Wednesday, August 30, 2006

August 29 Media Critique: "Red Cross Ambulance Libel Exposed"

On July 23, 2 Red Cross ambulances were hit by Israeli fire. But now HonestRepoting tells us that, apparently, this has been “comprehensively debunked in a damning report”, by the aptly named blog, Zombietime. (It's worthwhile being cautious when HR starts throwing around "damning". Last time was when it loudly championed a newspaper report that used a "damning" photo that was clearly posed, only a few weeks later to loudly denounce the evil media for using posed photos.)

Zombietime argues that from the photo/video footage available it wasn’t a missile that struck the ambulances. This does expose the somewhat ‘herd-like’ behaviour of the media. Once a story begins to be reported it becomes somewhat self-sustaining, with competition fostering efforts to get a new angle or introduce new material to differentiate your product from others.

The intial report from the ICRC was quite circumspect.

According to Lebanese Red Cross reports, two of its ambulances were struck by munitions, although both vehicles were clearly marked by the red cross emblem and flashing lights that were visible at a great distance. The incident happened while first-aid workers were transferring wounded patients from one ambulance to another. As a result, nine people including six Red Cross volunteers were wounded. "The ICRC is gravely concerned about the safety of medical staff ", said Balthasar Staehelin, the organization's delegate-general for the Middle East and North Africa. "We have raised this issue with the Israeli authorities and urged them to take the measures needed to avoid such incidents in the future.

The increasing interest in the July 23 story has an exact opposite side. It’s quite interesting to read the ICRC reports as the conflict develops.

July 13,

Following reports from southern Lebanon of injuries to first-aid workers and severe damage to ambulances, the ICRC reminds the Israeli authorities that the emblems of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement must be respected at all times. Staff, installations and vehicles bearing these emblems are protected under international humanitarian law

July 18,

In an incident on 13 July three volunteers were wounded when an ambulance was hit.

July 19,

We have reminded the Israeli authorities of their obligation under international humanitarian law to respect and protect medical personnel and their means of transport. We now expect improved access and security for medical teams

July 21

Though it is operational in various places in southern Lebanon, its range of action remains very limited because of the situation. Rescue teams reported several security incidents involving ambulances and relief convoys over the past days.

July 24,

Heavy bombing has continued in the south of the country over the past three days. Medical staff from the Lebanese Red Cross Society continue evacuating the wounded and sick under very difficult and dangerous conditions. The Society reported five security incidents in recent days affecting ambulances, events that highlight the obligation to spare those engaged in medical work………….Among other incidents of this type, on 19 July the Society's first-aid station in Insarieh was damaged, as were two ambulances. A first-aid worker suffered minor injuries. On 18 July, an ambulance received a direct hit while on a first-aid and evacuation mission.

What we have is a clear pattern of Israeli attacks on Red Cross ambulances back to July 13. Any media frenzy? None. It wasn’t of much interest, and while others don’t cover it, it remains hidden. This is the influence of editors who keenly watch other media outlets to make sure they aren’t missing something the others have. And what isn't reported, generally remains so.

What is really interesting is what happens after July 23, the day of the attack that HR wants to hoaxify.

In subsequent ICRC press reports and briefings, there are no further reports of Israeli attacks on the Red Cross until August 11,

On the night of 11 August hundreds of people fleeing the area of Marjayoun by car came under fire from Israeli aircraft. Six dead and 32 wounded were evacuated by the LRC to nearby hospitals. Among the dead was one LRC first-aid volunteer, Mikhael Jbayleh, who was killed while assisting a wounded person.
Though this one seems to be inadvertent, in the sense that Israeli aircraft were just attacking civilians in general, rather than the Red Cross specifically.

So whatever failures, if any, are highlighted by the media performance in this instance, it had an amazingly beneficial effect on the aim of Israeli pilots.

Perhaps the message from HQ went something like this-
Hey you schmucks, you’re getting us bad PR, quit shooting at those ambulances

It also highlights a routine tactic of the apologists. Don’t deny the overall charge at the outset, pick an element and try to discredit the whole by association. So, concentrate on the claim of the missile and try to create doubt around that element. Ignore the initial ICRC report that cautiously only indentifies “munitions” and the string of previous events that show the pattern of Israeli attacks on ambulances. The issue then isn’t whether or not Israeli forces fired at an ambulance, but what they fired with. If it wasn’t a missile, then nothing at all occurred.

The story has even dragged in the hapless Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer. Downer berated the Australia media for being "very anti-Israeli", referring to the July 23 incident, no doubt taking his lead from the Zombietime story.

Embarrassingly for Downer, a journalist from The Australian newspaper (a conservative Murdoch publication) has responded, including to the the Zombietime claim that the appearance of rust in the photos proves that the damage couldn't have occurred on the 23rd, but much earlier, making it all a hoax. He was there and saw the ambulances the next day. This is what he said,

I was in Tyre on the night of the attack and investigated the incident closely the next day. ……….. We inspected both ambulances, whose mangled roofs were not rusting at the time. By the time the photos used on the blog site were taken, rust had appeared. But this is entirely normal in Lebanon's sultry summer climate, where humidity on the coast does not drop below 70per cent.

It's worth reading the whole article from The Australian to see it completely destroy the Zombietime story that HR is pushing. By peddling this stuff, once again HR demonstrates that it thinks its' readers are totally gullible.

And on that score, they're right.

Friday, August 25, 2006

August 22: "Covering the Conflict in the North."

This is a bit like a game. See how many ‘errors’ HonestReporting makes in it’s sermons to the faithful.

HR has done us the favour of a “review some of the worst cases of media bias”.

It’s heady stuff. Just look at this,

Hezbollah manipulation of Journalists
The problem, supposedly, is that CNNs Nic Robertson “simply accepts” the claims of the Hizballah press officer who appears on the segment. HR quotes Robertson as saying “No evidence of military equipment here”.

But true to HR form, this isn’t exactly what he said. This was Robertson’s comment, as they surveyed the rubble,

No evidence apparent of military equipment
A perfectly accurate summation of what the viewer could see on the screen. HR manipulates Robertson words by removing the important qualifier “apparent”.

Just the usual “manipulation” and “bias” that we expect from oh-so HonestReporting.

HonestReporting is to honesty, what Orwells ‘Ministry of Truth’ was to truth.

Disproportionate Reporting
This is no more than a demand for more coverage of damage in northern Israel, without the slightest hint as to why the coverage might have been “disproportionate”. My guess is that it’s because the much greater damage in Lebanon received greater coverage. That’s disproportionate for HR.

They make reference to a HonestReporting UK story that purports to show the BBC exaggerating damage, but it’s just another example of HR distorting items of media coverage to fabricate its claims.

Inflated Accounts of Lebanese Casualties
What do we call this? Studied stupidity, deliberate obtuseness?

HRs example is an AFP story that reports the claim by the Lebanese PM of the death of 40 civilians in Hula. Only one person was actually killed. HR says that AFP “simply accepted Siniora's accusation at face value:

No, you idiots – AFP reported them. Just as it endlessly reported Israel claims that it never targeted civilians despite evidence to the contrary. This is what reporters do, they report.

This is an old favourite of HRs – to conflate reporting with endorsing. Reporting is ‘x said 20 people died’, while endorsing is ‘20 people died’.

Basic stuff that any half serious media critic knows.

Manipulated and Staged Photographs
I always enjoy it when HR shoot themselves in the foot, a rather frequent event.

They revisit the digitally altered image of Beirut, then present a pair of photos, one with a young man lying in the rubble and then another with the same man up and walking around. Apparently he was injured while helping clear the rubble. For HR this is some kind of evidence of media bias – he wasn’t injured in the actual bombing, just the aftermath. That does raise an interesting point – any civilians killed or injured when buildings collapse due to earlier Israeli bombing are not, according to HR, victims of Israeli bombing.

Next, HR fulminate over staged photos. In one scene a body is being put into an ambulance. This is re-done, presumable to get a ‘better’ shot. There is no suggestion that the body isn’t real, just that it was “posed” for the benefit of the camera which is “manipulation”, and hence part of anti-Israel bias, according to HR.

HR is deeply concerned that “numerous photographs have been …….deliberately staged”.

Shocking isn’t it? But just how principled is HR’s stance over “deliberately staged” photos? As we’d expect from HR – not at all.

Remember this photo from just a few weeks back?

And remember how HR stated that these were “damning photos’?

As is immediately obvious to anyone, this is a “staged” photo. The driver casually leaning on the open door, looking to camera, the crowd on the back of the truck, which they wouldn’t be if it was actually in use. It’s as spontaneous a photo as you might get at a birthday party.

Since HR acknowledges the “need for factual, impartial and fair reporting”, I’m sure they won’t mind if people send them an email ( asking to explain their manipulation of quotes and their endorsement of “posed” and “deliberately staged" photos.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Confusion over “Myths and Facts”

Several weeks ago HonestReporting issued an email alert to its subscribers, yet again offering guidance on what constitutes the apologist’s official narrative in Israels latest war in Lebanon. It’s in the form of a video called “Lebanon: Myths and Facts”.

Here are some of the perspectives that it would like its readers to appreciate;

“Myth: Israel is attacking Lebanese civilians”

Like the dead in Qana were a myth?

What do independent bodies like Human Rights Watch say?

Israeli forces have systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in their military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said in report released today. The pattern of attacks in more than 20 cases investigated by Human Rights Watch researchers in Lebanon indicates that the failures cannot be dismissed as mere accidents and cannot be blamed on wrongful Hezbollah practices. In some cases, these attacks constitute war crimes.

So Israel is attacking civilians. No myth.

“Fact: Hezbollah is using civilians as human shields”

HRW again,

Hezbollah fighters must not hide behind civilians – that’s an absolute – but the image that Israel has promoted of such shielding as the cause of so high a civilian death toll is wrong……In the many cases of civilian deaths examined by Human Rights Watch, the location of Hezbollah troops and arms had nothing to do with the deaths because there was no Hezbollah around.

So Hizballah is not using “human shields”. Not a fact, but a myth.

"Fact: Israel strives to minimize civilian casualties, dropping leaflets repeatedly asking them to leave for their own safety…..targetting only military objectives"

HRW again,

In some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.

And on the issue of leaflets HRW says,

Israeli warnings of imminent attacks do not turn civilians into military targets

Moreover, the logic of the leaflets undermines the very rationale they are meant to provide. They are an implicit recognition of the presence of civilians, to which the Israeli response is – we’re going to bomb there anyway.

And then there have been the attacks on civilians who have tried to flee as the leaflets urged.

HRW again,

Israeli forces have fired with warplanes and artillery on dozens of civilian vehicles, many flying white flags. …… the attacks have killed and wounded civilians who were fleeing their homes after the IDF issued instructions to evacuate.

And to finally completely destroy the logic of the “leaflets” there is this, from the BBC,

Since Monday, when Israeli jets dropped leaflets warning unequivocally that any vehicles daring to travel would be hit, there has been virtually no traffic on the roads. Not that there was much before. So in Tyre, the only way to move without that dire threat hanging over you, is to walk. And even that is hardly comfortable – (BBC August 10, 2006.)

Now the leaflets provide evidence of a direct admission that civilians will be targeted by Israeli forces.

It’s clear that HonestReporting has accidentally transposed the words “myth” and “fact” in its script.

Myth: Hezbollah has a justified grievence with Israel”, “This is not a border dispute”.

The ongoing occupation of the Shebaa Farms area might be considered a grievence. There is no doubt that Israel occupies the area, but says that it is Syrian, not Lebanese, territory. And Israel continues to hold Lebanese citizens in Israeli jails, taken from Lebanese territory during Israels occupation of southern Lebanon, in defiance of international law. Also in defiance of Israeli law, and despite the Israeli Government argeeing to release them in a prisoner swap and then reneging. Could it be that this constitutes some tiny basis for a justified grievence?

In its email, HR describes this video as part of the educational tools” in fighting the evil scourge of “media bias”. But then in it’s final sentence, all pretense is dropped and HonestReporting is, for a change, quite candid – “The film exposes …….the actual facts that the media should be reporting”.

Yes, the facts, as HonestReporting wishes they were, are what the media should report.

Monday, August 07, 2006

August 6 Media Critique: "Bold Distortions and Outright Lies"

Occasionally even Honest Reporting gets something right.

This time they note the controversy over a manipulated photo that appeared in a Reuters story. The photo was altered, with smoke added. Reuters issued a correction and pulled the photo. Doctored photos are a serious problem and HR is right to highlight it and request action.

But HR is rarely content with just the facts. There is no story about the media that can’t do with a bit of exaggeration and distortion to foster the world wide anti-Israel media conspiracy. The altered photo, says HR, ”is an outright lie”. That must mean it was a complete fabrication, implying something that never occurred. Was it? Here is the original and the altered version (below).

Well, as you can see there was an Israeli air-strike on Beirut and it did result in billowing black smoke, just a little less than the altered image shows. HR sees a conspiracy to “make damage in Beirut appear much worse than reality”. Does it really do this? There is no actual damage to be seen in either version, just smoke. Just like HR’s over-hyped claims.

In its opening paragraph, HR yet again goes for hype over facts,

Despite evidence that Israel is taking unprecedented steps to avoid civilian casualties, some in the media have accused the IDF of using disproportionate force against a harmless civilian population.
Where would anyone get such an idea that Israeli acts might be disproportionate? Well, what about here,
The Israeli government has blamed Hezbollah for the high civilian casualty toll in Lebanon, insisting that Hezbollah fighters have hidden themselves and their weapons among the civilian population. However, in none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in the report is there evidence to suggest that Hezbollah was operating in or around the area during or prior to the attack…………… Human Rights Watch urges Israel to immediately end indiscriminate attacks and distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants. – Human Rights Watch.

But wait, there’s more. Next we have some classic HR dishonesty. HRs ‘Media Critique’ refers to a National Review Online story by Tom Gross, which itself is discussing the CNN program ‘Reliable Sources (3rd hand is always good enough for HR!) CNN is interviewing one of its own reporters, Nic Robertson, about Hizballahs media management. Gross makes a bit of a hash of it, writing that,
Nic Robertson admitted that his anti-Israel report from Beirut on July 18 about civilian casualties in Lebanon was stage-managed from start to finish by Hezbollah.
If you look at the CNN transcript, that isn’t quite what Robertson was saying, and just in case that you have the impression that Robertson admitted his own report was “anti-Israel”, he didn’t , that was just Gross editorializing. In case anyone is a bit slow on the up-take, Gross is at pains to make clear his total commitment to objective journalism with the title of his article ‘Media Missiles: Working for the enemy’. (Psssttt!. Enemy= Hizballah/Lebanon).

But Roberston did have some interesting comments to make,

But from what we can see, there appear to be a lot of civilian damage, a lot of civilian properties….........That you have to point out to the audience and let them know that this was a guided tour by Hezbollah press officials along with security.
The last point is, of course, relevant. Journalists who are relying on a partisan source need to inform their viewers of this. Robertson’s explicit acknowledgement of this is deliberately ignored by Gross, who claimed that this demonstrates "how the news media allows its Mideast coverage to be distorted." Not only that but Gross tries to spin this as the journalist “letting it slip”, as if the activities of public relations officials in conflicts and how journalists deal with it, was some great mystery until now.

However, this does reveal a fundamental bias in media coverage. CNN acknowledges the potentially distorting influence of Hizballahs media management and HR is keen to highlight this. But what about the other side? What about Israels media management, or doesn’t this exist? For CNN, it doesn’t seem too, not that the National Review noticed this. Fortunately, Matthias Gebauer from Der Spiegel, recently wrote about this exact topic. From his experience, this is what the Israeli General Press Office does,

In Israel, reporters are on an all-inclusive package trip -- and are well looked after.

Well-thought-out story ideas including transportation, lunch and selected military experts -- all these things are offered without ever having to be asked for. Many journalists happily accept the offer. For days, images of Israeli artillery units flickered on TV screens the world over -- one reason of course being that the PR warriors always took the camera teams to the frontlines around sunset. The soft, warm twilight is favored by camera men and photographers.

An e-mail that arrived on Wednesday is a good example. It offers no less than 11 news stories. The Israeli refugees, perhaps. Or the problems with Arab Israelis? A feature about how an entire village has been dispersed across Israel? A report on people who had to leave their houses? Former hostages? Or a village that has been shot at for decades? It's all available.

There's no need to go anywhere.

Just a bit more than a guided tour. Imagine if Hizballah were providing whole story lines for journalists to use; HR would be apoplectic.

Any chance that HR will describe this as “media manipulation” by Israels GPO, as journalists having “misled viewers with selected footage from Israel”, or criticizing those who have been “taken around the damaged areas by Israeli government minders”?

Absolutely no chance.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

August 1 Media Critique: "Qana in Context"

HonestReportings latest media critique calls for “context” in the reporting of the Israeli bombing in Qana that killed dozens of civilians.

The context that HR suggests is in 3 parts,

1. HR claims that 150 rockets have been launched from Qana, referring to the IDFs website as the source of information. Perhaps further context might be provided by via a link to a Hizballah website where they deny this.

2. That Hizballah are operating from civilian areas. HR provides a photo and a link to a Herald Sun newspaper report. The photo is of a truck-mounted anti-aircraft gun, with a building in the background. This is commonly what is known as ‘defense’ in its real sense, such weapons being used to shoot down attacking aircraft. A second photo in the Herald Sun article shows a man posing for the photograph holding a gun, with a large fire and rubble in the distant background. It’s impossible to tell where the photo has been taken and what it is meant to portray. The caption informs readers that the man is a ’militant’.

3. That the IDF dropped leaflets advising people to leave. The implication being that by not leaving, Israel is absolved of all responsibility for subsequent events.

Leaving aside the details as HR sees them, it calls for "the media to examine the Qana tragedy in context", with the obvious implication that this is not happening.

Lets test the HR suggestion by looking at the coverage by the BBC, a frequent target of HR, to see if they have failed to provide the context HR expects.

A BBC report the day after the bombing gave this context,

Israel has insisted that Hezbollah sheltered in Qana and used it as a base to fire rockets across the border………The IDF said in a statement that Qana had been used since the beginning of events as a ‘hideout’ and a place from where approximately 150 rockets had been fired into Israel.

The IDF also said that residents in the village and surrounding areas were warned in advance to stay out of areas where rockets were being launched at Israel. – BBC, 31/7/06.

That does appear to be exactly what HR was requesting, the BBC even repeating the Israeli defence twice, so what is their point?

The next section may help to answer this.

HR suggests that maybe all is not as it appears in a section titled "Emerging Doubts”. One ‘emerging doubt’ is that the building collapsed completely some hours after being bombed. Why this is meant to be some mystery, is itself a great mystery.

The other doubt HR would like to cultivate is about the number of casualties,

The Red Cross has published that 28 corpses were evacuated from Qana, 19 of which were children. These figures clash with the Lebanese report that 57 people were killed.
Its source for this is the Israel- based Ynet News,
Red Cross publishes that 28 corpses evacuated from Qana, contrary to Lebanese reports that 57 people were killed. -Ynet News, 1/08/06
Is this really true? Here’s the ICRC press release from which Ynet News gleened this tidbit,
In today's military operations by the Israel Defense Forces against the village of Qana, a building sheltering civilians was directly hit. At the time of writing, the Lebanese Red Cross Society and the Lebanese Civil Defense have extracted 28 bodies from the rubble, 19 of whom are children.
Amazing how omitting just a few words can be so useful. So, the Red Cross was issuing a press release on the day of the bombing that gave the information available at that moment, which wasn't the final tally of dead, but the number of bodies so far recovered, as the ICRC made perfectly clear. No doubt both Ynet News and HonestReporting understood this quite well.

Just more of the dishonesty we expect from HonestReporting.

Perhaps HonestReporting could have included the next paragraph of the same press release to give some much needed context to the issue of the IDFs leaflets,

Issuing advance warning to the civilian population of impending attacks in no way relieves a warring party of its obligations under the rules and principles of international humanitarian law. In particular, the principles of distinction and proportionality must be respected at all times.
That must be the wrong kind of context.

The aim here is not to provide context, but to muddy the waters. Outright denial isn’t required, in fact that would be less effective when the outcomes are undeniable, but suggestions (false ones) of exaggeration of casualty figures and other agendas, imply that all is not as it might appear. Linking this to other incidents where HR claims that false accusations were made (eg. the IDF shooting of Mohammed al-Dura) sends a clear message – don’t judge this yet. And that is the primary goal. Highlight, exaggerate or even fabricate any semblance of doubt to forestall judgment and then let time do the rest.

The other important goal is to reassure the faithful that the IDF remains the most moral army in the world and that the scourge of anti-Israel media bias persists, despite what the facts might suggest.

HonestReporting – your regular inoculation against reality.