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.