Revealing CNN Transcript:

While I'm on the subject of media coverage of the Israel-Party of God war, here is a very revealing excerpt from CNN's Reliable Sources, July 23rd:

KURTZ: All right. I want to go now to CNN's Nic Robertson, who joins us live from Beirut.

Nic Robertson, we were speaking a moment ago about the way journalists cover Hezbollah and some of these tours that Hezbollah officials have arranged of the bomb damage in the areas of Southern Lebanon. You, I believe, got one of those tours.

Isn't it difficult for you as a journalist to independently verify any claims made by Hezbollah, because you're not able to go into the buildings and see whether or not there is any military activity or any weapons being hidden there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Howard, there's no doubt about it: Hezbollah has a very, very sophisticated and slick media operations. In fact, beyond that, it has very, very good control over its areas in the south of Beirut. They deny journalists access into those areas. They can turn on and off access to hospitals in those areas. They have a lot of power and influence. You don't get in there without their permission.

And when I went we were given about 10 or 15 minutes, quite literally running through a number of neighborhoods that they directed and they took us to.

What I would say at that time was, it was very clear to me that the Hezbollah press official who took us on that guided tour — and there were Hezbollah security officials around us at the time with walkie-talkie radios — that he felt a great deal of anxiety about the situation. And they were telling him — I just listened to an explosion going off there, coming from the southern suburbs. They were — they were telling him — a second explosion there. They were telling here — rumbling on — they were telling him get out of this area, and he was very, very anxious about it.

But there's no doubt about it. They had control of the situation. They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn't have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath.

So what we did see today in a similar excursion, and Hezbollah is now running a number of these every day, taking journalists into this area. They realize that this is a good way for them to get their message out, taking journalists on a regular basis. This particular press officer came across his press office today, what was left of it in the rubble. He pointed out business cards that he said were from his office that was a Hezbollah press office in that area.

So there's no doubt that the bombs there are hitting Hezbollah facilities. But from what we can see, there appear to be a lot of civilian damage, a lot of civilian properties. But again, as you say, we didn't have enough time to go in, root through those houses, see if perhaps there was somebody there who was, you know, taxi driver there...

KURTZ: So to — so to what extent...

ROBERTSON: ... of access, Howard.

KURTZ: To what extent do you feel like you're being used to put up the pictures that they want — obviously, it's terrible that so many civilians have been killed — without any ability, as you just outlined, to verify, because — to verify Hezbollah's role, because this is a fighting force that is known to blend in among the civilian population and keep some of its weapons there?

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. And I think as we try and do our job, which is go out and see what's happened to the best of our ability, clearly, in that environment, in the southern suburbs of Beirut that Hezbollah controls, the only way we can get into those areas is with a Hezbollah escort. And absolutely, when you hear their claims they have to come with — with a — more than a grain of salt, that you have to put in some journalistic integrity. That you have to point out to the audience and let them know that this was a guided tour by Hezbollah press officials along with security, that it was a very rushed affair.

KURTZ: Right.

ROBERTSON: That there wasn't time to go and look through those buildings. The audience has to know the conditions of that tour. But again, if we didn't get all — or we could not get access to those areas without Hezbollah compliance, they control those areas.

KURTZ: Right.

ROBERTSON: And I think to bring the audience the full picture of what's happening in Beirut, you have to go into those southern suburbs.

KURTZ: All right.

ROBERTSON: Because that's where the vast majority of bombs were falling.

KURTZ: I understand.

ROBERTSON: Again, they come with a health warning that we cannot vouch for everything that Hezbollah is saying. And I think the audience is sophisticated enough to appreciate that, Howard.

UPDATE: For those who may be curious, below "the fold" is the report Robertson gave after his tour. He makes it clear that Hezbollah organized the tour, and implies that Hezbollah controlled access to the relevant neighborhood, and doesn't mention that he wasn't permitted to walk around on his own, only that he was given "exclusive access" to the neighborhood "with security". I also don't see the "health warning" he mentions above. I wonder to what extent, if any, other correspondents have made any of this clear in their reports.


UPDATE: Kudos to Richard Engel of MSNBC, for actually doing some investigative reporting. Strata-sphere has some more photos from Qana that appear staged, and a generally reasonable perspective on the matter.

No doubt Hezbollah spins big time, and it's good people know about the reality behind those "tours." I am sure a lot is staged, and I fully support Israel.

But, Prof, what did you think of embedded journalists in Iraq?
8.2.2006 12:24pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Much better if the journalists go out on their own, but a journalist "embedded" with Hezbollah for a few days would get a lot more information than a journalist who takes a twenty minute propaganda tour.
8.2.2006 12:32pm
You have to get whatever access you can manage to get, but I agree with Prof. Bernstein that it's very important for the media to be clear about the "guided tour" aspect of its reporting. Way too much modern journalism is little more than stenography of the view some partisan is trying to push, and the reader needs to be provided with enough information to evaluate the source.
8.2.2006 12:33pm
Closet Libertarian (www):
Wow, even more controlled information/access than I thought. Didn't CNN complain about this exact type of control with the US military in Iraq?
8.2.2006 12:35pm
This seems to me to be an admirably frank piece of reporting. I wish more reporters would do it in other limited access situations.
8.2.2006 12:42pm
Jeff Chalk:
I'd say the big question for anyone whose access to information is provided by a single source (Hezbullah or US Military or whatever) is: what happens if you also tell your readers information that your hosts don't want you to?

Sure, maybe you didn't get to see the basement, but if you point that out (and print your hosts opponents' claims regarding said basement) do you get:
a. your hosts send your paper a rebuttal.
b. your hosts blacklist you.
c. your hosts blacklist you and your paper.
d. your hosts kill you.

Once you start getting towards c, you have to assume there will arise some serious integrity issues.
8.2.2006 12:43pm
TC (mail):
Embedded jounralists are different.

Journalists were embedded into military units in part to help control the battlefield. It was done to protect the journalists and to protect the soldiers. If journalists are wandering around the desert they might get shot or killed; on the other hand, the bad guys may dress up like journalists (they did dress like civilians) and try to get closer to the American forces.

There was certainly an information ops piece as well to the embedding program, but it was a compromise.

Once major combat operations ended, journalists flocked to Iraq and have roamed all over the country without military control or supervision.

Most journalists in Iraq now aren't embedded. The military doesn't take them on tours of areas, restrict access to public areas, or anything remotely similar to what Hezbollah is doing now.
8.2.2006 12:48pm
The Drill SGT (mail):
One needs to consider the context of CNN's view of the trade-offs of access versus balance. Remember the CNN CEO who admitted that CNN's coverage of pre-war Iraq had been slanted because if they had revealed Saddam's torture and abuses of his own people, then their access would have been restricted... and of course they would win fewer prizes and lose market share.

As long as the handling is done be a dictator, CNN is willing to trade integrity for some good footage, even if it's managed/staged/fake but accurate (you chose the word) footage.
8.2.2006 1:15pm
Zed (mail) (www):
I would like to point out that in addition to it being comparable to the reporters "embedded" with US troops during the official part of the war, it has previously been reported that areas controlled by the IDF have fairly similar restrictions on journalists, with an added factor of hostility to foreign press.

This isn't specific to CNN, and it isn't actually anything particularly unusual in my eyes. Unfortunate, yes, as I don't think press manipulation, done by Israel, the United States, or Lebanon, is a good thing, but it's been pretty well precedented now as standard practice.
8.2.2006 1:28pm
Pete Freans (mail):
What this sad dialogue tells us is that the legitimate, democratically elected government of Lebanon has been smothered. What is also becoming clear, given the number of rockets that Hezbollah has hidden in Lebanon, is that most Lebanese were aware of these activities. How on earth I wonder can thousands of rockets be hidden without the local population raising alarms? Are the Lebanese reluctant vicitms or complicit partners? Only time will tell. While there was much excitement when the Cedar Revolution unfolded in February 2005, recent events have underscored the fear that the virus may be overtaking its host.
8.2.2006 1:33pm
Humble Law Student (mail):
Professor B.,

Great find. That was the cnn producer I refered to in one of your posts yesterday (whose video interview I couldn't find).
8.2.2006 1:38pm
First, a bit of criticism for CNN, due to the remark "the only way we can get into those areas is with a Hezbollah escort". Well, not quite true. However, it's the only SAFE way. Sneaking around dodging guerillas is a good way to get a Pulitzer or Dead.

So, here's a daft suggestion. Little keychain-sized USB flash cameras take so-so pics, but can cost under $10 in bulk. Get 1000 of them. (If you're clever and can afford the price increase, get a custom camera that puts a little "CNN" logo in the bottom of every pic.) Hand them out. Wait for pics to drift back in. You may get a lot of garbage, but you might get some diamonds.

Hmmm... I may have a new business.
8.2.2006 1:39pm
Robertson says "that you have to put in some journalistic integrity. That you have to point out to the audience and let them know that this was a guided tour by Hezbollah press officials along with security, that it was a very rushed affair."

Has anybody actually gone back and actually CHECKED whether CNN has the "journalistic integrity" to point out, each and every time they show pictures from one of these Hezbollah propaganda exercises, that what the audience is seeing is a "guided tour by Hezbollah"?

I'd be interested in knowing whether CNN actually practices what its reporter preaches.
8.2.2006 1:42pm
What exactly is the point here? Do you dispute the number of dead civilians? Of dead children? Or do you object to coverage that emphasizes these as opposed to civilian support of Hezbollah?
8.2.2006 1:46pm
Jimmy (mail):
I think they are complicit, but at the same time they are not given other options for any sort of stability. Hezbollah gets away with their hate mongering b/c they also provide social services to the citizenry. And if they protect them in any sort of way, like old-school Mafia protection was, then they will treat these guerillas like partisans and not like terrorists.

The central government has failed to reach out, create opportunity and keep the trains running on time - to steal a phrase. Most, if not all, of these terrorist groups exist for those sole reasons, not that hackneyed "duh, they hate freedom" crap. Look at Chechnya-Russia, Iraq, Palestine's "central" government, Somalia, Rwanda, our own Mafia during the Great Depression, and the list goes on.

Groups in First World nations today know how to hate just as strongly as those terror groups abroad, whether it be freedom or french fries - but they do not have the same reach and influence that the terror groups do. Why? They have similar reasoning, funding, ideology, etc. What separates the Militia group in Michigan from a Wahabbist group in the Mid-East? Lack of central government and infrastructure.

Democracy, Communism, Socialism will all be smothered when they cannot create a government that provides services to its people. The Mussolini example cannot be stressed enough - people supported him when the trains ran on. People adored Hitler for the way he pulled them out of quadruple digit inflation of the Weimer government failure.

The third example we have today - Autoritarianism - seems to be the other possibile route.
First you have working democracies, like UK, US, Japan. Then you have failed democracies or failed states like Lebanon or African states. Then we have the authoritarian states like Cuba, China, N Korea, Pakistan, Egypt, Russia.

They manage to still provide some of those government services, albeit in an inferior manner to the working democracies. People in those countries support them and most do not have active rebellious movements like in the Congo or Somalia. They are the middle ground, the compromise of a state just aching for a little stability. They are the easy way out for the third world and failed states who cannot get their sh*t together.

We need to work hard to ensure that the easy way out is not taken by Iraq, by Lebanon, and by other countries who are faced with the choice. We helped the Ukraine decide to some extent. Has it worked yet? Only time will tell. The Marshall Plan wasn't an instant or total success, but it sure was better than assuming the Germans would be throwing candy at the tanks in joy, isn't it??

When will people stop assuming that military force/occupation is the single answer to all the problems? It may take the rockets off the street - and that NEEDS to be done. However, there must be a plan in place to reconstruct the central authority before we shove democracy too early into place.

The Marshall Plan after WWII is a classic example of this. It worked. There were terrorists, partisans, etc, during the Allied occupation. However, they had a plan to get the lights back on and help stimulate the economy, and reduce crime using domestic police methods.
8.2.2006 1:59pm
This post demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of journalism at its core. I worked as a reporter covering cops and courts for five years before becoming a lawyer. While I made every effort to "get" stories on my own, the bulk of my reporting was nonetheless reliant on what the cops and court officials gave me access to.

It is simp[ly a matter of fact. Anyone being covered by reporters seeks to control the message.

Please no complaint about moral equivalence here (US/Iraq War/journalists, me/cops/courts, Hizbollah/reporters). The fact that Hizbollah is operating a modern PR machine doesn't excuse their actions.

But it also doesn't excuse attempts to kill the messenger either.

The essence of good reporting is captured by the oft-cited phrase "If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out."

I have read several pieces in the MSM (whatever that means. My source regularly is the Chicago Tribune) noting the PR work of Hizbollah. That doesn't mean the reporters are taking that spin at face value. Any good reporter takes what Hezbollah gives (again, no moral equivalence please), and goes from there.

Like it or not, what Hezbollah (one side of this war) has to say is NEWS. I think Prof Bernstein (like most staunch Israel supporters/conservatives in general) would only like to hear his side of the conflict reported. Fortunately, journailsm doesn't work like that. Good reporters every day take what Hezbollah gives and checks it out.
8.2.2006 2:11pm
Observer (mail):
MariaE81-The point is very simple. Hezbollah's propaganda goal is to convince the world that Israel is deliberately targeting civilians. Thus, it brings reporters to bombing sites where there are dead civilians. Israel says it is bombing sites used by Hezbollah, which is well known for hiding among civilians, and that any civilian deaths are unfortunate collateral results of attacks on targets that have military value. Hezbollah does not let the reporters investigate the bombing sites to determine whether or not there were any Hezbollah military men or equipment present or other military uses. By broadcasting the news about the civilian deaths without also making clear that it has been denied the opportunity to investigate military uses of the site, CNN is serving as a conduit for Hezbollah propaganda, not as a news service.
8.2.2006 2:44pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Josh, the problem comes when, too often, the MSM repeats the Hezbollah claims without clearly labelling them just that... claims. So, "Hezbollah claims 10 civilians killed by Israeli bombs" becomes, either in the original article or the rewrite by subsequent reports, "Israeli bombs kill 10 civilians". Each and every newscast showing Hezbollah-allowed footage, and each print report based on Hezbollah-allowed access, should be prefaced with a large disclaimer that the viewer is seeing only carefully scripted scenes, and that the reporters complied with Hezbollah demands about what to shoot and not to shoot because if they didn't they would have been beaten or killed.
8.2.2006 2:48pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
AS, good question, see the update. Short answer: not really.
8.2.2006 2:53pm
noahpraetorius (mail):
NRO has an article about the same story. It points out that CNN International does not carry Howard Kurtz' show so that particular correction may be completely unknown to CNN's international audience.
8.2.2006 2:59pm
Skeptic (mail):
Crying about staged PR events and media manipulations rings a little hollow to me when the same criticisms are not leveled against the current administration. Here's the reality of life- you have to follow the rules if you want other people to follow them as well. Not trying to start a flame war. Clearly Hizbullah, Al-Qaeda, etc., aren't going to follow any rules. But please lets maintain a little intellectual honesty here. If you're not willing to call the foul when your team commits it, don't complain about others.
8.2.2006 3:19pm
some guest:
well this certainly justifies all the baby-killing by Israel.
8.2.2006 3:28pm
Thanks for the update, David. That's very interesting.
8.2.2006 3:36pm
Humble Law Student (mail):

Yes, but in a war where there is not moral equivalence between the two sides, it is perfectly reasonable to decry "staged PR events" in the service of an evil cause.
8.2.2006 3:37pm
Mark F. (mail):
Humble Law Student:

Which side has killed more innocent people so far? Oh sorry, a "good cause" trumps everything.
8.2.2006 3:43pm
Houston Lawyer:
I think we would get a more reasoned response from Mel when he's plastered than we are getting from the Hizbollah apologists here. No one seemed too outraged as long as Israelis were the only ones being killed.

In some wars, the propaganda is more important than the military results. American and other journalists have shown themselves to be fairly craven in broadcasting the pictures that our enemies want the world to see. Media executives were not too happy with the embedded journalists in the early phases of the war since they bonded with and identified with the US soldiers with whom they were embedded. Do you have to be anti-American to think that such bonding and identification by a reporter is a bad thing?
8.2.2006 4:27pm
WHOI Jacket:
Mark F.,

Are you suggesting that Hezballah(sp?) is in the right in this conflict? Should Israel withdraw at once and simply "adsorb" any further rocket attacks that come from the other side of the Lebenese border?
8.2.2006 4:28pm
Simple question from Humble law student as well as a good homework assignment in reply. Under international law, when irregular military forces launch a battle from a civilian location?

OK, Now what was your question?
8.2.2006 4:34pm
Mark F.

Which side has killed more innocent people so far? Oh sorry, a "good cause" trumps everything.

Which side has tried to kill more innocent people? The goal of HzB is to kill innocent people. The goal of Israel to prevent innocent people from being killed.
8.2.2006 4:42pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
The goal of Israel to prevent innocent people from being killed.

Well, chalk this operation up as a miserable failure, then.
8.2.2006 5:43pm
hey (mail):
As has been said before, too many people are enamored of what they think, believe, or feel that the Geneva Conventions say, rather than what they actually do. Further, these people do not accept the reciprocity principle of the Conventions, where one is not bound if one's enemy operates outside the law.

To those who impung the motives of those who question PR excercises: Hezbollah's aim is for civilian casualties on both sides, Hezbollah's after action reports are almost always overly confident and absurdly biased, Hezbollah hardly ever corrects its initial reports about battles as the IDF routinely does, Hezbollah is a gang of thugs not a Westphalian actor. For all of these reasons, people who don't hate Israel will tend to discount initial reports, especially those that are luridly anti-Israel. An excellent example is how the body count of Qana has fallen drastically from the initial interviews, with total casualties now being at about the same number as the first claimed number of dead children.

No one is under any illusions that bad things happen during war, whether by accident, negligence, incompetence, or malicious intent. Outside of Hezbollah and various neo-fascists, it is agreed that Israel as a whole does not have a malicious intent, though every organization has its rotten parts. Outside of those same neo-fascists, it is understood that Hezbollah only has malicious intent, as exhibited by the continual use of unguided rockets against civilian targets and the employment of anti-personnell enhancers as tools of terror.

A note on numbers of civilians killed: the US killed hundreds of thousands more civilians than it ever lost in both world wars, as did the UK despite losing nearly 60k civilians. It is not just the raw numbers killed, but also the threat posed. 100-180 rockets a day is a serious threat, and without incentives to rush Hezbollah could assuredly achieve much greater accuracy. No other country would be expected to sustain this, and holding Israel to such a double standard is an indication of either anti-semitism or stupidity.
8.2.2006 5:52pm
Humble Law Student (mail):

What? I don't understand what you wrote.
8.3.2006 9:34am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
You won't find any concern for "who killed the most civilians" when the bad guys are ahead. Some other factor will be dragged out to obfuscate the issue.

There is a kind of reflex when double standards are pointed out. "Two wrongs don't make a right." That is, oddly, progress, since it's the first acknowledgment that the, in this case, Hezbollah, actually did wrong. Prior to that, the admission was contested.

But the point about double standards has an implication which is so clear that the folks making it don't say it. They figure everybody ought to be seeing it.

That is, if you're concerned about atrocity X in this case, but not in that case, you're not acting from principle as you pretend. You're a partisan hack.
8.3.2006 9:39am
Humble Law Student (mail):
Mark F.

Great job creating an argument irrelevant to what I've stated and illogical in its own right.

The US killed many times more Japanese civilians than Japan killed of our civilians. By your impeccable logic, our war with Japan must have been one of the most morally bankrupt wars in human history.
8.3.2006 9:40am
Humble Law Student (mail):
oops, just realized that "hey" already addressed my point.
8.3.2006 9:41am
Observer (mail):
From a legal and moral point of view, the relative numbers of civilians killed on each side is irrelevant. The only issues are (1) did the attacking force deliberately attack civilians for the purpose of terrorizing the civilian population and (2) did the attacking force have sound military reasons for attacking whatever site it targeted. If civilians are injured collaterally in an attack that was directed at targets with military value or uses, then that's just one of the tragedies of war.

Of course, from the PR perspective - which is all that CNN and the rest of the MSM cares about - the relative civilian body counts are somehow important.
8.3.2006 10:54am