Monday, October 16, 2006

Oct 11 Media Critique: “Immoral Nuclear Relativism”

This sub-heading pretty much sums it up for HonestReporting,

North Korea's nuclear test prompts false comparisons with Israel's own nuclear capabilities.

HonestReporting is howling about this story. A Sky News reporter, Ian Woods, had the temerity to point out the obvious double standards in the Israeli media coverage of North Korea’s nuclear test.

Though HR has trouble deciding if its point is that the article was comparing the countries, or their nuclear weapons,

One is an ultra-repressive communist dictatorship in North-East Asia; the other is the only real democracy in the MidEast.

It’s the later of course, but HR can’t help but adding a touch of feigned outrage.

HR isn't happy with Woods,

Correspondent Ian Woods states that "nowhere did any [Israeli media] reports mention what is the country's worst kept secret. Israel is a member of the nuclear mafia."

This so-called "mafia" includes the USA, UK, Russia, France, China, India and Pakistan, while Iran aspires to join this club. Yet, Sky prefers to concentrate solely on Israel.

HR is concerned over the use of the word “mafia”, but omits a rather crucial piece of information. The phrase is used by Woods after he quotes an Israeli General to that effect,

"The nuclear club is turning into a mafia," said Major General Uzi Dayan, a retired commander in the Israeli Defence Forces. And yet nowhere did any reports mention what is the country's worst kept secret. Israel is a member of the nuclear mafia.

Context can be everything can’t it? As HR well knows.

And why does the article “concentrate solely on Israel”? Well, that would be because the story was about the reaction in Israel to the North Korea news.

While Woods' report is neither ground-breaking nor particularly controversial, HonestReporting finds it somewhat strange that Sky has attributed any moral relativism between North Korea and Israel.

If it’s not controversial why call the report “immoral”?
And “moral relativism”? North Korea and Israel operate their nuclear programs completely outside of the accepted international monitoring process, via the IAEA. That’s not ‘relativism’, just relevant.

The Sky News story does make some other pertinent observations,

But Israeli journalists are banned from discussing Israel's nuclear capability by government censors.
Israel has always tried to maintain an official ambiguity about its nuclear policy, neither confirming nor denying it has the bomb. It has never signed nor ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
One Israeli journalist with excellent military and political sources told me that some government officials believe the ambiguity may have to be replaced by more explicit threats.

HR talks about “Israel's purported nuclear capabilities”. The word “purported” is often used to suggest that a statement is false. Sounds like a phrase from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, rather than from an independent media monitor that strives for “accuracy”.

Oh sorry, I mean a purportedly independent media monitor.


Yes, I’m afraid it’s time to re-visit allegations of photo fraud, with our incompetent (or totally dishonest, you decide) guides at HonestReporting.

HR covered this one in it’s August 22 Media Critique, but it’s time to revisit it with an interview with the photographer . This is the photo in question, which was published in the New York Times newspaper.

The issue was the caption used by the NYT. The caption as supplied by photographer was this,

Israeli aircraft struck and destroyed two buildings in downtown Tyre, Lebanon Wednesday evening. As people searched through the burning remains, aircraft again could be heard overhead, panicking the people that a second strike was coming. This man fell and was injured in the panic to flee the scene. He is helped by another man, and carried to an ambulance.

The NYT used this caption in it’s print edition,

After an Israeli airstrike destroyed a building in Tyre, Lebanon, yesterday, one man helped another who had fallen and was hurt.

And a few days later the photo appeared in a slide show on the NYT website with this,

The mayor of Tyre said that in the worst-hit areas, bodies were still buried under the rubble, and he appealed to the Israelis to allow government authorities time to pull them out.

This storm-in-a-tea-cup brewed up in early August with some bloggers referring to it as the “Hezbollah Photo Fraud”. It’s worth remembering at this stage that Israel was facing mounting international criticism for events like the Qana bombing, and both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had released reports in the previous week detailing Israeli breaches of International Humanitarian Law. Pro-Israel bloggers were trying hard trying to demonstrate that just about any anything that cast Israel in bad light was staged, faked, or a fraud/hoax/libel. Their issue was that the 2nd NYT caption “implies” the injured man was actually pulled from the rubble. That’s it – what might have been implied from the caption. Talk about grasping at straws!

HR did add its own scintilla of originality to the story . HR told its herd that,

However, this same ‘victim’ is sometimes seen alive and posing for the cameras and sometimes pretending to be dead.

That he was “pretending to be dead” was HRs invention , with no factual basis for the claim. HR also appeared to be perplexed by ordinal sequences. The victim was earlier photographed “alive”, ie. up and walking, as he was helping search the rubble, then photographed again later (ie , occurring at a time after the initial shots) when he had fallen and was injured, hence his horizontal position. Hopefully I’ve clarified that for HR.

HRs update on this issue is the interview with the photographer explaining how the altered caption came about. The photographer puts the frenzy over the photos being a fraud/staged etc. into rational perspective,

one man fell from a considerable height onto his back and was seriously injured

So all the blather about the photo, that he was pretending to be injured, the lack of dust on his body or the position of his hat etc, were all just desperate attempts to fend off criticism, to protect Israel from the consequences of its actions

So is HR stupid, incompetent or manipulative? I vote for stupid and manipulative. Pure incompetence wouldn’t continually make such convenient ‘errors’. No, it’s a total lack of honesty and a complete disregard for the truth that allows HR to make the wildly inaccurate claims that fill its “Media Critiques”.

This demonstrates an important feature of HonestReporting: when they’re not misrepresenting and fabricating the views of individuals like Ronnie Kasrils, they’re trawling old issues like this one, and contorting them to create the impression of “anti-Israel media bias”. And they have no choice but to misrepresent and fabricate, because real examples of the phenomenon are so rare. This is a routine HR tactic; to take minor stuff-ups, errors and cock-ups of the type that are all too common, and allege that they are the product of “bias” in the media. There are real examples of significant factual errors in the media, but they're not the kind HR has any interest in. For example, the mis-reporting (in the few instances it was reported at all) of the details of the killing of a Palestinian woman by the IDF. The refusal by the paper concrned to issue a correction gives an indication of where most of the real problems lie in reporting the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Finally HR tells us “that this incident serves as an example to newspaper editors to be more careful with their captions in the future.

Any chance that this example will teach HR to be more careful with its’ accusations in the future? Of course not, HR isn’t subject to the constraints of “accuracy” and “fairness” that it demands of others.