The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Asymmetrical Reporting

During the Israel-Lebanaon war last summer, I wrote on a number of occasions about the shocking pro-Hezballah MSM bias in the US and Europe. A number of my Left-leaning friends accused me of over-reacting, of being overly sensitive to a few journalist "mistakes" and a small number of editorial "oversights."

It now appears, however, that my assessment was accurate. The left-leaning Harvard University Kennedy School of Government has released a report discussed in World Politics Watch:
A close examination of the media's role during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon comes now from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, in an analysis of the war published in a paper whose subtitle should give pause to journalists covering international conflict: "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict." Marvin Kalb, of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, methodically traces the transformation of the media "from objective observer to fiery advocate." Kalb painstakingly details how Hezbollah exercised absolute control over how journalists portrayed its side of the conflict, while Israel became "victimized by its own openness."

The lessons from the Harvard paper go well beyond historic analysis. Kalb's thoroughly and persuasively documented case points to the challenges to journalists in future "asymmetrical" conflicts in which a radical militia provides access only to journalists agreeing to the strictest of rules.

Journalists did Hezbollah's work, offering little resistance to the Islamic militia's effort to portray itself as an idealistic and heroic army of the people, facing an aggressive and ruthless enemy. With Hezbollah's unchallenged control of journalists' access within its territory, it managed to almost completely eliminate from the narrative crucial facts, such as the fact that it deliberately fired its weapons from deep within civilian population centers, counting on Israeli forces to have no choice but defend themselves by targeting rocket launchers where they stood. Hezbollah's strong support from Syria and Iran -- including the provision of deadly weapons -- faded in the coverage, as the conflict increasingly became portrayed as pitting one powerful army against a band of heroic defenders of a civilian population.

Gradually lost in the coverage was the fact that the war began when Hezbollah infiltrated Israel, kidnapping two of its soldiers (still held to this day) and killing eight Israelis. Despite the undisputed fact that Hezbollah triggered the war, Israel was painted as the aggressor, as images of the war overtook the context.

Israelis by the hundreds of thousands became the target of rocket fire aimed at civilian centers. Women and children, Jews and Arabs, young and old, spent more than a month living in underground shelters while nearly 4000 Hezbollah rockets rained on Israel. The coverage from Israel, however, quickly moved away from the anxiety-filled civilian areas, which were not terribly telegenic, and onto the front lines where armed, uniformed soldiers could be seen by television cameramen and reporters.

The report itself documents case after case of blatant media bias, inaccurate or slanted reporting, lack of context, faked photographs and the like. In every case, these “errors” benefited Hezballah and molded world opinion against Israel.

It’s nice that a learned center of journalistic research speaks truth to power (the MSM and the Left) nearly a year after the fact. Too bad that the results of this study will never be reported on CNN, in the NYT, the LAT, at ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Reuters, the Guardian. Even worse, not a single thing will change the next time around.

And you better believe there will be a next time around.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


In the West, and particularly in the USA, we lionize “freedom”—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom from a prying government, freedom of movement, of political association … the list is long. But as Margaret Atwood said in The Handmaids’s Tale, “there’s freedom from and freedom to,” and by implication, every society has to choose.

Like everything that’s important in life, freedom is not all good, or all bad. We tried to give the Iraqis freedom, and we’ve freed them to act like barbarians, killing each other with wanton abandon. We insist on freedom of speech and religion, and provide a forum for Jihadist Iman’s who advocate the overthrough of our country. We encourage electoral freedom in the Palestinian territories, and the electorate chooses Hamas—irrational, genocidal terrorist thugs to lead them. Freedom is scary, but lack of freedom is scarier still.

Some on the Right and the Left in the United States choose their freedoms selectively. The Right, for example, insists on the freedom to acquire semi-automatic weapons, but takes umbrage when a gay person expresses the desire to be free to enter into a legal union with a partner. The Left demands freedom of speech so that they can trash their country with absolute impunity, but invokes any of the flavors of political correctness to limit the free speech of those who criticize any group or idea that they deem protected (by PC). Both ends of the political spectrum feel that by limiting selected freedoms (not all, mind you, just the ones they disagree with), we’ll somehow return to paradise.

And some want to be free to close their eyes, their ears, and the mouths, refusing to see, hear or speak of the evil gathering in the shadows, just beyond the next turn, insisting that we (the West) have total culpability for the ascendency of that evil. If we just change our actions, the illusive paradise without threat or acrimony can, in fact, be ours.

Wretchard of the Belmont Club comments:
Unfortunately, there may be no escape from freedom; no return to paradise. The way out lies forward, past all the menacing shadows we glimpse ahead. The advantage of generations past was that they knew the meaning of those shadows, and the best of them guarded themselves on their way. But today we prefer to whistle in the dark and repeat to ourselves that perils do not exist. For so terrifying are they that for some it would be worthwhile to deny everything for so long as we could deny the reality of our suspicions.

There is one freedom, sadly, that all the moral relativism in the world cannot erase. There are many who have the freedom to be evil and they exercise that freedom with increasing regularity.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

See no evil

You’ve all seen the cartoon. Three monkeys sit side by side, with hands covering mouth, ears and eyes, respectively—speak, hear, and see no evil. As time passes, it appears that the Left has adopted the same position, especially where Islamist ideology is concerned.

In their view, political correctness and misguided multiculturalism restricts any negative discussion of Islamofascism. In fact, even relatively mild criticism is to be avoided, lest Islam as a whole become tarnished by the discussion. So outrages that would bring wails of outrage from the Left if practiced by any other group are simply ignored. At best, they receive a quick mention (e.g., the true reasons behind Daniel Pearl beheading or the brutal murder of Theo van Gogh) and are expeditiously forgotten.

But what about the eyes and ears? That brings me to a story in today’s Arizona Republic concerning a cancelled PBS documentary entitled “Islam vs. Islamists” that was scheduled to appear on PBS’s America at a Crossroads series.
The producer of this taxpayer-financed documentary on Islamic extremism claims his film has been dropped for political reasons from a television series that airs next week on more than 300 PBS stations nationwide.

Key portions of the documentary focus on Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser of Phoenix and his American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a non-profit organization of Muslim Americans who advocate patriotism, constitutional democracy and a separation of church and state.

Martyn Burke [the folm's producer] says that the Public Broadcasting Service and project managers at station WETA in Washington, D.C., excluded his documentary, Islam vs. Islamists, from the series America at a Crossroads after he refused to fire two co-producers affiliated with a conservative think tank.

"I was ordered to fire my two partners (who brought me into this project) on political grounds," Burke said in a complaint letter to PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supplied funds for the films.

Burke wrote that his documentary depicts the plight of moderate Muslims who are silenced by Islamic extremists, adding, "Now it appears to be PBS and CPB who are silencing them."

It is possible that the documentary is blatantly biased, but PBS’s actions don’t pass the smell test. A letter (pdf file) written by the film’s producers to PBS defends the film and makes a compelling case that Left-leaning, pro-Islamist bias on the part of PBS’s reviewers were pivotal in the publicly-funded network’s decision not to run the film.

But then again, maybe it’s significantly more innocent. Maybe it’d just the three monkeys doing what they do best.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What goes around ...

The year is 2010 and the Liberal, Democratic President is doing quite well. Although Jihadist terror remains a threat, there have been no significant terrorist events inside the USA. Europe continues its downward slide toward appeasement and capitulation to a growing Moslem minority. Iran is said to be three years away from its first nuclear weapon test, but the MSM reports “promising signs” in the on-going negotiations, conducted under the auspices of the UN.

The President’s main agenda, to the joy of most of the citizenry, is “energy independence.” The President has taken a hard line with ME oil producers, and is working on a coalition with China, India, Japan, Brazil, and selected EU countries, to spend 1 trillion dollars to develop technologies that will lead to a 10 year multinational project to develop and deploy alternative fuels and sources , leading to complete energy (oil) independence for all parties by 2018.

But trouble is brewing. A group of powerful Republican lawmakers (said to be funded by “Big Oil”) have decided that the administration’s foreign policy initiatives in this area are all wrong. They have decided to conduct their own foreign policy visits to China, India, Japan, Brazil, and selected EU countries, working to undermine the Democratic President’s initiative and continue our dependence on oil. When asked why they have chosen to violate a long-standing tradition that holds the President as the key manager of foreign policy, they argue that a precedent for breaking that tradition was established little more than 3 years earlier.

How would you respond to their efforts?

I thought so.

The precedent that the fictitious Republican legislators were referring is happening right now—Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided that a Democratic foreign policy visit to Syria is appropriate. The problem isn’t that she’s undermining the current President, she’s undermining precedent. And for what? Political grandstanding? Thomas Sowell comments:
But whatever passing damage is being done to George W. Bush is a relatively minor concern compared to the lasting damage that is being done to the presidency as an institution that will still be here when George W. Bush is gone.

Once it becomes accepted that it is all right to violate both the laws and the traditions of this nation, and to undermine the ability of the United States to speak to other nations of the world with one voice, we will have taken another fateful step downward into the degeneration of this society.

There is one constant in US politics – what goes around, comes around. If the Democrats insist on undermining a Republican President’s foreign policy (regardless of how ill-conceived it is), you can bet your life that the Republicans will do the same when roles are reversed, and at the first viable opportunity.

If you didn’t like Republican meddling in my fictitious narrative, why is it that the Speaker’s road trip is any different? In these dangerous times, we, as a country, need to present a united front, one voice, at least at the foreign policy level. If we don’t, a precedent of multiple voices will be set, and it will come around to haunt the next Democratic President.

Update: (4/5/07):

Even the Washington Post , no enemy of Democrats and a consistent champion of Liberal ideals, expressed distain for Polosi’s field trip in an editorial today:
“We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Ms. Pelosi grandly declared.

Never mind that that statement is ludicrous: As any diplomat with knowledge of the region could have told Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Assad is a corrupt thug whose overriding priority at the moment is not peace with Israel but heading off U.N. charges that he orchestrated the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. The really striking development here is the attempt by a Democratic congressional leader to substitute her own foreign policy for that of a sitting Republican president. Two weeks ago Ms. Pelosi rammed legislation through the House of Representatives that would strip Mr. Bush of his authority as commander in chief to manage troop movements in Iraq. Now she is attempting to introduce a new Middle East policy that directly conflicts with that of the president. We have found much to criticize in Mr. Bush’s military strategy and regional diplomacy. But Ms. Pelosi’s attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Soft Power

The Brits, and the EU in general, continue to insist that the application of “soft power” will convince the Iranian thugs to release the kidnapped British navy personal. It may very well work, but only after the British grovel sufficiently. Even if the kidnapped Brits are released, it’s worth considering the results, not just the release itself. The Iranians can reinforce their belief that they can act illegally and with abandon, and will suffer no consequences other than statements of ‘concern’ by the UN, and being jawboned “bilaterally” by the offended party. They now recognize that the Euros no longer have the will or the means to stand up for themselves and that the US is moving in the same direction.

Victor Davis Hanson comments on this new normal:
There are reasons along more existential lines for why Iran acts so boldly. After the end of the Cold War, most Western nations — i.e., Europe and Canada — cut their military forces to such an extent that they were essentially disarmed. The new faith was that, after a horrific twentieth century, Europeans and the West in general had finally evolved beyond the need for war.

With the demise of fascism, Nazism, and Soviet Communism, and in the new luxury of peace, the West found itself a collective desire to save money that could be better spent on entitlements, to create some distance from the United States, and to enhance international talking clubs in which mellifluent Europeans might outpoint less sophisticated others. And so three post-Cold War myths arose justify these.

First, that the past carnage had been due to misunderstanding rather than the failure of military preparedness to deter evil.

Second, that the foundations of the new house of European straw would be “soft” power. Economic leverage and political hectoring would deter mixed-up or misunderstood nations or groups from using violence. Multilateral institutions — the World Court or the United Nations — might soon make aircraft carriers and tanks superfluous.

All this was predicated on dealing with logical nations — not those countries so wretched as to have nothing left to lose, or so spiteful as to be willing to lose much in order to hurt others a little, or so crazy as to welcome the “end of days.” This has proved an unwarranted assumption. And with the Middle East flush with petrodollars, non-European militaries have bought better and more plentiful weaponry than that which is possessed by the very Western nations that invented and produced those weapons.

Third, that in the 21st century there would be no serious enemies on the world stage. Any violence that would break out would probably be due instead to either American or Israeli imperial, preemptive aggression — and both nations could be ostracized or humiliated by European shunning and moral censure. The more Europeans could appear to the world as demonizing, even restraining, Washington and Tel Aviv, the more credibility abroad would accrue to their notion of multilateral diplomacy.

But even the European Union could not quite change human nature, and thus could not outlaw the entirely human business of war. There were older laws at play — laws so much more deeply rooted than the latest generation’s faddish notions of conflict resolution. Like Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance, which would work only against the liberal British, and never against a Hitler or a Stalin, so too the Europeans’ moral posturing seemed to affect only the Americans, who singularly valued the respect of such civilized moralists.

But no worries. The new US Congress now subscribes, I think, to the European model – soft power. Talk with your enemies a la Nancy Pelosi and the Syrians. And as an aside, demonize your own country, a la many in the Congress, just be sure that the world understands that there are many in the US who are on a different and significantly elevated moral plain. That’ll matter a lot to the Islamists.

And when the Islamofascists act with aggression, don’t blame them or do so softly, looking for a Western imperialist scapegoat as the catalyst for their actions. If they demand elements of Sharia law for taxi drivers (who won’t accommodate help dogs for blind people), in schools (where in the UK they’ve stopped teaching about the Holocaust), and in the courts (full face covering), be very, very tolerant. If they behead a journalist, look the other way. If they bomb a school, a church, or a synagogue, talk about the “oppression” they experience. And for larger matters such as WMD, criticize those who worry or try to preempt for their “hysteria.” After all, there is no threat, or at least, no threat that can’t be defused by “soft power.”