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The MSM and Staged Photos:

As I noted previously, the blog EU Referendum has presented powerful evidence that the photos of Qana splashed across the front pages of newspapers worldwide yesterday were staged. Indeed, further evidence suggests that one "rescue worker" whose photograph with a dead child was circulated around the world is actually a leading and longstanding Party of God (Hezbollah) PR poobah (he was photographed in military garb holding up a dead baby for the cameras in 1996). This, along with other (perceived) anomalies (summarized here), has led to a bevy of conspiracy theories circulating around the blogosphere, that I won't bother linking to unless some hard evidence turns up.

But the staged photo claims seem rather persuasive (update: as a commentor below notes, Taranto in yesterday's opinionjournal.com is skeptical about whether the time stamps on the photos are meaningful, but it seems likely that the photographs were "set up" to provide maximum effect, rather than just being photos of rescue workers going about their business; I should also note that the media could have used other, unstaged images that would have conveyed the same message of tragedy) and I want to focus on a narrower issue, how the MSM deals with staged photos.

(1) Do mainstream media outlets have a policy against publishing "staged" photos that appear to be spontaneous? (There's obviously nothing wrong with publishing "posed" pictures if its obvious that the subjects are posing for the camera.)

(2) If so, are they currently investigating what is documented at EU Referendum, and has been discussed on blogs and radio shows around the world?

(3) If so, if the photos turned out to be staged, will the newspapers apologize to their readers for publishing them?

(4) If the photos turn out to be staged, will the photographers in question be fired [assuming they were aware of the staging]? Can you still be a respectable photojournalist if it turns out you've be an accomplice in staged photographs?

(5) Or are staged photos just par for the course in the MSM, or at least no big deal, because "if it bleeds it leads," and newspaper need "good" photos, staged or not?

I don't mean the last question to be snarky, I'm genuinely curious. Maybe lots of the photos we see from disaster zones, wars, etc., are staged, but that's just the way things are done. If so, newspaper photos present a "fictionalized reality."

Humble Law Student (mail):
No, they likely won't. Just look at the work of Professor Landes at his site tearing apart two notable Palestinian propaganda victories.
8.1.2006 1:05pm
Steve:
Some people have alleged that the building was not, in fact, destroyed by an Israeli attack, and that Hezbollah actually detonated the building itself (hours after an Israeli attack on the site) and planted bodies from a morgue to make it appear like a tragic scene. See, for example, here.

Setting aside the fact that I don't remember Prof. Bernstein calling for the firing of the journalists who participated in the Jessica Lynch sham, and other PR moments of that type, I note this post seems to be curiously silent on the topic of the broader conspiracy theory. Is the allegation that the photos were staged but the attack actually happened, or is the reality of the attack itself in question?
8.1.2006 1:10pm
fishbane (mail):
Put aside who is doing the staging. Is this more or less staged than the photos of pulling down the Saddam statues?
8.1.2006 1:13pm
te (mail):
So as scores of people are being slaughtered or injured (in both sides of this mess) this strikes you as the most blogworthy issue of the day?

This petty scorekeeping is sickening.
8.1.2006 1:14pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Steve, that a pretty funny question considering that I didn't blog anything about Jessica Lynch, ever, and indeed had to Google her name to be reminded who she was. Bloggers follow some stories more closely than others, depending on their interests. Jessica Lynch never especially interested me, either as an icon, or as an apparently debunked icon.

As for the broader conspiracy theories, if I write that I'm not linking to posts on it because there's no hard evidence, you can assume that I'm very skeptical.
8.1.2006 1:20pm
PersonFromPorlock:
'Journalism' is the production of interesting filler to keep people hanging around for the ads. The best filler is the cheapest and most interesting, which is why fact-checking is not done; it costs money, adds nothing to an item's entertainment value and may result in the item's having to be discarded.

Once you understand this, much about the media becomes understandable.
8.1.2006 1:22pm
Kate1999 (mail):
Staged photographs are quite common. In this media age, pretty much everyone plays it up for the cameras. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that the event happened; I'm not sure how the possibillity that the picture was "staged" changes everything.
8.1.2006 1:24pm
Steve:
Fair enough, Professor.

Didn't we raise the flag twice on Iwo Jima?
8.1.2006 1:24pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Fish, if you have a source on the Saddam statue staging linking, feel free to link it. You're being snarky, but I'm not at all claiming that Qana was the first and only staged photo event in the MSM. Indeed, I suspect it's quite common, and would welcome further examples, but, even more so, information as to whether MSM outlets have policies about this.

And te, first, I make no claim to be blogging on the "most important issue of the day", as opposed to what interests me and I think may interest readers. Second, whether, and to what extent, the media intentionally publishes staged photos is an issue with ramifications well beyond the daily headlines.
8.1.2006 1:25pm
Crunchy Frog:
My vote is for #5, especially if the photos convey the correct political message, i.e. the preteen Israeli girls writing messages to Nasrallah on live missiles.

fishbane, at least the pulling down of the Saddam statues, as well as other photo ops like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, are actual events, that would have happened whether or not there were cameras present, and represent milestones in history. It's not as if some TV producer sat up one day and said, hey, let's yank down this statue over here, it'll make good news coverage.
8.1.2006 1:25pm
Southern in the City:
It seems unlikely to me that the photographers in question would have known it was staged. As Taranto noted yesterday, the times that EU Referendum quotes are likely the times the photos hit the wire and not the time they were taken. It's also unlikely that they knew that the guy was a Hezbollah "Poobah" or any other type of Hez. person. What I think is most likely is that someone told them "Hey, come take these photos, the Israelis killed a bunch of civilians in their raid" and the photographers went to cover a story. It would be perfectly legitimate for them to cover the story if the incident had actually occurred, and I think they were probably just duped by an organization with a good PR machine. Maybe I'm just naive, but I like to think that they wouldn't be knowingly complicit in helping to stage such a horrific scene.

As for an apology, I think the editors owe it to their readers to say "We got taken, these were photos staged by Hez. Sorry." Does it clear the slate? No, but it's a good start.
8.1.2006 1:28pm
Zed (mail) (www):
I remain unconvinced that the photos were staged. The entire argument seems to hinge on discrepancies in the publication time... but that's not the same as the time of exposure, and may not represent any particularly useful information at all, except for the time that someone loaded those shots into the computer system. Note that one of the times was even changed!

I did a quick check of the images directly, and all of the IPTC/EXIF data has been stripped, so there's no way to tell exactly when they were taken (and granted, that information can be changed too, but it takes a little more effort and is more likely to be accurate).

As to the ethics, however, there are a few different situations to consider. First, the most extreme possibility, that the photographer was intentionally complicit in generating a scene that's deliberately deceptive. I think this is pretty clearly unethical and if it's not a firing offense, it should be. I'm not familiar with a single case where this was proved of a mainstream media photographer, however.

Second, the case where the photograph was part of a deliberately deceptive staged act, but the photographer didn't know that this was the case. I suspect that this happens fairly frequently whenever the resources are available by any given party (witness for instance the staged photo ops Bush set up in New Orleans, some of which actually interfered with relief efforts -- although some of them were pretty blatant, there's no reason to believe that the photographers had to be aware of the intent when they happened). It may have happened in this case as well, given the other appearances of the man in the picture, but it's impossible to prove from the evidence presented so far. When demonstrated, it would be proper for news sources to print a retraction, but that unfortunately doesn't seem to be common practice. (I can't think of a single case, in fact, though there may be some.)

Third, there's the situation where the event is real, but the photographer wouldn't have been there at all if it weren't for being tipped off by someone who wanted it photographed. A number of occurrences in Iraq fall into this category, and on this one I side very firmly with the photographer -- if it's news, take pictures of it, and it doesn't matter how you found out about it or who wants it to be published or not published. It's not a reporter's job to self-censor based on who happens to be inconvenienced by the truth.
8.1.2006 1:37pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I'm just a provincial newspaper reporter, never had to cover a war, but to begin with, there's a difference between 'staged' and 'fake.'

National political conventions are staged but not fake.

Street demonstations are staged for the purpose of being photographed, as are pictures of school children visting the local congressman in his office.

The question rephrased is, what is the rule for photographing (or reporting in words, for that matter) an event that did not happen the way the 'sponsor' wants it to be reported? And the answer is, honest journalists don't do that. If they recognize it.

Remember the picture of Dukakis riding in the tank? He looked silly and uncomfortable in that helmet and conceivably that image cost him votes. His opponents certainly believed it would.

Staged? Of course. By Dukakis. Fake? No, not exactly, although if it was meant to portray Dukakis as a political warrior it was, at least, dubious. Honest reporting? Sure, the first time it was published.

Republishing it over and over starts skirting ethical behavior.
8.1.2006 1:42pm
dick thompson (mail):
Maybe it is just me but equating these staged photos which will be used as propaganda against Israel and blaming them for cruelty beyond the pale when they didn't do it is a far cry from Jessica Lynch. How about equating this with the photos where they claimed the Marines killed all those civilians in Iraq when the photo was taken weeks earlier and the deaths were committed by the Iraqi terrorists. Did the BBC ever apologize for printing those photos? How about the people gunned down at the intersection in Baghdad that won a Pulitzer Prize when the photographer was called there and the photo was staged for him. These have a whole lot more relationship to the current situation than anything to do with Jessica Lynch. Have the media outlets ever apologized for these screwups? Of course not because it fit their agenda. Don't look for it to happen with the Qana photos either.
8.1.2006 1:42pm
James Ellis (mail):
These are all great questions. It is hard to form an intelligent opinion about things when the only information sources available to us are incomplete or biased, intentionally or not. While it seems to be easier to manipulate the news photos in distant or hazardous regions, it happens a lot closer to home, too. Katrina photos, death penalty (and other) protests and rallies, and lots of other events often seem out of proportion or non-representative. I do think that the press generally tries to do a good job and will make corrections if pressed, but on the other hand editors (and readers) demand striking and personal images, especially for their front pages. And I'm sure that individual photographers are pretty competitive, too...
8.1.2006 1:43pm
Paul Horwitz (mail):
I understand you're not trying to be snarky, but did you really think (5) was the answer? Of course, it's not. Check out, among other things, the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, which makes fairly clear that staged news events, including photographic coverage thereof, are generally improper. There are a variety of institutional and constitutional reasons why journalists' ethics codes, at least in the U.S., are self-enforcing rather than publicly enforced, reasons I hardly need adumbrate for the benefit of a superb book like "You Can't Say That." So I make no grand claims that this ethical principle is well-enforced, either through investigation or punishment. (That does not mean journalists not have been fired for themselves staging events; to my certain recollection, they have. I can't say how many have been fired for willfully using material staged by others, although I suspect there have been cases, and I'm not sure dismissal would be the appropriate response for inadvertently doing so.) Still, I should have thought it would be obvious to a layperson that such an ethical principle exists, and speaking as a former journalist I can say that no matter how great the failings of that profession, most mainstream journalists have internalized that principal at least as much as lawyers internalize their own professional norms. Enforcement, alas, is a different story.

On whether the toppling of Saddam's statue was staged, I have tried to stay away from conspiracy theory types, and haven't put a lot of research into it, but here's a story from the Seattle Times suggests that the toppling was the act of a Marine colonel, and that an Army psy-ops team, which both used loudspeakers to encourage an Iraqi crowd to participate, giving it the look of a spontaneous act undertaken by locals, and provided an Iraqi flag to drape over the statue's face in place of an American flag placed there by Marines. The story cites an unspecified Army report as its authority. I leave it to others to debate whether this made the act a staged affair; I'd put it somewhere in the middle. I should add that I provide this information with no particular political agenda, either on the war in Iraq or the events in Lebanon. I should also add that one of the best pieces debbunking another staged event in the same region -- the shooting of Mohammed al-Dura in Gaza -- was written by James Fallows, more or less a charter member of the MSM, and published in the Atlantic, which surely qualifies as a member of the MSM.

A different question I would ask is why you pose this question only of that cliched and non-specific group, the "MSM." Do you think the non-MSM should be able to present staged photos? Or that it doesn't? Or -- the most defensible argument, although in some ways a curious one -- that the MSM is more important and influential than the non-MSM, and so its ethics matter more? Or -- also quite defensible -- that hoping for a standardized set of ethical obligations for as disparate a category as the "non-MSM" is futile? However well or poorly the mainstream media (itself too disparate a category, in my view, especially given variations in quality) performs its job, there are all kinds of reasons why one might expect it to have a more coherent and well established set of ethical norms than does that congeries of outlets we call the non-MSM. Without in any way wishing to be an apologist for the press, my experience in the profession suggests that, on the whole, it does.
8.1.2006 1:54pm
Steve in CA (mail):
As an employee of the "MSM" (a mid-sized newspaper), I can tell you that there are strong policies against "staging" photos. Our photographers won't even ask people to pose for portraits, usually. They'll just shoot them doing whatever they happen to be doing.

Also, PersonFromPorlock has no idea what he's talking about.
8.1.2006 1:57pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
Is the problem that the photograph was "staged," or is the problem that reporters were told and/or reportered incorrectly that the man identified as a rescue worker in fact was a longstanding Hezbollah poobah? If the news agencies were under the mistaken impression that he was a rescue worker, and reported as much, then it would seem that a correction is in order.

Although I would suspect that the same picture with a caption describing the man as a Hezbollah poobah rather than a rescue worker would have gotten about the same play and had the same impact. The nauseating detail is the notion that this child's body was paraded around for hours in order to generate useful images.

In principle, this last aspect is only somewhat more troubling than the allegations that, e.g., President Bush's visit to New Orleans in the days after Katrina caused resources to be diverted from rescue operations. At least in this instance the child is already dead, although that also makes it seem more abhorrent.
8.1.2006 1:59pm
Nylarthotep (mail) (www):
I'd say there is relevance to the issue of the staging, though in a broader context the press issuing photographs and opinion on the bombing is, in fact, assisting Hezbollah's aims.

Note, that the vast majority of the news coverage comes out with a majority of condemnation of Israel for the attack, but completely failes to point out that Hezbollah intentionally setup their rocket lauchers in the middle of the town. If they were trying to protect those civilians they would have chosen another launching point that would have been away from civilian population.

The press has held itself above reproof on their actions of posting staged or completely faked incidents. They hold that they are protecting our need to know. Though they fail in ensuring that the news and photos are authentic. By taking a rather idealistic stance on issues like this, where they only consider the body count and not the right of the Israelis to defend themselves, they propel the Terrorists aims.

Staged or not, the words with the pictures are far from fair and balanced with regards to what is really happening on the ground.
8.1.2006 2:05pm
DClawer:
When Emmett Till's mother left the casket open, it was a "staged" event. So what?
When someone holds a dead Lebanese child for the purposes of being photographed, it forces us to consider that children are currently being mauled religious fanatics engaged in an irreconcilable fight. (Or it would, if we weren't so de-sensitized).
In fact, I think Olmert should have to attend every Lebanese funeral. Or perhaps some of the other hawks on this blog would care to go? (And yes, the guys in HZB should have to do the same thing, but I don't know their names).
Maybe the grief of a parent burying a child could get through even to people so closed minded they've chosen to live their lives based on the superstitions of people who died centuries ago. But probably not.
8.1.2006 2:18pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Here is the stage Saddam Statue article

" An internal Army study of the war in Iraq has confirmed that the infamous toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in central Baghdad on April 9, 2003 was stage-managed by American troops and not a spontaneous reaction by Iraqis. According to the study, a Marine colonel first decided to topple the statue, and an Army psychological operations unit turned the event into a propaganda moment."

LAT broke the story if someone wants more proof they can google around.
8.1.2006 2:18pm
Navin R. Johnson (mail):
1: Steve, I disagree. PersonFromPorlock hit the nail on the head. He described the environment in which journalism takes place. Journalists can and do aspire to better, but PFP is correct about which way the wind blows.

Note- pointing out the true basic goal of journalism (to sell advertising) does not in itself show that any given report is unreliable or shoddy. In general, just because someone has a colorable ulterior motive for a given action does not mean they act from ulterior motives or that they act badly in any way.

2: The very idea that an accusation against a member of any profession can be refuted by citing that profession's code of conduct is absurd right on its face. I'm surprised to see that 'point' made in this otherwise thoughtful conversation.
8.1.2006 2:18pm
Evan H (mail) (www):
First I have to commend Professor Bernstein for not joining the chorus of rightwing Qana deniers who seem to have sprung up in the aftermath of this tragedy. But as far as the staging of photographs goes James Ellis is right given the information we have there's no possible way to form a truly informed opinion. The writers of EU referendum say "the camera does not lie," which makes me wonder if they've ever used a camera. Camera's lie all the time and in the digital age they've become even more prolific liars. Did Hezbollah exploit Qana? Of course they did. Does Israel exploit every civilian who is unfortunate enough to be hit by a Hezbollah rocket? Of course they do. Does it change the tragedy of the whole situation? Not one bit.
8.1.2006 2:20pm
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
David:
I sympathise with what you are trying to do by referring to Hezbollah as the "army of god", but is this really a fair tactic? It seems to me that "Israel" translates to about the same thing ("struggles with god" - am I right?). Israel may not be the fanatical religious organization that Hezbollah is, but this seems sort of the point: we should let the actions of the different parties inform our views of them, rather than summary impressions based on the translations of organizations names.
8.1.2006 2:21pm
Shangui (mail):
My vote is for #5, especially if the photos convey the correct political message, i.e. the preteen Israeli girls writing messages to Nasrallah on live missiles.

How were these staged in the sense of being fake. The Israeli commander on site confirmed that they were photos of a real activity that he was supervising. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?
8.1.2006 2:23pm
Navin R. Johnson (mail):
Evan, it does 'change the tragedy' of the situation because Hezbollah has been 'fighting' a primarily PR campaign all along. Their hundreds of rockets have PR, not military accomplishment, as their primary goal. They launch those rockets from residential neighborhoods in the HOPE that photos like these will be the result. Giving them the maximum benefit of the doubt, in the hope that they will be permitted to launch those rockets indefinitely and with impunity- knowing that when and if Israel responds to the hundreds of rockets they will 'counterattack' with pictures like these.

So when we see the man behind the curtain, unless we are very closed minded, it DOES 'change the tragedy' in that it improves our understanding of what is ACTUALLY happening and who is ACTUALLY the author of the situation.
8.1.2006 2:29pm
SeaLawyer:
There is a difference between "staged" and faked. Even so the Saddam statue coming down, both flag raising's on Iwo Jima are things that really happened, in fact nothing was staged at all. On the other hand a terrorist group blowing up a building and hauling in dead bodies is an example of an entire event being faked.
8.1.2006 2:30pm
Paul Horwitz (mail):
"The very idea that an accusation against a member of any profession can be refuted by citing that profession's code of conduct is absurd right on its face. I'm surprised to see that 'point' made in this otherwise thoughtful conversation."

Excellent refutation, except that: 1) In citing the SPJ code, I didn't set out to refute "an accusation against a member of [a] profession." I set out to explain the ethical policies of that profession, and nothing more, as is glaringly obvious from the rest of my comment. 2) Prof. Bernstein's post specifically began by asking whether "mainstream media outlets have a *policy* against publishing 'staged' photos that appear to be spontaneous." My comment was a directly responsive answer to his question.
8.1.2006 2:32pm
Evan H (mail) (www):
Navin, perhaps you and I have a different opinion about the nature of this tragedy. For me the tragedy is that these people are dead, regardless who is to blame.

I agree with you that Hezbollah has been fighting a PR campaign which why I've been dumbfounded by the IDF's response. They've done nothing but increase the power and influence of Hezbollah while demonstrating the impotency of the legitimate Lebanese government.
8.1.2006 2:36pm
Ken Arromdee:
So as scores of people are being slaughtered or injured (in both sides of this mess) this strikes you as the most blogworthy issue of the day?

This petty scorekeeping is sickening.


Israel is losing the propaganda war, because the majority of the news sources are biased against it. Whether a photo is staged is *very important*. Even though a staged photo doesn't directly kill or injure people, the staged photo and others like it affect the outcome of the war, and that *will* affect who gets killed or injured.
8.1.2006 2:37pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I've addressed this before, but the name "Israel" is based on the ancient kingdom of Israel, and is meant to convey the historical continuity of the Jewish people with the land (no wonder the other side refers to it as the "zionist entity). This has nothing to do with "striving with God" and the atheistic socialists that founded Israel would be horrified that this confuses you. In short, the literal meaning of the name is of as little relevance to the current situation as the fact that "America" is named after Amerigo Vespucci (sp?).

Hezbollah, however, is composed of religious fanatics who really do see themselves as belonging to the Party of God. Translating its name clarifies things. Referring to Israel as "He Who Strives With God" would not.
8.1.2006 2:41pm
DClawer:
KA:
Maybe Israel is losing the propaganda war because they are the stronger power dropping bombs on civilians. The U.S. is "losing the propaganda war" in Iraq, and I don't think it's because any media outlets are biased against us, it's because we're in the wrong.
8.1.2006 2:49pm
Derrick (mail):
Why does the translation clarify thing? This seems like a cheap attempt at propaganda with the whole "Party of God"/Hezbollah thing. I have no idea what or if Hamas means anything, just what the organization is about. It seems that if we are in the translating game, we mine as well translate every thing foreign with meaning for consistency sake, Isreal included.
8.1.2006 2:52pm
Navin R. Johnson (mail):
Evan, I agree that the deaths themselves are tragic, but I can't agree that that's the bottom line.

We all respond differently to death depending on how and why it happened. I'm sure you have a different response to a person who kills in self-defense than to a person who kills in a fit of pique, or to a person who kills in a legitimate accident versus one who kills while drunk driving. The bottom line is not death. Life and death are the stakes.

We should not shrink from describing the context, and we should not fail to note the differences among the actors. This stuff really does matter.

What bothers me about a focus on the deaths themselves is that such a focus is NOT neutral. It serves the stated purpose of the terrorists by obliterating the context of events.
8.1.2006 3:15pm
Navin R. Johnson (mail):
Paul, you're right, I read your comment too hastily and instead of re-reading it when it appeared to make no sense to me I posted a snarky line about how nonsensical it was. I shouldn't have done that and I apologize.
8.1.2006 3:23pm
Paul Horwitz (mail):
No problem. Thanks. PH
8.1.2006 3:28pm
Passing By:
It's a redux of the propaganda storm after the killiing of Mohammed Al-Dura - depending upon which brand of the propaganda you believe, he was shot by Palestinians (with every eye witness including all foreign journalists in on a massive cover-up), or he is still alive (merely invisible, with somebody else's body in his grave). Some say he wasn't even shot, but don't quite explain how it would then be the case that his father was shot... was it six times? Never mind the initial admission of responsibility by Israel for this or any other civilian death - if it makes Israel look bad, it must be staged.

People like Prof. Bernstein don't raise any discernible objection to large-scale civilian deaths among Palestinian and Arab civilians. But it sure does bother them when it is caught on camera.
8.1.2006 3:43pm
rarango (mail):
It would be nice to think that the news media were totally unbiased and wrote and published only "fact." That, IMHO, is a totally unreasonable expectation; in fact, it is clear that modern combatants are increasingly using the media as a propaganda arm for their cause. While the problem is clear, I don't think anything can be done about it--it will ultimately remain an issue of caveat emptor for the consumer of media reports/pictures/videos. If journalism is indeed "the first draft of history," it is increasingly inaccurate, I fear.
8.1.2006 3:46pm
DavidV (mail) (www):
When I worked as a reporter/photographer for a small local newspaper, we had a somewhat loose "posing" policy, which I think made good sense. My editor was okay with posed shots, provided they were an accurate portrayal of actual events. Of course, that injects a degree of subjectivity into the story, but anyone who is familiar with journalism knows that it's really all subjective. You can take a straight news story, or a completely non-posed picture, and still twist it to your own biases. I am more concerned with whether a news outlet tries to present both sides of the story, rather than whether they ask some guy to "turn a little to the left" so they get a better shot.

As an example, any time a reporter choses to paraphrase a source rather than use a straight quote, it amounts to "posing" the statement. The reporter is editing the narrative in order to present a "better" sense of what actually is intended. Good reporters do so fairly. Bad reporters don't. But everything about the news is ultimately "posed."

That said, the obviously-posed photos noted by EU Referendum bother me primarily because they show Hezbollah's utter disregard for human life. Anyone who can parade a little child around, waving his dead body as nothing more than a weapon in the propaganda war, is despicable. Period.

In a way, the posed photos do present an accurate picture. However, the depravity displayed is not that of Israeli bombers, but of Hezbollah's strategy of hiding behind the children of Lebanon.
8.1.2006 3:57pm
te (mail):

First I have to commend Professor Bernstein for not joining the chorus of rightwing Qana deniers who seem to have sprung up in the aftermath of this tragedy.

Actually, it is a more subtle way of accomplishing the same thing - denying the importance of the underlying event.

You could say - "Nope, Qana never happened" but then you would soon be proven to be an idiot.

Much more effective to naval gaze with questions like: "Hmmm, were these photos legit?" And invite the discourse to go down that path. As you can see from the many posts above, it is an effective strategy.

It is borrowing a page from the playbook of Holocaust deniers who quickly admit that there were mass killing but then move the dialogue in the direction of quibbling about whether it was actually 6 million or "only" 2 million or something like that.
8.1.2006 4:02pm
Navin R. Johnson (mail):
te! shameless.

Apply your own logic to yourself. You're now a 'denier' too. Congratulations. Let's move on.

David V. is right - "...the depravity displayed is not that of Israeli bombers, but of Hezbollah's strategy of hiding behind the children of Lebanon."
8.1.2006 4:07pm
paulhager (mail) (www):
At this point we don't know for certain whether the photos were staged or not, though it is a reasonable assumption. The ubiquitous "Green Helmut" fellow seems to be a key figure. Add to this the statement that the IDF may not be responsible for deaths in Qana. If it is the case that Israelie combat videos show that the building was still standing after two subsequent raids it does open the possibility that Hezbollah and not the IDF brought the building down. Whether Hezbollah obtained corpses from a morgue or decided that it was logistically easier to have the prospective corpses convey themselves into the building before detonation remains to be determined.
8.1.2006 4:15pm
TC (mail):

Fair enough, Professor.

Didn't we raise the flag twice on Iwo Jima?


Yes, because the first flag was too small and the commanders wanted it to be seen over the entire island.

But I have no idea how that's relevant to this event.
8.1.2006 4:27pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
MSM is a useless phrase, inasmuch as it must include not only the New York Times but the New York Daily News, which certainly have different approaches to, eg, Israel news.

The blogosphere, including this part of it, and talk radio and all the bloviators usually evaluate news reports based on the (assumed) political reliability of the reporter.

Professor Bernstein, the avowed antiStalinist, should avoid this, of all people. Consider that perhaps the greatest single news report of the 20th century, the proof that the Russians did the Katyn massacre, was prepped, sponsored, stage-managed and disseminated by -- Goebbels.
8.1.2006 4:30pm
cathyf:
This is sort of a side issue, but I find it quite curious nonetheless. Take 2 alternative explanations of the data that we have.

Story 1): Hezbollah fired rockets from the top of an apartment building with civilians inside, which is a war crime. The rockets were fired towards cities, which is a war crime because they are not precision munitions. And finally, the warheads were packed with nails to act as a multiplier in killing civilians. So, you've got your Hezbollah War Crimes Hat Trick.

Story 2): Israel dropped a bomb next to an apartment building, not on it, and did not kill or injure anyone. In the next several hours, bodies from the morgue in Tyre were driven to Qana in the morgue's refrigerated trucks. The bodies were place in the building, and then Hezbollah detonated explosives to bring down the building without killing or injuring anyone. Then they invited members of the press to come out and watch them dig out the bodies.

And the people giving serious consideration to story #2 are apologists for the Israelis?!?

Yes, it's true, the world really has gone freakin insane!

cathy :-)
8.1.2006 4:45pm
SeaLawyer:

The blogosphere, including this part of it, and talk radio and all the bloviators usually evaluate news reports based on the (assumed) political reliability of the reporter.


Just about everyone I know evaluates the news based on a number of factor's to include the political affiliation
and bias of the reporter and news organization.
8.1.2006 5:10pm
rarango (mail):
And of course, Te, those that believe the Israelis were responsible for the killings at Qana know the truth; those of us that think Hezbollah are responsible and are using the carnage to only further their aims cannot possibly be correct. Pathetic.
8.1.2006 5:46pm
te (mail):

And of course, Te, those that believe the Israelis were responsible for the killings at Qana know the truth; those of us that think Hezbollah are responsible and are using the carnage to only further their aims cannot possibly be correct. Pathetic.

I guess it's easier to just make things up rather than to respond to what I actually posted, but the last time I checked the Israeli government has admitted that it was responsible for the killings.

I don't spend much time waiting around in the conspiracy theory blogosphere, so I haven't looked at the "evidence" about whether or not the whole shebang was fake or not. A trusted third is credible evidence of that, will hear about it soon enough.but come in the meantime, let's go back to our regularly scheduled programming we can talk about whether or not the camera angles of the carnage are "fake" and other such nonsense.
8.1.2006 6:04pm
RonMexico:
"MSM"? "Party of God"? When did VC become Fox News, with all of its petty code-words and alternate names? Uggh...
8.1.2006 6:25pm
Colin (mail):
RonMexico,

I'm not a fan of Bernstein's - I think his hyperpartisanship distorts and occludes the discussions of the issues he chooses to highlight. But even from that perspective, I think his use of "Party of God" is clever and appropriate. It's not a code word, it's just the English approximation of Hezbollah. He made the point in an earlier post that Western ears would be less sympathetic to the group if its religious extremism was more transparent, and that since the name is meant to be literal and obvious by the group itself it should be presented that way. I agree on both points. So while I agree that the VC is listing further to the right than I'd like as a reader, I don't think it's fair to ding Bernstein for using "Party of God."
8.1.2006 6:57pm
Navin R. Johnson (mail):
Te, I responded to what you said. I pointed out (although not in so many words) that your argument is trivial, in that it applies equally to all participants.

Also, rarango did not say it was a hezbollah bomb not an israeli bomb that blew up the building, although that possibility is allowed for by what he did say. He referred to consdering hezbollah responsible.

I'm just plain sorry if the distinction is lost on you. I don't see how you could say so in good faith and with a straight face.
8.1.2006 6:58pm
Steve Rosenbach (www):
Here is the point: remembering all of the inaccurate statements on the Palestinian/Lebanese/Red Crescent/Red Cross side during the early part of the 1982 war; remembering the Mohammed al-Dura affair, where it was ultimately proven that the boy *could not have been* shot by the Israeli forces; remembering the phony numbers on the Palestinian side with regard to Jenin in 2002; remembering last month's "Israeli shelling of innocent picnickers" in Gaza, which turned out to have been likely caused by Hamas actions.... the point is, that whenever you hear, "...according to Palestinian sources", or "...according to Lebanese sources", or certainly, "...according to Hizbollah sources", if you don't take that information with many large grains of salt and a very questioning attitude, you're not being realistic. If you're a journalist and you don't probe and investigate, you're not doing your job.
8.1.2006 7:16pm
rarango (mail):
Te--I see another poster has reminded you what my point was--and I am not precisely what source you checked to determine that the Israeli's admitted "responsibility" for Qana--but on the July 30 the IDF statement said the regretted the loss of life but it was Hizbullah that was responsible for those deaths--and the Israeli ambassador to the UN made the same statement on the 31st--I am not sure who is making what up, but it seems your recollection differs from official Israeli statements.

And for the record, I will always believe the Israeli version over the Hizbullah, Palestinian, and Human Rights version. The Israeli track record is much more accurate.
8.1.2006 7:51pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Yeah, SeaLawyer, I'm aware of that, and I'm trying to persuade you that that is a really poor way of assessing the usefulness of news reports.

The 21st century is yet young, but the best piece of reporting in America so far was Charles Johnson's expose of the Bush National Guard hoax.

I don't think there's a more partisan journalist in the country than Johnson (and I suspect most of my colleagues wouldn't even accept that he is a journalist), and when his point was picked up by PowerLine, that just condemned the story further in the eyes of leftists.

But Johnson's report was exact and unimpeachable, nevertheless.

Same with the No Gun Ri expose. AP won a Pulitzer for that hoax, and it was amateurs who first raised questions about the veracity of the report. That it was unquestionably a hoax was finally nailed down by serving Air Force officers.

Each report has to be assessed on its intrinsic merits. Its source should be considered but can almost never be considered a guarantee of anything. That oughtn't to be a huge hurdle on a law blog.

I've seen enough obviously faked Arab atrocity pictures to be wary of all of them. I have no opinion, so far, about the Qana reports, but I read some of the posts that Professor Bernstein declined to link to.

The debunking factoid that makes the biggest impression on me (so far) is the observation (if authentic) that the corpses were ashen not bloody.

That's exactly the sort of evidence that hoaxers never think to make allowances for.

John Morris, a medieval historian ('The Age of Arthur') made the point, more than 30 years ago, that the most reliable documentary evidence is the 'furniture' that surrounds a fake story.

If the faker expects to put it over on contemporaries who know, say, what goes on in a 6th century English church, then his description of a 6th century church had better be exact if he expects them to also believe that the saint he is honoring also walked on water or talked with animals.
8.1.2006 8:16pm
fishbane (mail):
David, for one collection of information of the Saddam statue toppling, see here.

Also, I didn't intend to snark - sorry if it came out that way. I was trying to isolate equivalency issues from simply comparing media photos of historic events.
8.1.2006 9:15pm
hey (mail):
I love Passing By. Absolute and total ignorance. Just for the record (though most people here know it) Mohammed Al-Dura was killed during a firefight between Palestinians and Israelis. Everyone believed that the Israelis killed him as he and his father shelterd behind a wall in the crossfire. The Israelis apologised, end of story. Except that people kept investigating, and discovered that the angles didn't work. The Palestinians had actually killed him (intentionally or accidentally who knows), based on where the forces were positioned and where Mohammed and his father hid.

This has been such a controversy thanks to the vivid movies and photos of the family's agony as they hid and Mohammed's death. A French network made a documentary about this, blaming the Israelis, and it created such an outrage that the Israelis went through the evidence again, belatedly discovering who was responsible.

Combine that with the Jenin "massacre" and the Gaza beach "shelling", and one has to consider that there may be alternate explanations for these tragedies. The likeliest explanation, unfortunately, is that the building collapsed thanks to a bomb dropped on the building, either immediately, after several hours a la WTC 7, or thanks to relatively close explosions in the morning. Given the relative ethics of the parties involved, and the PR skills of Hezbollah, greater evidence is required rather than simply taking the likeliest explanation (call it a dull Occam's razor).

Do journalists take staged/faked events on faith? Absolutely. Look at Anderson Cooper's report from Beirut, where he highlighted that Hezbollah dragged the media to an ambulance station, had them interview the drivers, and then had the ambulances "race off with sirens blaring to emergencies that don't exist". Hez controls journalists access, controls what they take photos of, and threatens the life of journalists.

What does Hamas mean? Hamas is the acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Resistance Movement. Not quite as evocative as Party of God or Islamic Jihad, but fairly close.

There's another question wrt Hez's good intentions. They produced a huge, full color banner with Rice's face on it denouncing the Qana massacre. It was unfurled within hours of the collapse of the building, furthering suspicions. It may just be that they have a crack staff of graphic artists and large format printers on call, but it would stretch the abilities of most major cities in the West, never mind Beirut, to get it done within hours.
8.1.2006 10:16pm
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
"This has nothing to do with "striving with God" and the atheistic socialists that founded Israel would be horrified that this confuses you."

I didn't say I was confused why Israel was named what it was. I said I was confused that you only see fit to provide translations when it is convenient for your argument (which, let me reiterate, I am sympathetic to). Claiming that the "atheistic socialist" founders of Israel would be "horrified" at my translation of Israel is not a sufficient rebuttal, as Israel is not, and is not intended to be, an "atheistic" nation (nor is the socialism of its founders relevant to this point, as far as I can tell, except in the sense that it emphasizes their atheism). Our criticism of Hezbollah and defense of Israel should be rely on what they are and what they do, not trite translations of their names. And translating only one side is not going to win you any credibility here.
8.1.2006 10:16pm
SeaLawyer:
Harry,
I don't disagree that news reports should be rejected based on who wrote it. But I will say that based on who is doing the reporting it should deserve more scrutiny.

I live in Minneapolis and regularly read the Startribune, a paper that will omit facts in stories and even re-write paragraphs from AP or Reuters stories to better fit the political views of the editors.
One of the reasons I stopped reading the WaPo was the Jessica Lynch story and starting reading blogs was the Rathergate story. Just in case anyone does not remember the WaPo editorial pages in the months leading to the Jessica Lynch story had a number of op-eds saying that women should have an increased combat role. Then I am reading about the how the modern day Spartan is in fact a woman "according to unnamed pentagon sources".
How am to view/read articles in light of all of this? Should I just take everything that a paper says as fact? Or do I need to research every article to verify it?

In short I really do wish that all journalist would just report facts and not interject personal/political bias into the stories.
8.1.2006 11:41pm
SeaLawyer:
The 1st sentance should say: I don't disagree that news reports should not be rejected based on who wrote it.
8.1.2006 11:50pm
barts185 (mail):
Been reading for a long time, but I think this is the first time I've posted.

Commenting on the MSM in general, not this specifically (since I have no knowledge of this specific item), I was far too close to a news item whilst growing up. My best friend was murdered coming home from his high-school prom. The parents refused to talk to the media. So, the media (and I'm talking about major NY papers) made things up. I guess my favorite (poor choice of words) quote was that the parents had no idea what he would be doing in that neighborhood. He was killed several blocks from his house. Photos of friends and next door neighbors were labelled as the parents.

Possilbly this has led me to be more cynical than most, but I feel that newpapers should be printed with a warning that information can, and often will, be wrong.

Not looking to defend them, but on the MSM side, I feel that this is due to the overwhelming pressure to get the story out. Fact checking takes time, and 2 hours ago is a long time these days.

While people reading this might take into account the affiliations of reporters / newspapers, do you really think that most people take this into account? I don't.

The other item I have second-hand knowledge of was that I knew people in Northern Ireland who were paid so that photographers could take pictures of them throwing rocks at tanks.


I feel that everyone would be better off if they just remembered two things:

1) Everyone has an agenda. Even if that agenda is simply to sell more newspapers.

2) The closer you are to a news story, the more likely you are to see how bad reporting is, the farther away you are, the more likely you are to take it at face value.


Bart
8.2.2006 4:11am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Bart, I've been a newspaperman for 40 years, and I've seen what you describe in N.Y. -- once.

As to your Northern Ireland anecdote, the story there is a society where people will accept money to throw rocks at tanks. People spend a great deal of time and effort trying to conceal from reporters the real motives for what they are doing.

That isn't the reporters' fault, you know. We're supposed to spot the ringers, but we don't bat 1.000.
8.2.2006 8:18pm
barts185 (mail):
Harry,

As I pointed out, since I was only close to that one major story, and saw how badly it was handled, it has tainted my view. But, just so that you know, I'm not talking about a middle page news story. This was front-page news for several days, and was carried nationally.

Regarding Northern Ireland, if the reporters offer money to the people to throw rocks at tanks, how is that NOT the reporters fault ?!? The people didn't approach the reporters and ask to be paid, the reporters approached the people so that they could have a story with pictures to accompany it.
8.3.2006 2:11pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Oh, you didn't say at first that reporters paid the rock throwers. You said people paid rock throwers so they could be photographed. I took that to mean agents provacateurs.

It can be pretty difficult to prove that provacateurs are active, but if you think back, you'll note that foreign correspondents are pretty wary about government-inspired demonstrations in unfree countries (think stories from China about Falun Gong).
8.3.2006 5:25pm
barts185 (mail):
Harry,

I should have been more specific in the first post, but in the case I knew about, the people were approached by, and paid by, the reporters. Sorry for the confusion.
8.3.2006 10:56pm