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.