Friday, August 04, 2006

With the Program

Yesterday Democracy Now! featured an enlightening segment on how the U.S. media is covering the current war in Lebanon. One of the participants was Peter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting—an organization whose diligence in documenting and exposing real media bias I could not praise highly enough. Hart had this to say about how the U.S. media tends to frame the current dispute:
I think there are a lot of things to talk about. One of the first things to understand is that the media in this country are obsessed with a timeline, establishing when history began in this story. And usually in the media, it begins when Palestinians attack. CBS reporter Bob Simon said just as much a couple of weeks ago on the evening news. June 25th, Hamas captures an Israeli soldier. That's when history began. July 12th, Hezbollah does the same, captures two Israeli soldiers. That's when this story begins.

You can appreciate this history, but you have to ignore a lot of very relevant history: dozens of Palestinians dead in Gaza in the months prior; the attempt to destroy the Palestinian government in Gaza; the fact that the day before this capture of an Israeli soldier in the West Bank, two Hamas members, alleged Hamas members, were captured by Israeli forces in Gaza, crossing that border. We hear a lot of talk about borders and sovereignty being the story, but when Israel crosses that border, it's apparently not a story.

The same is true in Lebanon. There's a lot of context to that story that predates July 12. In late May, a member of Islamic Jihad was killed in Lebanon. Many people in Lebanon and Israel actually think Israel had something to do with it. Border skirmishes had been going on for the past month and a half or so. These are things that are excluded from the timeline. If you read your newspaper, they have a graph, they have a chart. Almost all of them have done this. And they begin on June 25. They begin on July 12. And they ignore all of this relevant back story.

Sure enough, here's how our local daily educated us a few days ago, in a story on local people with connections to the Lebanon conflict:
On July 12, Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the Lebanese border into Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers, sparking a massive Israeli retaliation that has killed more than an estimated 520 Lebanese. Thirty-three Israeli soldiers have died, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have killed 19 civilians.
It's always nice to know that your local daily will get with the program: other parties are responsible for "sparking" conflict; the Israelis merely engage in "retaliation." Never mind the evidence that the current "retaliation" was planned well in advance. Never mind that the ostensible "retaliation" so far has included striking bridges, power plants, fleeing civilians, and ambulances. Never mind that the "retaliation" so far may have killed 900 and displaced a million Lebanese. If this can legitimately be framed as "retaliation," then the next time someone cuts me off in traffic, I'm going to follow them home, cut their power, salt their lawn, beat up their children, set fire to their house, and take potshots at them as they try to flee. When the police arrive, I'll tell them it was just "massive retaliation" and that the other party was at fault for "sparking" the conflict. I'm sure they'll agree that justice is on my side.

The other day I heard someone mumbling about how the American media is "anti-Israel." I wish I'd thought to ask him to explain what's "anti-Israel" about describing the systematic slicing and dicing of Lebanon as "retaliation" for the kidnapping of two soldiers. But it probably would have been "anti-Israel" of me to ask the question in the first place.

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