though not always, implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics. Politicians are often accused of spin by commentators and political opponents, when they produce a counter argument or position.
    The techniques of “spin” include:

  • Selectively presenting facts and quotes that support one’s position (cherry picking)
  • Non-denial denial
  • Phrasing in a way that assumes unproven truths
  • Euphemisms to disguise or promote one’s agenda
  • Ambiguity
  • Skirting
  • Rejecting the validity of hypotheticals
  • Appealing to internal policies

None of these are outright dishonest. Everyone selects evidence; they have to. Most people assume unproven truths, often thinking them proven. Most people use euphemisms and ambiguity, and skirt difficult material, etc. By this definition it would be hard not to be accused of spin.

On the other hand, there are ways to determine just how heavy the spin, and how consistently it favors one side, as in Steve Erlanger’s journalism. Interestingly enough, the definition assumes that spin is “in favor of one’s side,” which raises the question: Why would journalists spin, and particularly why would they spin hard? Whose side are they on?

Again, I don’t have too much of a problem with journalists from civil societies who benefit from a culture that prizes and guarantees freedom of the press, spinning in favor of civic players, and against tyrants of various kinds. The real puzzle, as with Erlanger and so much of the Western press is why they so favor the most regressive elements in the Palestinian world.

In any case, I imagine that it would be possible to define, even quantify spin (e.g., leaving out significant details that any impartial reader/viewer might want to know in order to make an intelligent and informed judgment, like the data on Sderot without which one cannot undestand Israeli actions against Gaza). And if one tried to develop an impartial means of quantifying the data — never certain, but capable of giving a general sense of the tendencies — I think one would find that the media systematically spin against Israel, presenting negative news as often as possible. Indeed, if we were to give a scale to the degree of spin, one might find that their treatment approaches the level of “character assassination.”

Manfred Gerstenfeld, the indefatigable prober of anti-Israel sentiment, especially in Europe, but also in academia and the media, has launched an interesting project that gets at the core of this problem. By presenting negative news about other countries, he shows a number of important phenomena:

1) How easy it is to make a country look bad.
2) How little people like it when their country is portrayed in the media in so negative a light.
3) How rarely the media engage in the kind of character assassination when it comes to other democracies.

As Gerstenfeld noted in an earlier piece on his project:

The Dutch haven’t quite developed the thick skin that we have as Israelis to outside acrimonious criticism. Maybe that’s why the seminar is generating such interest there,” Gerstenfeld suggested. “And by successfully blackening Holland’s name despite its positive image abroad, we are demonstrating how easy it is to portray any country as a brutal police state.

When one realizes that a “moderate” Arab county will imprison its own academics for “tarnishing the image” of his own country, one can begin to understand how thin a skin some countries have. Again, the exceptional self-criticism of Israelis who are often proud to be ashamed of their country, skews the field and creates an epistemological confusion among outside observers who don’t understand how much the information they get is skewed by the profoundly different cultures from which it emanates.

Cnaan Liphshiz, who already wrote a piece on this project has a follow-up in today’s Ha-Aretz.


Bad News Bloggers bid to beat press bias
By Cnaan Liphshiz

What began six months ago as a brazen attempt to counter a perceived anti-Israel slant in the Dutch media, has evolved into a network monitoring the media in eight countries across the world. The idea is simple: Beat press bias at its own game by advertising only bad news about one place.

Over the past months, seven activists from Israel and elsewhere have been exposing online readers to scandalous yet accurate reports from media in Britain (violent drunk teens), France (high homeless mortality), Norway (serial child molesters), Finland (sexual harassment in parliament), Sweden (soaring suicide rates), The Netherlands (menacing Muslim unrest), Mexico (rampaging flood victims) and Los Angeles (drive-by killings).

The seven bad-news activists visit one another’s online blogs and have incorporated links referring the dozens of surfers who visit their pages every day to sister-sites. Though they all act out of a desire to counter what they see as media bias against Israel, they operate independently and have little communication with one another. Some of them rely on friends to send them interesting bits of bad news.

“This project demonstrates how media coverage can degrade any country’s image by using selective news without context,” explains media analyst Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld from Jerusalem. His seminar last summer, entitled “Bad News about the Netherlands,” became the kernel of his blog.

Mideast Journalism’s Public Secret and the News We Get:

This article is up at PJMedia

La version française, traduite par Menahem Macina, se trouve ici.
Al-Dura et le “secret d’intérêt public” du journalisme au Moyen-Orient

In the summer of 2006, Reuters News Agency, humiliated when bloggers caught them duped by obvious photographic manipulation, fired both the photographer and the chief of their photographic bureau. They then removed all the photographer’s photos from their news archive. In so doing, they acted decisively in punishing two of the cardinal sins of modern journalism: “creating evidence” and getting duped by created evidence.

These principles – i.e., the ethics of a free press – go so deep, that Westerners apparently have difficulty imagining that others might not share our commitments. Thus few people believe claims that footage of Muhammad al Durah, the twelve year old boy allegedly gunned down by Israelis at Netzarim Junction on September 30, 2000, was staged. Charles Enderlin, the correspondent for France2 who presented the tale to the world, derisively and successfully dismisses such claims as a conspiracy theory as ludicrous as those about 9-11. How absurd: Palestinian journalists would not do such a thing; and if they did, the Western media would catch it. To this day, most journalists still ask, “Who killed al Durah?” not, “Was he killed in the footage we see?”

The last time we see al Durah on Talal’s camera:
He holds his hand over his eyes not his allegedly
deadly stomach wound. He lifts his up his arm and
looks around. Enderlin had already declared him
dead in an earlier scene, and (therefore?) cut this
scene from his broadcast.

And yet, one of the major differences between Western journalism and self-styled “Islamic media men” emerges on just this issue of the permissibility of staging the news and attitudes towards what constitutes honest information. According to the Islamic Mass Media Charter (Jakarta, 1980), the sacred task of Muslim media men [sic], is on the one hand to protect the Umma from “imminent dangers,” indeed to “censor all materials,” towards that end, and on the other, “To combat Zionism and its colonialist policy of creating settlements as well as its ruthless suppression of the Palestinian people.

So when asked why he had inserted unconnected footage of an Israeli soldier firing a rifle into the Al Durah sequence in order to make it look like the Israelis had killed the boy in cold blood, an official of PA TV responded:

These are forms of artistic expression, but all of this serves to convey the truth… We never forget our higher journalistic principles to which we are committed of relating the truth and nothing but the truth.

When Talal abu Rahmah received an award for his footage of Muhammad al Durah in Morocco in 2001, he told a reporter, “I went into journalism to carry on the fight for my people.”

These remarks serve as an important prelude to considering the France2 rushes that will be shown in court in Paris on November 14 in the Enderlin France2 vs. Philippe Karsenty defamation case. These tapes were filmed by Talal abu Rahmah on September 30, 2000, and for seven years, Enderlin has claimed that the tapes prove him right and show the boy in such unbearable death throes that he cut them out of his report. But several experts who have seen the tapes (this author included) claim that the only scene of al Durah that Enderlin cut was the final scene where he seems alive and well; and still more disturbingly the rest of the rushes are filled with staged scenes. Indeed there seems to be a kind of “public secret” at work on the Arab “street”: people fake injury, others evacuate them hurriedly (and without stretchers) past Palestinian cameramen like Talal, who use Western video equipment to record these improvised scenes. Pallywood: the Palestinian movie industry.

Which brings us to a problem more complex than the fairly straightforward observation that Palestinian journalists play by a different set of rules in which this kind of manipulation of the “truth” is entirely legitimate. What do Western journalists do with these products of propaganda? Do they know these are fakes or are they fooled? Do they tell the cameramen working for them and using their equipment that filming such staged scenes is unethical and unacceptable? And if they do, why do cameramen who have worked for them for years – Talal worked for Enderlin for over a decade when he took these rushes – continue to film these scenes. And how often do our journalists run this staged footage as real news?

Here the evidence provided by the Al Durah affair suggests that, in some sense, journalists are “in” on the public secret. When representatives of France2 were confronted with the pervasive evidence of staging in Talal’s footage, they both responded the same way. “Oh, they always do that, it’s a cultural thing,” said Enderlin to me in Jerusalem. “Yes Monsieur, but, you know, it’s always like that,” said Didier Eppelbaum to Denis Jeambar, Daniel Leconte, and Luc Rosenzweig in Paris.

As an echo of this astonishing private complacency, Clément Weill-Raynal of France3 made a comment to a journalist that he meant as a criticism of Karsenty:

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 implications of this remark undermine its very use in his argument: How can Karsenty defame Enderlin by accusing him of using staged footage when, as Clément Weill-Raynal here admits, everybody does it? Is it wrong to do this? And if so, why does Weill-Raynal criticize Karsenty for blowing the whistle? And if not, where’s the defamation?

We may have stumbled here onto the very nature of public secrets and the value of a good reputation: everyone can cheat so long as no one is caught. It’s okay for the insiders to know, but the effectiveness of the (mis)information depends on the public not knowing. As Daniel Leconte reproached Eppelbaum: “the media may know [about this staging], but the public doesn’t.” Indeed, the public must not know. CNN advertises itself as “The Most Trusted Name in News,” not because it struggles against the influences, like access journalism, that destroy trustworthiness, but because it knows how important trust is to their audience public consumers of news. Thus, even if Western journalists use staged footage regularly, they cannot admit it. And, if denial doesn’t work, then, apparently, the next move is to say, “it’s nothing; everyone does it.”

An incident at Ramallah, however, suggests that Western journalists have systematically submitted to Palestinian demands that they practice Palestinian journalism. On October 12, 2000, to cries of “Revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Durah,” Palestinian men tore to pieces the bodies of two Israeli reservists. Aware of the potential damage, Palestinians attacked any journalist taking pictures. And yet, one Italian crew working for a private news station, at great risk to their lives, smuggled out the footage. Eager to avoid being blamed, the representative of Italy’s “official television station RAI,” wrote to the PA that his station would never do such a thing,

…because we always respect (will continue to respect) the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for (journalistic) work in Palestine…

Just what are these “journalistic procedures”? Do they resemble the rules of the Jakarta charter, including the censorship of anything damaging to the Palestinian cause (no matter how true), and publication of anything damaging to the Israeli cause (no matter how inauthentic)? The PA, apparently unaware that this is not how journalism should be done in the West, published the letter.

But on the side where modern journalism allegedly reigns, such revelations were profoundly embarrassing: even the normally timid Israeli government “temporarily suspended” the press card of Roberto Cristiano, and no one in the normally aggressive Western media objected. Cristiano had violated the basic rule of Western journalism’s omerta, and openly admitted shameful practices. The public consumer of Mainstream Media (MSM) “news” needs to ask, “How many journalists adhere to these Palestinian rules, and how much does that adherence distort, even invert, our understanding of what goes on in this interminable conflict? Can we afford this “public secret”?

Nor can we expect the MSM to discuss this willingly. On the contrary, awareness of the importance of trust often enough leads journalists to hide their mistakes rather than admit and learn from them. As a French friend put it to me: “No one admits publicly to mistakes in France. It’s a sign of weakness.” While these are the rules of honor-shame culture, civil society depends on having people prefer honesty to saving face, no matter how painful that may be. And while we cannot expect people to volunteer for public humiliation, we can and must insist that there are limits to both individual and corporate efforts to resist correction.

This is Charles Enderlin’s problem with the al Durah case. He has, with his eagerness to get the scoop, foisted upon an unsuspecting world, a nuclear bomb in the world of information warfare. As Bob Simon put it, to the background of a medley of Pallywood images: “In modern warfare, one picture is worth a thousand weapons.” And no image has done more to inspire the desire for violent revenge and global Jihad than this “icon of hatred.” To admit his mistakes, to release the public from this image’s thrall and alert us to the possibility that such colossal errors not only occur, but go years without correction, would destroy Enderlin’s career.

Moreover, Enderlin’s failure, at this point, seven years later, implicates the larger MSM who, with their refusal to even allow the critique to air, protect him. This dilemma may partly explain why the MSM in France has scarcely mentioned this case; why they had nothing to say about the initial trial until Karsenty lost, at which point they leapt into print to reassure the public that the image choc of the Intifada “was not staged.” Enderlin, after all, is not some Palestinian hack, even if he trusts and therefore regularly channels the work of such “journalists.” He is perhaps the best known and most widely trusted European correspondent in the Middle East. Surely, as a Jew and an Israeli, he would not report false stories that blackened his own country’s name. They must be true.

More ominously, just as Al Durah represents a “higher truth” for Muslims — a justification for hatred, a call to revenge — so does it carry symbolic freight with Europeans. Catherine Nay, a respected news anchor for Europe1, welcomed the image:

The Death of Muhammad cancels out, erases that of the Jewish child, his hands in the air from the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto.

al durah warsaw ghetto
From Ramsey Clark’s International Action website.

How ironic! The Europeans use an image produced by those who admire the Nazis and dream of genocidal victory over the Jews, to erase their own guilt over the Holocaust. In so doing, Europe has “atoned” for its sins against the Jews by empowering its Muslim extremists.

So not to admit such mistakes, destroys the very fabric of the civil society that allows a free press. In the long history of blood libels, no people have benefited from embracing the twisted hatreds they evoked.

At what point does self-protection become self-destruction, not only for the journalists who deny their errors no matter how costly, but for the public that believes them? As an Israeli journalist remarked: “Every day I have to walk the fine line between loyalty to my sources and loyalty to my audience.” How grievously have our journalists betrayed us, their audience, for the sake of finding favor in the eyes of their sources?

Palestinian journalists, in their own ethical declarations, argue that their role is to defend their cause and weaken its enemies. Journalism for them is war by other means; the media, a theater of war. Honesty and fairness do not intrude on this ethical prescription, but merely present a requirement for versimilitude designed to deceive susceptible Western audiences and incite Muslim rage.

In this clash of journalistic cultures, how often has the Western media played the “useful idiots” to Palestinian demands. How often have they presented Palestinian “truths” to us as “news”? And if they have done so as often and as destructively as Pallywood and its greatest success, the Al Durah Affair, suggests, how much longer will they persist?

BBC and Arab Media Promote anti-American Conspiracy Theory

Just in case you were starting to feel optimistic about the human race, the following post will quickly dispel those feelings. Conspiracy theorists have long produced their paranoid exposés about global domination by some nefarious organization, be it the oil industry or, of course, the Jews. The internet has provided them with a convenient forum, and conspiracy theorists develop a synergy with one another, feeding off other paranoid individuals.

This post deals with one such conspiracy theory. (hat tip: lgude) If it had stayed in the perverse little universe of anti-globalization and anti-Semitic blogs, I would not waste my or your time on the issue. However, the theory, though it is inconceivable to the point of being ridiculous, has made its way into two major media outlets. Their adoption of the theory is another example of their ideology leading them away from what can be considered even remotely respectable journalism. But that makes the theory dangerous.

The conspiracy theory in question answers, in its proponents minds, questions about the 2004 tsunami that killed over 200,000 people, primarily in Indonesia and India. The theory has its usual villains- George Bush, Dick Cheney, the CIA…and the Zionists. It goes along these lines — George Bush, primarily because he is evil, but also to aid his war effort in Iraq, ordered U.S. forces to detonate a nuclear device in the Sumatra trench in the Indian Ocean as a catalyst for the tsunami. Each theorist has his/her own variation. Let us take a journey to the twilight zone that is the paranoid left’s blogosphere:

On his blog, “24 Hours to Live“, Sarge writes-

Here’s an interesting scenario to nibble on: The Bush junta is tired of explaining itself to the media. Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice are sick of the liberals in this country pointing out how many American lives are being lost in Iraq… so……Bush and his cronies devise a cunning and dastardly plan. In order to take people’s minds off of Iraq why not create a natural disaster? We’ve done underwater nuclear weapons tests before (see Bikini Atoll) and they have a significant seismic effect. Is it then possible that the Bush regime detonated a large nuclear device on the ocean floor off the coast of Indonesia? After all, a natural disaster of these proportions certainly takes your mind off Iraq…

With Bush and his cronies calling the shots anything is possible…

I see…Bush (whose powers rival God’s, apparently) created a natural disaster to distract us from Iraq. Since the tsunami took peoples’ minds off Iraq, then it is within the realm of possibility. I accidentally whacked my thumb with a hammer while banging a nail into a board last week, and for a few minutes of excruciating pain, I definitely was not thinking about Iraq. Were Bush and his cronies behind it? Anything is possible…

Joe Vialls introduces the anti-Semitic element that was so lacking on Sarge’s blog. Vialls theory blames ‘New York’, specifically Wall Street. They control John Howard, he says, which he presumes to be able to prove based on Howard’s actions.

Only Little Johnny knew, and of course his trusty crystal ball in New York. To hell with Sri Lanka, his bosses wanted a main base for the huge reconstruction contracts in Asia, designed to replace the failed oil theft and reconstruction in Iraq, and keep poor old Zion on its tottering New York legs for a few more weeks or months.

In the end, what the hell did it matter how many Goyim had to die? And, hey, on the credit side they’d already managed to kill more than 100,00 Muslims in Sumatra with a single tidal wave, which was partial payback for their own resounding defeats in Afghanistan and Iraq..For the Zionist Cabal, obtaining a thermonuclear weapon in America is no great trick, especially when we have the precedent of 100 small ‘decommissioned’ air-to-air atomic warheads being smuggled out the Pentagon’s (civilian) back door, to form the core of the Jewish State’s current nuclear arsenal. Once a weapon system is out date and out of service, loyal uniformed US military personnel can no longer track it.

India Daily
introduces the next prerequisite for a good conspiracy theory, UFOs-

Recent alien contacts have been reported with the South Asian Governments especially India. UFO sightings have been rampant over the region affected. Some in Nicobar Island say that it was an experiment conducted by the alien extra-terrestrial entities to correct the wobbly rotation of the earth. And some of the Indian scientists are actually seeing that wobbly rotation of the earth has been corrected since the massive underwater earthquake and tsunami.

The Pagan Prattle has compiled an archive of tsunami conspiracy links.

Ok, we’ve had our fun. Lonely bloggers typing up drivel in their mothers’ basements should cause us to shake our heads sadly, nothing more. We understand how ridiculous the theory is, but it should not surprise us that it exists.

What also might not surprise, but should definitely alarm, is the echoing of these theories in Arab media. This is no longer a joking matter. Are they really that out of touch with reality? Or will they use any chance to smear America, Israel, and the West in order to incite the Arab public against them? Cybercast News Service reports:

The Egyptian nationalist weekly Al-Usbu’ accused the U.S., Israel and India of carrying out nuclear testing that may have cased the tsunami. Those nations were testing “how to liquidate humanity,” the newspaper said.

“Was [the earthquake] caused by American, Israeli, and Indian nuclear testing on ‘the day of horror?’ Why did the ‘Ring of Fire’ explode?” Mahmoud Bakri asked in his “investigative” piece published in the weekly on January 1.

“According to researchers’ estimates, there are two possible [explanations] for what happened. The first is a natural, divine move, because the region is in the ‘Ring of Fire,’ a region subject to this destructive type of earthquakes,” Bakri wrote according to a translation of the article provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute on Friday.

“The second possibility is that it was some kind of human intervention that destabilized the tectonic plates, an intervention that is caused only in nuclear experiments and explosions,” he said… reports that many point the “finger of blame,” not at Mother nature, but at “government cover-ups, top secret military testing in the waters of the Indian Ocean and even aliens attempting to correct Earth’s ‘wobbly’ rotation.”

But the most popular theory, it says, is that the Indian and U.S. military are the “main cause of the disaster by testing eco-weapons, which use electromagnetic waves, thus triggering off earthquakes.”

That is the Arab media. They operate under different rules than the Western media, and they have reported on more fanciful theories. Major Western media networks would not treat such a theory seriously. Or would they?

The BBC treats the issue as worthy of serious debate:

Why did US base escape tsunami?

Following the tsunami, conspiracy rumours have been circulating on the internet of how the US base at Diego Garcia managed to avoid casualties while other islands suffered huge losses.

The US Navy’s official Diego Garcia website said the island wasn’t hit by the devastating tsunami because it is surrounded by deep waters and the grade of its shores does not allow for tsunamis to build before hitting land.

The site said the earthquake generated a tidal surge on the island estimated at six feet.

Is America a power for good or ill in the world? Was there a malign hand at work, or has America’s role in the crisis in fact been a model of humanitarian leadership.
Let us know what you think. Is this just anti-US sentiment on the web or something more worrying?

It is something more worrying. It is profoundly worrying that the BBC even asks the question. But, alas, it is not terribly surprising.

Interview with Gary Baumgarten of Paltalk

Paltalk’s Gary Baumgarten interviews Boston University professor Richard Landes on News Talk Online about fabricated news reports about the deaths of Palestinians which have spurred attacks against Israel.

This is a good, substantial interview for those who want to hear what I have to say, rather than what I have to write.

Radio Interview (long) with Political Pistachio

I had a long interview last night with Political Pistachio which is available here.

Nachman Shai on Al Durah: Insights into why the Israelis have done nothing till now

In an article that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle, Matthew Kalman quotes Nachman Shai on the latest developments in the al Durah Affair. Shai was the IDF spokesman at an earlier period and still a prominent figure in Israeli journalistic and hasbarah circles. His remarks, including his comments on seeing the raw footage, illustrate well why this case has received so little attention from the Israelis.

But Nachman Shai, a former Israeli army spokesman who is writing a report on the incident, said Israel had nothing to gain from its re-appearance on the front pages.

“We the state of Israel lose on this issue,” Shai said. “It was a mistake to take responsibility … but we will never be able to prove it. Now that the story is out there again, we are blamed again, the story is turned against us again and there is no benefit.”

Now I know some people who do this — anticipate failure before it’s happened and contribute to that failure with their actions — but rarely in public. I haven’t yet seen much evidence that this time around Israel is getting blamed again. Could Kalman be mistranslating the tenses, and Shai is anticipating this turn of events?

Regardless of the psychological dynamics at work in this pessimism, it is a widespread feeling among both Israelis and other defenders of Zion. The Israelis were inundated with opprobrium when it happened, assaulted again for “blaming the victim” when they argued that the evidence showed they didn’t do it, and since they have lost every round of the PR battle from then until now — most people who don’t know the details, still think of it as the Jenin “Massacre” — they are terrified of bringing up these issues. As one woman in a prominent position in the Israeli government put it to me: “People will see again and again and again that Israelis killed this boy. They won’t care about the evidence.

This brings us to a key issue: how “smart” is the public? Those who think this is a losing proposition have the same low opinion of the public that the media who feed them Pallywood on a daily basis do. Show them crap from the stables, and they won’t care as long as it reinforces their predilections. Some of us think that a) the public is smarter than that — as evidenced by the explosion of an independent blogosphere which has held the MSM’s feet to the fire, and b) the public needs to be smarter if we, as a civil society, are going to survive.

Shai said he had been invited to view the full tape by Enderlin, but it did not show anything new. He said there was no point demanding its release.

“From what I saw, we don’t learn anything more. There is no new evidence there,” he said. “Now the pictures will be broadcast again and again. Millions of people who never saw these images because they were broadcast six or seven years ago have now seen them in the past two days and it’s back on the agenda.”

This is at once fascinating and depressing. Shai is a fiercely independent journalist who would never engage in faking stuff, and yet he can look at 20 minutes of patent fakes and not think that has anything new to offer.

What on earth can he be thinking? Is he trying to avoid a confrontation with Charles Enderlin? Is he so worried that the public will not respond, or that we need a smoking gun about al Durah specifically — which is not in the tapes — that he doesn’t even notice the extensive evidence of faking? Whatever the reason, this comment represents a massive failure of both imagination and observation.

In a sense, he illustrates well how impotent the Israelis are when dealing with a blood libel that the MSM has given its full support to. Only a fair and courageous public, capable of looking critically at this — and other — footage from this region of the world, can save both Israel and their own civil societies.

I for one think the world in 2007 is a much different place from the world in 2000, and that the folly of seizing upon this blood libel is beginning to make a dent in the attitude of the public.

The Courage of those who “Speak Truth to Power”

I dutifully went over to Augustus Richard Norton’s website, Speaking Truth to Power in Boston, to leave a comment at his article that I had just fisked (didn’t seem right to criticize someone behind his back). There is one comment to his post on the Hamas, which runs as follows:

Joe said…

Yes you are quite right.

Palestinians killed Palestinians, but we’re the ones who put the arms in their hands.

To which I responded something along the lines of:

    I’m not sure whether that last comment were meant ironically or not, but I’m a bit less ambiguous about my criticism of your post [with a link to my post].

That was Friday afternoon, and it awaits his approval to appear. Still no sign of it up at his site. Could it be that people who speak truth to power a} have no sense of humor (about themselves) and b) don’t like criticism? (The two are linked, so it’s something of a trick question.) Given that he posted two items on his blog today, it’s unlikely that he hasn’t seen my comment waiting for his approval.

As for my question about his first commenter, I conclude two things. 1) the commenter meant it seriously: his site sells Palestinian Scarves. And 2) Norton read it as approving, and therefore allowed it to post.

Personally, I think it’s hard to come up with a better spoof of MOS — it’s all our fault — than that comment.

Blogging and Dictators

Nick Cohen has some interesting comments on the alleged power of the blogosphere in relationship to the power of tyrants. They raise important questions about the potential role of the blogosphere in the 21st century.

A connected world proves no threat to tyrants

As a blogger is jailed, promises that the internet would challenge dictators have proved illusory

Nick Cohen
Sunday February 25, 2007
The Observer

Every now and again, an established journalist goes into print to rage against the bloggers. Our old role of gatekeepers who decided what news and opinions the public should hear is crumbling under pressure from the net. The loudest wails came after American bloggers tore into the political coverage of CBS during the 2004 presidential election campaign and exposed a tendentious documentary. Jonathan Klein, a former CBS News executive, snapped: ‘You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances [at CBS] and a guy sitting in his living room in his pyjamas writing on the net.’

This is also what led one observer to remark that this was a “Gutenberg moment,” when a new technology of communications permitted the emergence of a body of thinkers who broke the monopoly on the public sphere enjoyed by the masters of the previous technology of communications (e.g. print vs. manuscript culture, or now, cyberspace vs. print culture).

Al Durah as Staged: The Resistance

Al Durah as “Staged”:
Reflections on the Resistance
Richard Landes

Like everyone who saw the initial footage, in early October 2000, I was horrified at the sight of Muhamed al Durah dying on camera in what seemed like a hail of bullets. But I was equally dismayed by the wave of virulent hate-speech that filled both the Arab media and, to a lesser but significant extent, the European and radical “left”, in its aftermath. As a medievalist who specializes in millennialism, I had suggested that 2000 might mark a shift – fairly common in the Middle Ages – from a sustained period of philo-Judaism since the end of the Holocaust, especially in the USA, to a shift towards anti-semitism, and these developments gave me the unenviable role of Cassandra.

The specific image of Al Durah returned to my attention in the summer of 2003, when I read James Fallows’ article on the case. Although Fallows himself does not give the case his assent, he does give voice to Nahum Shahaf’s argument that the scene was staged. The issue came round full circle to the Middle Ages when I read an article by Gérard Huber and Nidra Poller entitled “Blood libel international.” By then I was well behind the times. A small but growing group of people who had looked closely at the evidence, were convinced that it had been staged. I first met Nidra Poller and Gerard Huber in Paris in the summer of 2003 where I had my first viewing of footage shot that day. It did not take a great deal of footage to convince me that I was viewing a fake. The evidence seemed overwhelming… as did its implications. What revelations this story had for us not only about the Middle East conflict, but about our own media’s most elemental incompetence!

But the story, for all its explosive impact in the past, and the equally explosive potential impact, was having trouble getting out. The initial investigation by Shahaf and Doriel had run into problems with the media as early as late 2000, when both Ha-Aretz and Bob Simon on 60 minutes dismissed it as unprofessional. As Simon put it, “they came to their conclusions before a shot was fired” – without a mention that the shots fired confirmed the obvious hypothesis that the round clouds of dust kicked up by the only two bullets caught on tape, came from the Palestinian position.

The story stayed buried until the 2002 German documentary by Esther Schapira, which aired neither in France (where as a sister-station of Hessische Rundfunk [link to station], one might have expected coverage of an issue of national import (it was France2 that had “broken” the story), nor in the US or Britain. The story became better known to a larger audience when, in the Spring of 2003, when a series of articles appeared, the most widely circulated of which was James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly. Neither Schapira nor Fallows espoused the thesis that the footage was staged, preferring the minimal position that it was most unlikely that Israeli fire, intentional or accidental, had struck the al Durahs. Implicitly, that meant Palestinian bullets in the cross-fire, but even to question the initial story was difficult, no one wanted to tread the path of how the Palestinians might have killed the boy.

I soon found out why they had taken such a cautious position. Virtually everyone I spoke to, no matter how “skeptical” of Palestinian media sources, found the thesis of a fake so outlandish that they warned me about sounding like a conspiracy-theorist. Indeed. I should have taken note of the fate of Gerard Huber, whose book, the only full length analysis of the al Durah Affair, Contre-expertise d’une mise en scène, had garnered him comparisons with the people (on the other side) who thought that 9-11 was a plot of the Israeli secret services. As one commentator put it:

In the Muslim community there are extremists who think that Mossad did 9-11, and in the Jewish community extremists who think Al Durah was staged.”

This is the line that Enderlin is still pushing. In response to a recent article in La Libre Belgique he wrote:

That serious newspapers like Libération and La Libre Belgique publish even on the debate page, the feverish nightime workings (élucubrations, apparently Enderlin’s equivalent of Dan Rather’s “pajamas” remark) and defamatory accusations appalls me. Are you also going to publish an “opinion” from an author affirming the the towers of NY were destroyed by the CIA?

The idea that one can compare a cheap fake that fooled a reporter as appallingly complacent about his own cameraman’s sending him staged footage with the argument that the CIA planned 9-11 in 9 months, is pretty amazing in itself. But it gets at the core of Enderlin’s strategy: marginalize the dissenters. As he put it to me in conversation, “groupuscules d’extrême droite” [tiny groups from the far right].

As I continued to work on the subject, I found that, for reasons I still don’t understand fully, the resistance to seeing the footage as fake was enormous. Fallows, who admits to viewing the footage over a hundred times, and each time hoping the boy would get up, describes nonetheless how “[t]he final few seconds of [Muhamed al Durah’s] life, when he crouched in terror behind his father, Jamal, and then slumped to the ground after bullets ripped through his torso, were captured by a television camera and broadcast around the world.” The footage broadcast around the world showed nothing of the sort, and the cliip Enderlin cut, the final “take” of the sequence (after Enderlin had pronounced the boy dead in showing the previous “takes”), showed him, hands over his eyes rather than clutching his fatal stomach wound, picking up his elbow and looking around.

take 6
[Take 6 of the 59 seconds of “al Durah under fire”. He has already been hit take 4 where he clutches his stomach, take 5, where his hand is over his eyes. This take is the only section of Talal’s mere 59 seconds that Enderlin cut from his broadcast. Enderlin did admit to cutting some of the footage, but assured his audience that it was the “death throes” of the child, and too unbearable to show.]

Apparently viewing, even repeated viewing, did not prevent people from seeing what they expected no matter how little the footage supported those expectations. How many articles and poems have described – often in the headline – how the boy “died in his father’s lap”, when in fact he “dies” at his father’s feet and his father never makes any motion towards him?

[Note, the “fifteen bullet holes” that Suzanne Goldenberg found the next day are not yet up, like the blood.]

It was only gradually that I became aware of how hard it was to get people to even think of this possibility of staging. Most people, when I told them I thought neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians killed the boy, could not even imagine a fifth option.

    “The father?”
    “No, that would be a Palestinian.”
    “Again Palestinian.”
    “The Red Cross?”
    “The Press?”

It was almost as if anything was more credible than “staged.”

It was then that I began to realize the role of cognitive egocentrism in this case: most of us could not even imagine a journalistic culture that would lie so baldly. As one investigative reporter put it to me, “I didn’t believe it was faked because I assumed that at least someone there would spill the beans.” [Note, that probably applies best to the likelihood that something as dastardly as a CIA plot to blow up the WTC and Pentagon would take place without one of the thousands of US civil servants who had to be involved, not spilling the beans.] After all, it would happen that way here. Hopefully. In principle, it would happen in a civil society that had overcome omertà.

Add to this resistance, that of an intellectual culture in which siding with the underdog is a sign of moral integrity. As one of my students remarked after seeing the footage: “The evidence seems clear, but I feel like if I agree, then I’m taking sides with the Israelis, and I don’t want to take sides in this conflict.” Then I understood how “even-handedness” contributes to the positions people take. Bob Simon notes in reference to Muhamed al Durah, “In the Middle East, one picture can be worth a thousand weapons…” Indeed. And since many people feel that the Israelis have all the weapons, it seems only fair to “level the playing field” by giving the Palestinians the “PR” victory.

This may seem logical, and offer some emotional benefits, but upon reflection, it turns out to victimize the very people it allegedly supports. By affirming these “lethal narratives” as Nidra Poller calls them, actually empower those who oppress the Palestinians the most, their elites who feed them hatred, rile them up to violence and cash in on the sympathy the world feels for those innocents hit when Israel strikes back at their cruel captors. By leveling a playing field of war in this fashion we do not show sympathy for the Palestinian people who are the first and constant victims of their leaders’ violent ambitions, we prolong a war that can only hurt everyone but the warmongers. For reasons I still don’t understand, not too many people seem to want to make that reflection… so far.

Add to all this resistance, the understandable reluctance of the media to admit so striking, so damning a mistake, Enderlin and France2 for sure, and the rest of the purveyors of Pallywood as well. I showed this to a reporter for ABC (presumably a rival network), and he admitted to being convinced by the evidence. But when I asked him if his show might be interested in breaking at least the story of Pallywood, he replied, “I don’t know how much appetite there is at this station for something like this.”

Of course, he had enough honesty to admit to being convinced. Most “media experts” refused to even go that far. Gerry Holmes, Middle East correspondant for ABC, posted in Israel from 1999-2002, told me he had never seen anything even remotely resembling the making of fakes in his entire period of working there, and after seeing the Pallywood footage, remarked, “We could argue about every frame.” After that visit, he never answered another call to discuss “every frame.” What a 12-year-old would look at and say, “No duh! It’s fake,” a sophisticated producer would insist “could be” true.

I became increasingly convinced that this story was like the emperor’s new clothes. Here Talal and his gang of assistants were the tailors who spun the ludicrous lie, Enderlin was the Chamberlain who affirmed it, the MSM were the court that accepted it and made it politically correct, and the crowd was the public expected to “consume it.”

I showed an early version to an Israeli “new historian.” He watched it with interest, showing the kind of reactions that suggested he agreed. But in the end, he said, “I don’t think you have enough proof.” “What do you mean?” “It won’t convince the public.” As I meditated on what he meant, it occurred to me that he, and many, watched this with two sets of eyes, their own (in which it was pretty clearly fake) and the eyes of some larger public which they imagined, rightfully, to be more resistant (in which it was not clearly enough fake). What happens if you say the emperor’s naked and the crowd turns on you and tells you to hush?

Furthermore, in the tale, the motivation for accepting the storyline was so as not to appear stupid. Here I suspect that other factors played, not the least the eagerness with which the public — especially in the Arab/Muslim world and in Europe — seized on the story of Israeli maleficence. Just as the Arab world seems to have an insatiable thirst for demonizing images that permit them to hate the Israelis, the Europeans have an insatiable thirst for images that permit them to despise the Israelis. As one commentater, journalist Catherine Nay proclaimed on Europe1 TV:

The Death of Muhammed cancels out, erases that of the Jewish child, his hands in the air from the SS in the Warsaw Ghetto.


[From Ramsey Clark’s International Action website.]

With the picture playing such a key role in absolving Europeans of Holocaust guilt, who could stand in the way? As the French say, “il ne faut pas mettre le doit entre l’arbre et l’ecorce.” [Don’t put your hand between the tree and the bark.] And as the Chinese say, “A man needs ‘face’ the way a tree needs bark.”

In a larger sense, the reason I think the tale found such ready acceptance especially among the media even in the USA (which has little Holocaust guilt) was because it confirmed the overriding paradigm that the Palestinians were the David and the Israelis the Goliath in this conflict. To question that, was to challenge the paradigm, with troubling consequences. Indeed the very day before, a similar distortion of images from the region had occurred via AP in the NYT. An Arab mob had beaten a Jewish student nearly to death, and the boy, Tuvya Grossman, had fled to the protection of an Israeli policeman who, protecting him, brandished his club angrily at the mob. AP identified the Tuvya as a Palestinian and the Israeli as his attacker and identified the location of the “Israeli” assault on the Temple Mount despite the gas station visible in the background. (It took the NYT four days to correct itself and seven to tell the real story.)

On another level, of course, to question the al Durah stuff — especially once it had made the rounds — meant confronting an intimidating opposition to anything that shed the Palestinian leadership in an unflattering light. As one Arab to whom I gave an early copy of the work, urging him to keep it confidential put it, “Are you kidding. This boy is a martyr. I could be killed for having this tape.”

Indeed, I found that the organizations I expected would be most eager to hear this news – American and French Jewish and Israeli leaders, Israeli government officials — found the case too dangerous to risk. Some of them, committed to the “Oslo Peace Process” long after it had been killed by suicide terrorism, felt that to attack al Durah would wreck the prospects for peace. No argument that it was precisely the opposite — that as long as the Palestinians could trash any agreement by producing these lethal narratives and get world sympathy in the process, they would never hold to any negotiated commitments — made a dent.

Even the vocal critics of Oslo, the pro-Israel Media-Watch groups eager to criticize the MSM’s coverage, were reluctant to take it on. Understandably. These groups have worked hard to establish their credibility, to avoid getting labeled right-wing nut cases, and they understood the risks to their reputation, the danger of an even bigger backlash (as happened when Shahaf’s investigation first appeared) without a “smoking gun.” As one person put it to me, “without 110% proof we dare not go public with this.” And as another put it, “if you go public with this and fail, you only remind people of this terrible image and make things worse.”

Many of these remarks reminded me of when I first read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in 1985. I was astonished at the argument – I thought it was about Jews using the capitalism to enslave mankind – but it was more than that. It’s actually a relatively sophisticated argument that the Jews used democracy, including free press, as a way to enslave mankind (i.e., the Jews were malevolent demopaths). And the individual accusations were repeated without people knowing where they came from, I wanted to prepare a scholarly edition of the Protocols to alert the public. “You think you are inoculating people, but you’ll only spread the virus,” a major German scholar told me.

That was before the internet hit. Now the Protocols are everywhere, and daily feeding an growing culture of conspiracy theory []. The internet has changed everything. And I personally feel – and this is one of the most elementary aspects of liberalism to which I adhere passionately – that if you can’t trust the public to exercise intelligence and good judgment, then democracy is not possible. To those people in cyberspace and beyond, who are capable of such critical intelligence and good judgment, therefore, I address my work on Pallywood and Muhamed al Durah.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

“The Emperor is naked,” he said.

“Fool!” his father reprimanded, running after him. “Don’t talk nonsense!” He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy’s remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:

“The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It’s true!”

The blogosphere is that venue whereby the words of the Nahum Shahaf make the rounds. I am one of those bystanders who heard him and have repeated it… may it be “over and over again.”

Meditations on Reutersgate: What’s Going on in the MSM?

Zombietime has an interesting roundup of the picture scandal. I couldn’t find anywhere to leave a comment, and since he has some interesting speculation on “why?” — a problem I’ve been thinking about since I first stumbled upon Pallywood some three years ago — I thought I’d put some of my ruminations here, with links to my earlier formulations on this at The Second Draft.

Indeed the name Augean Stables comes from my realization of just how “bad it is” with our newsmedia.

And, PS. the first Pallywood footage I saw was at Nahum Shahaf’s studio, and it was Reuters’ footage.

What to make of all this? As is demonstrated on this page, Reuters has committed not just one instance of fraud, and not just one type of fraud, but four distinct categories of fraud.

Now, of course there is a real war going on, and there is real damage, and authentically tragic scenes. No one is denying that. So, with all the actual honest footage of unstaged war imagery floating around, why is Reuters resorting to supplementing its coverage with obviously fake photos? Several theories have been posited in opinion pieces since the scandal broke. Here’s a summary of the various possibilities.

Theory A: The Reuters editorial staff is sympathetic to the aims of Hezbollah, and is using propagandistic images exaggerating Israeli violence to increase world pressure on Israel to stop its attacks, thereby giving Hezbollah a chance to regroup, and claim moral superiority.

Stage magicians sometimes used what is called the “smoke-and-mirrors” technique, in which chaotic and distracting effects on stage draw the audience’s attention away from the magician’s sleight-of-hand. According to Theory A, Reuters is resorting to “smoke-and-mirrors” by taking advantage of the chaos of war, and the chaos of the international media coverage, to promulgate staged or contradictory news reports. Working on the assumption that no one person would ever see enough different media outlets to notice the fraud, which only becomes apparent when comparing different images which are published in a wide variety of media outlets, Reuters has slipped the false reports into the news stream.

Doss, a commenter on Little Green Footballs, made a very well researched comment showing the systematic bias in Reuters editorial captions to photos of the war in Lebanon, with links documenting each point. According to Doss, “Every time, if an Israeli is hurt, it was a “rocket” that did it; if a Lebanese/Hizb is hurt, “Israel” did it. Humans hurt Lebanese, but inanimate objects hurt Israelis, according to Reuters.” This clearly points to an anti-Israel bias on the part of Reuters.

The hostility to Israel seems pretty widespread in the Western press, and part of the reason for the success of Pallywood, at least since 1982, when Western anchorman stood in front of cameras with Beirut in the background and made comparisons with Warsaw. The question is, why?

The simplest answer, antisemitism, is also the least penetrating. Most of these reporters are not only unaware of any prejudice against Jews (well maybe not some of the Europeans), but many think of themselves as honorable and moral people, even passionately committed to progressive values of compassion. To call them anti-semites, even, to use the Marxist term “objectively” (i.e., unconsciously but in practice) antisemitic, I think short-circuits a whole range of valuable analysis and does not take these journalists seriously as autonomous moral agents — they are making choices, and by and large they believe these choices to be morally correct.

Here in brief are some of my contributions to this issue:

Underdoggism and Leveling the Playing Field

Blogs and Rage: What are the Consequences of Greater Access to Knowledge

Wretchard at Belmont Club has a post on the impact of the blogosphere on trends in world opinion, somewhat misleadingly entitled:

The tree of knowledge of good and evil.

He begins with a discussion that bounces off of a post from, Disruptions in The Fourth Estate, on how the blogosphere has become increasingly competitive with the MSM, even on the MSM’s own terms, as in the in-depth report published by The Politics of CP on the Jamaat ul-Fuqra Training Compound inside the US. Daniel Harrison’s point at Blogcritics is about the blogosphere as a disruptive technology that undermines what seems like a solid hold on an important area of economic activity (in this case the Fourth Estate, or journalism). Such new trends destabilize expectations and open up radically new possibilites for the future. (This is precisely what happened (although far more slowly) with the advent of printing).

Wretchard then segues to the long term impact of the blogosphere and an essay by David Ignatius in the Washington Post:

So why does the world feel so chaotic? Why is there a growing sense that, as Francis Fukuyama put it in a provocative essay in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and — yes, unfortunately — terrorism”? …

There are lots of reasons why the world seems (and may well be) more chaotic.

  • in part because we know more about chaotic events that have been happening all the time. (If a raid happens somewhere in the world and the media doesn’t report it, did it happen?)
  • in part because of globalization and the intense cultural encounter it brings.
  • in part because the kinds of paradigms that we have been working with (in particular the media and academia) which gave us a false sense of security as well as an enormous sense of guilt, are all of a sudden not working… even worse, they are backfiring.
  • in part because modernity is based on a hubris that replaces nature/God/chance with our will, and when we gain the kinds of powers that technology brings us to make choices, we begin to worry about the unintended consequences of playing with the forces of the universe.

Some of this is related to the role of the media which has played a critical role in the emergence of the modern world. Very little of it is related directly to the blogosphere which has only just begun to play a role.

Charles M. McLean, who runs a trend-analysis company called Denver Research Group Inc. (I wrote a 2004 column called “Google With Judgment” that explained how his company samples thousands of online sources to assess where global opinion is heading.) I asked McLean last week if he could explain the latest explosion of rage in our connected world — namely the violent Islamic reaction to Danish cartoon images of the prophet Muhammad.

McLean argues that the Internet is a “rage enabler.” By providing instant, persistent, real-time stimuli, the new technology takes anger to a higher level. “Rage needs to be fed or stimulated continually to build or maintain it,” he explains. The Internet provides that instantaneous, persistent poke in the eye. What’s more, it provides an environment in which enraged people can gather at cause-centered Web sites and make themselves even angrier. The technology, McLean notes, “eliminates the opportunity for filtering or rage-dissipating communications to intrude.” I think McLean is right.

It’s not clear how much of a leading question Harrison asked McLean, but McLean’s answer is jumps right to the wrong conclusion, showing very little knowledge of the dynamics and even less sense of history. What triggered the riots was Imams with phony pictures who went around parts of the third world arousing fury among populations who do not surf the internet. It was just the kind of fury that the Mufti of Jerusalem aroused in 1929 with faked pictures of a Jewish flag flying over the Dome of the Rock; or Peter the Hermit incited among Christians in 1095-6 with tales of Muslims molesting Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem. This kind of rumor-induced mob violence is as old as civilization.

If anything the violent reactions of the Muslim street, although unquestionably fueled by cyberspace Jihad, was far more likely to have been whipped up by TV reports of flushed Qurans and Abu Graibh. And behind that lies the very process of globalization which, in bringing everyone into a “global village” has hurt the self image of many a culture that, in its splendid isolation, could continue to imagine itself supreme. When the millennial celebration of December 31, 1999 circled the globe, the Arab and Muslim world looked in the global mirror and did not like what it saw. Justifiably.

So why would McLean jump to a cheap McLuhanism about the blogosphere to explain things? As a number of commenters at Belmont Club noted, it’s partly motivated by the radical insecurity that the blogosphere inspires in the MSM. While their insecurity is understandable, it’s not very pretty. And given their arrogance when they thought themselves invulnerable, and the damage that they have been doing — especially since 2000 — it’s hard to be sympathetic.

But the issue goes still farther. Like some person in denial, who doesn’t want to admit something, the MSM will readily project what they refuse to acknowledge in one place onto someone or something else. Actually, if we want to do a McLuhanesque analysis, TV is far hotter medium, a much greater inciter than the blogosphere. It takes no intelligence, no training, no will to channel surf, and the appeal of pictures well chosen and spliced is far more compelling than reading the writing at blogs and responding.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear the MSM do an analysis of, say, the Palestinian media that was as relentlessly critical. Let’s just use McLean’s language substituting Palestinian MSM for the blogosphere.

By providing instant, persistent, real-time stimuli, Palestinian telelvision takes anger to a higher level. “Rage needs to be fed or stimulated continually to build or maintain it,” he explains. The electronic MSM provides the Palestinian leadership with the opportunity to provide an instantaneous, persistent poke in the eye to their people. What’s more, it provides an environment in which enraged people can watch together and then gather in the street and make themselves even angrier. The monopoly on the technology of TV and radio, and the failure of the Western press to challenge their propagandistic journalism, “eliminates the opportunity for filtering or rage-dissipating alernative communications to intrude.”

But, alas, that is the kind of analysis you’ll have to go to the cyberspace and the blogosphere to get.

I mentioned that Wretchard’s post was somewhat misleading. He primarily addressed the “fruit of the tree of knowledge.” In fact it’s the MSM’s deep moral confusion — their inability to see evil when it comes in exotic forms and their readiness to see evil when it comes in the form of the narcissism of small differences — that lies at the heart of both the MSM’s massive failures and the challenge the blogosphere poses.

The misogynist reading of the story of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is that Eve sinned first by eating the fruit. But as anyone who believes in free will and God knows, God wishes us to be autonomous moral beings. So eating the fruit of moral knowledge is a no-brainer. Of course God wanted Adam and Eve to eat of that fruit. It’s part of maturing into an independent adult. The sin was pointing the finger, using the knowledge of good and evil for evil, to blame someone else; and that Adam did first. By telling the tale as Eve’s fault we replicate that primordial sin.

Now, in our world of post-modern political correctness, we do the opposite. We go fall for the Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome of self criticism. Our MSM points the finger of blame at the very culture whose dedication to freedom makes them possible, and protects a misogynist culture of hatred and oppression whose merciless leaders would use every piece of technology we generate to enslave the human spirit.

So if there’s a source of rage out there in the media world, it’s the disgraceful combination of abuse of the technology of communication to communicate hatred, and the determination to jump on the bandwagon, or look the other way, or blame the whistle-blower on the part of the supposed professionals of our MSM.

Egyptian Bloggers Make a Dent

The Christian Science Monitor has an article on Egyptian bloggers that suggests some interesting new developments in the world of cyberspace and politics. (Hat tip: Miss Kelly)

World > Middle East
from the August 24, 2005 edition

Egypt’s growing blogger community pushes limit of dissent

Despite a crackdown on the Net by other Arab countries, Egypt’s bloggers are leading antigovernment protests.
By Charles Levinson | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

CAIRO – With unkempt black locks and a laptop tucked under his arm, Alaa Fattah has a voice that carries further than those of other antigovernment activists. Mr. Fattah, just 23, is one of Egypt’s leading bloggers, part of an online community that acts as a virtual megaphone for Egypt’s burgeoning opposition movement. Other countries in the Middle East have started cracking down on the Internet, arresting bloggers and imposing strict censorship regimes.

As bloggers gain clout in Cairo, observers say it is only a matter of time before Egypt follows suit.

At a recent demonstration in Cairo’s Opera Square against the 25-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, activists distributed placards that read “Freedom Now” and “No to Oppression.” Fattah, on the other hand, passed out lists of websites to a dozen or so local bloggers who act as an unofficial media outlet for Egypt’s disparate opposition.

“You just can’t rely on the mainstream media here,” he says.

And it’s even more true in Egypt than it is here.

The connection between the Internet and dissent is not new. In the late 1990s, Zapatista rebels in southern Mexico gained international attention for their plight, largely because of a savvy Net campaign. Similarly, the antiglobalization protests that rocked Seattle in 1999, and have hit other cities since, were organized largely online. Today, blogs, or Web journals, have taken up the charge.

The number of blogs worldwide has doubled in the past five months, and a new blog is created every second, according to a recent report by the blog-watchers Technorati. The Middle East is witnessing its share of that growth.

Many Arab bloggers are tackling sensitive political and human rights issues rarely broached by the state-controlled media. They are proving to be a powerful source of information, capable of reaching a few hundred like-minded activists, or of rallying international attention to a cherished cause.

Having spent some time with Sandmonkey, I can testify to the exceptional nature of at least one of the Egyptian bloggers. He illustrates well the ability of the blogosphere to host exceptional and iconoclastic talents. And last March he passed a million hits.

What consequences such developments will have, however, remains to be seen. It’s easier to blog against an oppressive but archaic dictatorship like Mubarak’s than it is against a dynamic and totalitarian movement like the Muslim Brotherhood. Let us hope that things don’t turn out as they did in Iran in 1979, where the progressive forces worked to bring down a dictatorship, only to open the door to a millennial theocracy.

Read the rest.

People do Change their Minds

I have speculated that one of the roles that the blogosphere plays in the current world crisis is as a refuge for people who, once on the left, have awakened to the growing insanity of not only of the radical left (obvious to some of us since the late 60s) but now, since 2000, of the “decent” left. Indeed Neo’s blog is not only a fine example of this, but a study in the process. For a really nice example of how such a process can actually happen, see Colin Meade’s blog. His personal statement caught my eye for a number of reasons, but especially its mention of the peace rallies of 2003:

Until recently, I was a committed supporter of the Left. For some years before 9/11 I had been studying modern French and German foreign policy, which had led me to ask some hard questions about the real goals of European integration and its relation to the dark side of the European past. I went on the first antiwar demonstrations, but was shocked by the hysterical and obsessive hostility to Israel and the strategic alliance between the Left and Islamists underpinned by that hostility. Things started to come together in my head. A radical rethink was clearly in order….

A French medievalist, who knows about my interest in the Peace of God Movement (980s-1030s) remarked that the rallies of spring 2003 represented the largest peace movement in history, with millions going to the streets. Having seen the role of the anti-Zionist, anti-American left and its allies in the Arab world filling the streets of Paris with hatred, and the way that the supposedly “decent” and peace-loving “left” looked the other way, I expressed my astonishment at his remarks. “This is not a peace movement. It’s not even an anti-war movement. It’s an anti-American war… but the loudest voices are some of the most belligerent I’ve ever run into.”

“That’s just because you’re an American,” was his response. Hélas. Good to know not every European had his critical faculties paralyzed by American Derangement Syndrome. Thank you blogosphere; thank you Colin Meade.

PJs V: What Were They Thinking?

[This is the continuation of my long multi-part post on the “Open Source/PJ” media launch at Solomonia last November. I have divided them up differently this time and made slight changes.]

Fashion Advice for the Ugly: I’d Rather be in my Pajamas Part 5

NB: This was written, the day after the launch, before the recent (and welcome) change back to PJMedia.

With What They Have Going for Them, What Were They Thinking?

Okay it’s easy to make fun of the MSM, what about OSM?

As Roger Simon put it, “What a day of juitjisui — we invite them [MSM], give them a place, and they illustrate what we’ve been saying along.”

Is this interpretation a brave face on a miscalculation? Or triumph of the Art of War?

Inviting the MSM seems more like a positioning move than a trick to get themselves to reveal what idiotarians they are. This was, a number of people sagely explained to me, “reaching out to the MSM” by giving them a place in the process whereby PJ Media sheds its maverick garb and attempts to establish itself as a portal from the blogosphere to the MSM.

Okay… but who is inviting whom? The MSMers clearly don’t get what’s going on; and hopefully the people driving OSM won’t forget what’s going on.

‘Don’t forget who gave you your prominence,” I said to one of the suited young Turks in OSM at the cocktail party, “don’t forget it is independent thinkers who form your most precious audience and took these blogger stars from obscurity to celebrity.”

“No one is forgetting that,” he replied. (Was that a defensive response? Working hypothesis…)

“Well the opening round, with all the MSM people showing us how little they understood, rather than featuring the bloggers and exploring the future, wasn’t very promising.” I said, choosing the role of gadfly rather than pressing the flesh and looking for a way in with this gatekeeper of OSM.

“We put a lot of effort into this event,” he replied (firming up the working hypothesis).

“That doesn’t mean you necessarily made the right choices.”

“Youíre freaking me out here,” he said, leaving me. (Maybe one shouldn’t criticize people on their launch day.)

I guess I can’t count on a call from him to join in planning new projects.

Fortunately, Charles, in a similar conversation during the same cocktail party, was far less thin-skinned.

Pedro on the other hand spent most of the time talking to the two other Europeans (“united against Eurabia?”) at the party: Paul Berger Englishman in New York (who, after discussing Israel and Palestine for almost an hour, said to Pedro “you’ve exhausted me!”) and Pieter Dorsman from PeakTalk (who, like Pedro, will probably apply for “political refugee status” in the US).

Late night conversation around a fire with Pedro, Glenn Reynolds, Mary Madigan, and Judith Weiss. Very smart, informed, opinionated people, unencumbered by the PCP baggage that normally chokes conversation. These are people who would not, as the French and Europeans do, choose slow strangulation rather than risk the embarrassment of saying something that might be considered inappropriate… something someone else could label racist.

It occurred to me, as I heard a number of people mention that they used to be on the left (Charles, Roger, Neo), that the blogosphere represents an interesting refuge from the increasingly self-ghettoized “left” that has, both in academia and in the MSM, isolated anyone who brings up politically incorrect attitudes. This process, of long standing, took a sharp turn to the insane with the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000, and showed its full and astonishing lack of understanding, with the response of many on the left to 9-11 — “it’s all our fault; we’re the real terrorists; and if only we could change, they wouldn’t hate us so.The more idiotarian they get, the less they can tolerate serious criticism, the more isolated they must become, driving out anyone who has the nerve to suggest theyíre getting it wrong.

As a result, they shun, as Jill Hunter, in a variant on Neo’s experience, put it in the title of her self-published book, How I read the Quran and Lost all my Friends. So you get a left that is literally incapable of reality testing, so intent is it on avoiding any criticism. Some of the people thus shunned, end up on the right, neo-cons and beyond. But some of us refuse to be driven out of the left (if by left one means progressive thinking about freedom, decency and fairness), by people who have hijacked it (again) for loopy utopian projects laced with a not so secret admiration for vicious aggressors. As the conference continued it occurred to me, now I know where at least some of us go — the blogosphere.

How Old the Blogosphere?

Academics have a habit of doing retrospective conferences and collected essays at round-numbers dates (e.g., Essays in honor of … at his 60th birthday, or the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth).

I view the emergence of the blogosphere as a parallel phenomenon to the emergence of the “city of letters” that came out of the print world and, gathering a new and largely anonymous audience of letter writers, did an end run around the MSM of the day (universities and manuscript culture). And as far as I can make out, in the next four or so years, we’ll be coming up to the tenth anniversary of the blogosphere.

Anticipating a long period for the blogosphere of growth and maturing (hopefully not rotting before ripeness), this early period will be (probably already is getting) forgotten.

At this point, are there any early histories of the blogosphere? Are there any candidates for when it (as opposed to blogs) first could be dated?

The range of material — from testimonials, memoirs, statistical studies, analyses of its scope (I am particularly interested in the politico-journalistic blogosphere), of its relationship to the MSM, of its phases of growth — seems fairly limitless. Also seems like a multiple-person/group project.

Anyone interested in such a project please let me know.

PJs IV: Who’s in which Millennium?

[This is the continuation of my long multi-part post on the “Open Source/PJ” media launch at Solomonia last November. I have divided them up differently this time and made slight changes.]

Who’s in Which Century/Millennium?

At first I didn’t quite get it. Everyone I talked to who blogged was uniformly interesting, no matter how much we might not agree on some matters. Independent thinkers all, combining nicely two difficult traits — assertiveness and modesty. What a delight. It really was a convention of the people who, at the emperorís parade, would have been unashamed to ask the embarrassing questions. And as I contrasted the quality of conversation in the halls with the panel discussions, I realized that I was walking through liminal terrain, between the two-dimensional, colorblind paradigms of the 20th century, and the emerging stereoscopic color-rich vision that begins to emerge from the blogs.

Want to know whatís going on in France? Check out Belmont Club, Brussels Journal, or Jihad Watch. They leave MSM coverage in the dust. Red pill or blue pill? How do you want to reality test? Read them both, all, by all means. What’s really happening? We won’t know until later, in the meantime, without the blogs, we would have very little idea that there’s more to this than what the MSM report.

A discussion later that evening on about one of the more colorful of the bloggers having been “on the bus” with Ken Kesey, reminded me of a story Tom Wolfe tells in Electric Koolaid Acid Test about when Kesey first took acid as part of hospital experiments conducted in the 1950s, shortly after its discovery. Some were given the drug, some a placebo. Within a short while, it was obvious who got the acid and who got the placebo.

Similarly, within a short while in any given conversation, it was clear who was in the 21st century, and who in the 20th. How stimulating to talk with OSM bloggers. How familiar the holding actions and resistances of those who, weighed down with the baggage of political correctness, still have a reflexive confidence in the MSM.

All this became clear in a random conversation with a photographer who came to see one of his friends attending the launch. We were at the bar later that evening, talking about the MSM and the blogosphere, and I remarked that the difference in coverage of the French Intifada was stark, with the blogosphere on it from night one, and the MSM waiting till the end of week 1 before mentioning it in the back pages.

“Not true,” he insisted. “The pictures were up at a newswire services the first day.”

“Maybe, I don’t know,” I replied, “but what you say makes it worse. The media had these pictures from the start, and didn’t use them or mention the story for days?”

“Look, the MSM have to make decisions about whatís important to their readerships’ lives, so if they didn’t cover it for a couple of days, that makes perfect sense. It just wasn’t that important.”

“First of all, it was five days, not two. Secondly, that very attitude is part of the problem. The blogosphere understood immediately how significant these riots were, partly because they have been paying attention to the RoP and Eurabia whereas the MSM have been systematically ignoring these issues. And so, when the MSM finally wake up to the riots they didn’t deign to be worthy of attention until day five, on day six they already know what they’re about, explaining to us that it has nothing to do with Islam, but it’s “really all about poverty and discrimination.” (As if the two are mutually exclusive.. as if eliminating Islam from the picture will make things clearer…)

I spare the reader the blow-by-blow, although if you want the other guy’s version (with me as a gung-ho supporter of OSM, and demonizer of the MSM), it’s here, with me as “Boston Guy.” My suspicion that I was speaking with a PCPer is there confirmed.

“It sounded like classic rioting with all the classic reasons for rioting. It was horrible but wasn’t directly affecting my life, as I was working very hard to get a guy elected governor of New Jersey. People riot for a reason, things burn and then change comes for better or worse.” Probably worse, as long as people continue to think in terms of “classical” rather than religious terms. Of course that would mean overcoming cognitive egocentrism.

Finally, when he had repeated his comment about, “so what if they didn’t cover it for the first two days, it wasn’t important…,” Pedro stepped into the conversation and quietly asked, “Do you blog?”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

[It turns out he has his own blog, with occasional postings and no mechanism for comments.]

“Let me tell you about a French expression,” I cut in with what was surely an excessively triumphalist and dismissive tone that lacked the modesty I normally praise, c’est très deuxième millénaire,” that’s very second millennium, or, to be a bit more immediate, you have a very 20th century attitude. You might want to get up to speed in the 21st century.” [I shudder as I reread this — not very nice of me.]

“You don’t know anything about me, and I find that presumptuous and insulting,” he said with considerable justification as he grabbed his stuff and left, apparently thinking that I thought of the NYT and the MSM as part of an “evil conspiracy.”

I’d prefer “persistently incompetent MSM.” I guess we all hear what we want to hear. I’m actually quite critical of thinking conspiratorially or projecting it onto people who do not explicitly embrace it. But I had been abrasive and probably deserved it.

There’s a wonderful passage in C.S.Lewis’ The Great Divorce, his answer to Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, where he describes how people first respond to heaven. They are overwhelmed by the intensity, they are unprepared for it, they are fragile, the very grass cuts their thin skins, they need time to adjust. Of course that takes the ability to acknowledge that there’s something to adjust to.

Next: What Were They Thinking?