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More Media news from the Israel-Party of God War:

By popular demand (lots of emails): Reuters has pulled a photo of Beirut doctored by one of its "photojournalists" to make damage from Israeli air strikes look worse than it was. This photographer was one of the photographers who took somne of the most dramatic of what appear to be staged photos in Qana. Kudos to Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs for discovering the fraud. And remember how the various news agencies, including Reuters, were shocked at the very suggestion that some photos in Qana might have been staged? Certainly, photographers willing to doctor photos would be willing to stage them.

Meanwhile, according to the IDF, it has destroyed missile launchers that launched the missile that collapsed a building today in Haifa. The launchers were based, according to the IDF, in Qana. One of the sillier, and oddly popular (even among those you would expect to know better), attacks on the IDF I've seen regarding Qana, is that the IDF apparently has acknowledged that no missiles were launched from Qana on the day that the IDF bombed what it believed to be Party of God positions there; as if there is some rule of war that if your enemy fires from a position on Saturnday, you are only allowed to strike back on Saturday.

Finally, I've been checking Informed Comment here and there, and while, as long time readers know, I've never been a Juan Cole fan, he seems to have really lost it lately. Just for example:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday rejected European criticism of Israel's massive bombing of Lebanon and its killing of hundreds of innocent civilians. He pointed to Kosovo as precedent for what he was doing.

Olmert also said he thought he might just murder Hasan Nasrallah.

Uh, Ehud, you're supposed to be playing NATO in this interview, remember? Not Milosevic. You're getting your precedents for murder, mass or otherwise, mixed up.

Besides, the whole analogy is wrong. Milosevic's forces were ethnically cleansing the Kosovars. NATO was protecting the latter (and the Israeli government of the time supported this effort, given its alliance with Turkey). Who was Hizbullah ethnically cleansing in early July? In fact, it is the Israelis who have behaved in the past two weeks like Milosevic's Serbian troops, who systematically attempted to displace the Kosovars during the war. And then the NATO estimate is that their campaign killed 5000 Serbian military personnel and at most 1500 civilians. Israel's war has killed nearly 700 (maybe 900) civilians and many fewer Hizbullah fighters. So, the argument fails on all counts.

First off, "murder" is Cole's word, not Olmert's, who apparently said that Israeli forces might assassinate Nasrallah. Does Cole really think that targeting the head of a terrorist organiztion that has killed many of one's countries civilians would be "murder?" In the midst of a war against that organization? Bizarre.

Let's assume that Cole's casualty counts are correct (he's still exaggerating the death toll from Qana on his site--claiming without a stitch of evidence that 13 "missing" in Qana, are "almost certainly dead", even though local officials say the opposite--o I don't see any reason to trust him on the other figures.) NATO killed up to 1,500 civilians, and over 6,000 Serbs total. And that was because Serbia was threatening to wipe NATO off the face of the earth. No wait, that was Nasrallah making such threats against Israel, who is allied with Iran, which very much promises to do this to Israel. And as I recall, tens(hundreds?) of thousands of Serbs ultimately had to permanently flee from areas held by the Bosnians, despite NATO "protection," so it's not like NATO didn't exact a far worse price than Israel among "innocent" civilians. Apparently, Israel's big crime in Cole's mind was not to wait until Iran and the Party of God actually began to make significantly more progress on their threat to commit genocide.

UPDATE: I could go on about Cole, but will leave it with one more thought: Cole is trafficking in a conspiracy theory that takes the obvious fact that Iran is an oil-producing country of strategic interest to the U.S. and spins it into an elaborate, economically illiterate theory explaining U.S. and Israeli policy in Lebanon by reference to something called "peak oil." Why care? Last I heard, he was the most popular Mideast policy blogger on the Left.

FURTHER UPDATE: The New York Times online headline this morning blared that Israel killed 40 civilians in Lebanon in an air strike, sourced to Lebanon's Prime Minister. A few hours later, the headline changes to "Death Toll Was Incorrect, Lebanon's leader says." But we don't find out what the death toll actually was until the ninth paragraph of the article. The answer is, allegedly, one.

Barbara Skolaut (mail):

Apparently, Israel's big crime in Cole's mind was not to wait until Iran and the Party of God actually began to make significantly more progress on their threat to commit genocide.
Well, yeah.

And not just in Cole's mind, either. :-(
8.6.2006 5:28pm
Commenterlein (mail):
One of the most tiresome features of the blogosphere in general, and especially so applied to this conflict, is biased partisans of various stripes accusing each other of being biased partisans. And feeling really smug about themselves at the same time.
8.6.2006 5:46pm
HLSbertarian (mail):

And feeling really smug about themselves at the same time.


Not at all like the commenters.
8.6.2006 6:00pm
Commenterlein (mail):
I am sorry if I sounded smug, these days I feel mostly depressed.
8.6.2006 6:08pm
Tom20060806 (mail):
Of course they are going to kill Nasrallah, if they can.

Criticizing Olmert for that is wimpy propaganda.
8.6.2006 6:11pm
Hammer (mail):
I have to inquire:
While I find David's posts on this matter to be thorough and engaging, I wonder if the frequency with which he is posting would not be better suited towards a blog of his own, perhaps with occasional cross-posting a la Orin Kerr. I find it more and more difficult to extract anything from the VC that does not directly bear on Israel, and that is not the primary reason I read this blog.

[Editor: I count either 2 or 3 (depending on whether you count broadly or narrowly) of the last 20 posts on the VC being posts by me on Israel. But if that's too much for you, you can use you can use http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb to block my posts]
8.6.2006 6:24pm
Erasmussimo:
Here I come with another logical quandary. We have a clear-cut case of an impropriety with the doctored photograph. Clearly, Reuters failed to exercise proper editorial control and ended up publishing a falsified photograph.

Do we condemn Reuters for inadequate editorial supervision and recruitment, or do we dismiss this as a case of "one bad apple"?

Here's what makes it a quandary: we have to apply exactly the same reasoning process to the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib. Do we condemn the Bush Administration for inadequate supervision of the military, or do we dismiss this as a case of "a few bad apples"?

It seems to me that both decisions are the same, and so, whatever your politics, you have to reach the same conclusion in both cases.
8.6.2006 7:04pm
Donald Kahn (mail):
Sorry to be off topic, but can anyone suggest a site that might receive my toughts on the film Taxi Driver. email address: donaldk@easynet.co.uk
8.6.2006 7:16pm
lpdbw:
Erasmussimo,

Let's compare. The press broke the Abu Ghraib story after there was an active criminal investigation in progress by the Army. Which likely would have proceeded whether the story was reported or not.

Reuters was caught promulgating doctored photographs, after weeks (if not months) of outside claims of phony or staged photos. They stonewalled until there was irrefutable proof of the doctoring.

Yes, it looks identical to me.
8.6.2006 7:27pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Erasmussimo, we condemn the Reuters functionary who passed on the photo, and the one who hired Adnan Hajj, and we praise Reuters for taking corrective action when goosed... even as we wonder about their corporate values. What we don't do is lynch everybody connected with Reuters on the theory that they must all be corrupt.

Do you see how this might apply to Abu Ghraib?
8.6.2006 7:51pm
DiversityHire:
Reuters needs DRM. Reuters and co. are providing photos from a war to the public in a timely fashion. That's an invaluable service. In this case, however, it didn't control the whole process and produced a lemon, damaging it's reputation and shedding doubt on every image it produces. The end product is of low quality since we don't know how much "truthiness" has been slipped into the product along the pipeline.

Reuters should provide production &provenance information with their images. Each stage of the production process should produce a secure, verifiable tag stored as metadata in the image. Software could assess the history of the image and provide provenance, veracity, and manipulation metrics to end-users. Even if they can't secure the process out to the CCDs in their contractor/stringer's camera and can't produce accurate time,location,author stamps for each image (and there's no reason they shouldn't be able to), there'd be a history for images from each Reuters source that could used to figure quality/veracity of the produced image.
8.6.2006 8:06pm
Erasmussimo:
lpdbw, you make a distinction based on whether the party in question took some action on its own prior to the public disclosure of the impropriety. OK, that's a valid discriminating criterion, and I think it's worth something, although there remains the question as to whether the Army would have taken any action beyond the investigation had the photos not surfaced. We simply don't know the answer to that. Is this distinction strong enough to permit condemnation of Reuters as an organization while not condemning the Bush Administration?

Actually, there's another difference between the two cases, and it cuts the other way. We have unequivocal evidence that the Bush Administration formulated very aggressive policies regarding torture. As such, they bear some responsibility for the actions of their subordinates. We have no such evidence in the case of Reuters. To have something comparable in the Reuters case, we'd need a memo from the CEO of Reuters demanding that photographers go out there and get dramatic shots that make the Israelis look bad, even if they have to play fast and loose with the rules. Since no such memo has come to light, we have another distinction between the two cases.

PersonFromPorlock, I am in complete agreement with your assessment of the situation. Applying this to Abu Ghraib yields pretty much the results we got -- punishing the perpetrators and their immediate superiors. However, the existence of the policy memos encouraging torture does raise some additional considerations.
8.6.2006 8:16pm
DiversityHire:
Do we condemn Reuters for inadequate editorial supervision and recruitment, or do we dismiss this as a case of "one bad apple"?

Boph. Reuters is MSM which cultivates a "word of god" level of veracity, an unacheivable standard especially on deadline in a war zone. So their process is flawed because one bad apple can upset the whole cart for a while. If their pipeline considered trustworthiness throughout the process they'd be able to say, "we have 18% confidence that this is smoke from an Israeli attack taken by so &so at such &such a time blah, blah, blah". Instead they're saying, "I'll never lie to you, baby. Honest. Trust me. Just don't bother me while I'm making sausage."
8.6.2006 8:17pm
Erasmussimo:
DiversityForHire, you raise a very interesting point about the process of getting images from the site to the publisher. It would not be difficult to design a digital camera that includes a verification code to insure that, if the photo is doctored, it will be discovered as such. If expense were no consideration, it could include precise time and GPS data to verify the context of the photo.

That would certainly change things, wouldn't it?
8.6.2006 8:20pm
Vovan:

And as I recall, tens(hundreds?) of thousands of Serbs ultimately had to permanently flee from areas held by the Bosnians, despite NATO "protection,"


Shouldn't it read Kosovo Liberation Army or Bosnian Serbs, instead of Bosnians?
8.6.2006 8:40pm
Lev:
Party of God? Hezbollah?

Perhaps a better transliteration is: Party of Koranic God.
8.6.2006 8:56pm
Brett Bellmore:
It's the digital security that would be the expensive part, I suspect; Time date and GPS based location encoding is an off the shelf feature of more than one digital camera, but I don't know if there's a market out there already for cameras that don't "trust" the photographer.

Ought to be, though; Fake digital photographic evidence is a growing problem.
8.6.2006 8:56pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Erasmussimo is tiresome. The US Army did not go into Iraq in order to inflict maximum civilian casualties according to its ability.

We know that for sure, because if it had, there wouldn't be any Iraqis left.

Cannot say the same about Hezbollah.

According to my practice in journalism, once you've been caught fabricating information and passing it to a reporter (me, for example), you are forever an unperson. There is no greater journalistic crime, because it destroys the only thing we have. No appeal and no rehabilitation.

You can split hairs all you want, but Reuters was on notice (from Professor Bernstein among many others) that it was strongly suspected of faking news reports from Lebanon. A week later, it is proven to have faked them.

Cole also has been proven (by me, among others) to have fabricated reports. He also should be an unperson.
8.6.2006 9:20pm
A. Rickey (mail) (www):
But if that's too much for you, you can use you can use http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb to block my posts

I've been wondering for a while if the Conspiracy couldn't implement tags, and then allow people to exclude content on the basis of tags instead of authors. I wouldn't mind reading http://volokh.com/?excludetag=israel, for example.
8.6.2006 11:04pm
Just:

A.Rickey,

Exclude Israel?
Are you drunk?
Are you Mel Gibson?
8.6.2006 11:26pm
Just:
Donald Kahn,

You talkin' to me ???

Sorry. Couldn't resist.
8.6.2006 11:27pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The same guy also doctored a pic of an F16. He started with the plane dropping a flare to spoof possible heatseekers. Done all the time, including when transports land at Baghdad. They have a distinctive trajectory, behind the aircraft and slowly dropping.

So this moron put in three more, added some "bombs" from some other resource, and Reuters said it had a pic of an F16 firing missiles and dropping bombs. The photog is a bad apple, no doubt, but what about the guys who passed along his work? Are they required to be totally ignorant of the subject, or is it optional?

Anyway, love'em or hate'em, Reuters has demonstrated they can't be trusted. They are, as one said, unpersons. They no longer count.

How long to get their reputation back?
8.6.2006 11:30pm
therut:
Never have trusted them. Anyone who reads their stufff knows their bias. This is just icing on the rotting cake.
8.7.2006 12:12am
Liberaland lovin it (mail) (www):
Who is green helmet? A more interesting question is who is commenter Mark Spittle?

CRAZY! This clown shoots lasers out of his eyes and actually flys. Seriously. Can Green Helmet guy do THAT?
8.7.2006 12:48am
Liberaland lovin it (mail) (www):
Who is green helmet? A more interesting question is who is commenter Mark Spittle?

CRAZY! This clown shoots lasers out of his eyes and actually flys. Seriously. Can Green Helmet guy do THAT?
8.7.2006 12:48am
James968 (mail):
Wasn't the raid at Qana at 1 am? One could conceivably say that "No missiles were fired 'That hour'"

Hezbollah may have found a "Get out of Jail Card". Just launch missiles at 23:50.

Since this a war that is fought in the media and they are using media attention as a weapon, would this be considered as 'providing aid.........."?
8.7.2006 1:30am
LeftLeaningVolokhReader:
On Qana, why couldn't Israel send a ground strike force in to take out the target instead of dropping a bomb. If they knew it was a "human shield", wouldnt the porportional thing to do is to jump soldiers in and take out the targt?
8.7.2006 1:51am
limes (mail) (www):
I read the Informed Comment web-site. Its pretty wierd.

Are Islamic Studies departments funded in any way by Saudi Arabian outreach funds? I cannot recall any Islamic Studies staff member ever having anything critical to say about the religion.

If there's a conflict of interest, and I don't know if there is, it needs to be disclosed.

And I need to respond to Left Leaning:
The reason is force protection in a high-threat area. If you feel so strongly about proportionality, I'm sure that the IDF would accept you as a volunteer.
8.7.2006 2:18am
Harry Eagar (mail):
No, the proportional thing to do would be to bomb the missile factories in Syria and Iran.
8.7.2006 2:20am
eddy:
The IDF has a much higher percentage of civilians versus combatants killed than their Party of God opponents. Apparently to this blog's commenters, Israel's poop doesn't stink.
8.7.2006 2:49am
limes (mail) (www):
This blog commentator understands that a dead 'civilian' is defined as one who is found without a weapon.

An 18-yr old male, at the scene of a bombed missile battery, is classified as a 'civilian' if he wasn't carrying a rifle (or if it was blown out of his hands by the shock).

This is the real thing folks. 61 years ago yesterday, 90,000 real civilians were vaporized. This conflict will get out of hand if the IDF is not enabled to take the actions necessary to eliminate an unethical enemy.
8.7.2006 3:00am
Lev:

The IDF has a much higher percentage of civilians versus combatants killed than their Party of [Koranic] God opponents.


I wonder how anyone actually knows this. Or is it the Party of [Koranic] God's poop doesn't stink.
8.7.2006 3:04am
Lev:
I don't get this:


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday rejected European criticism of Israel's massive bombing of Lebanon and its killing of hundreds of innocent civilians. He pointed to Kosovo as precedent for what he was doing.

Olmert also said he thought he might just murder Hasan Nasrallah.
Uh, Ehud, you're supposed to be playing NATO in this interview, remember? Not Milosevic. You're getting your precedents for murder, mass or otherwise, mixed up.

Besides, the whole analogy is wrong. Milosevic's forces were ethnically cleansing the Kosovars. NATO was protecting the latter (and the Israeli government of the time supported this effort, given its alliance with Turkey). Who was Hizbullah ethnically cleansing in early July? In fact, it is the Israelis who have behaved in the past two weeks like Milosevic's Serbian troops, who systematically attempted to displace the Kosovars during the war. And then the NATO estimate is that their campaign killed 5000 Serbian military personnel and at most 1500 civilians. Israel's war has killed nearly 700 (maybe 900) civilians and many fewer Hizbullah fighters. So, the argument fails on all counts.


Milosevic's forces were not ethnically cleansing "Kosovars", they were ethnically cleansing Albanian Kosovars, not Serbian Kosovars. [Of course, by now, under NATO, the Albanian Kosovars have just about completed their ethnic cleansing of the Serbian Kosovars, and NATO is going to declare Albanian Kosovo independent of Serbia.]

Who would the Party of Koranic God be ethnically cleansing? How about non-Moslems from So Lebanon.

Does anyone believe this:


NATO estimate is that their campaign killed 5000 Serbian military personnel


NATO air forces estimated they had "killed" hundreds if not thousands of Serbian military APC's, tanks and other vehicles in Kosovo. Turned out they killed maybe ten of each, but lots of wood and cardboard dummies.

Cole is right that the analogy breaks down, because NATO bombed lots of purely civilian areas in Serbia proper away from the military action, while Israel is trying to bomb the military that is tormenting it.
8.7.2006 3:28am
blueman (mail):
For a long time, Reuters refused to use the term 'terrorist' when describing the 9/11 hijackers. This is when a lot of people realized there was something a bit off about them.
8.7.2006 6:36am
johnt (mail):
I missed Olmert's analogy. Could have sworn the word precedent was used and a precedent does not have to be analogous. Does Cole own a dictionary?
Small, bitter minds lead to small, bitter statements. But teacher gives a failing grade, "the argument fails on all counts". But Olmert doesn't see the need to argue, least of all with sanctimonious trash like Juan Cole. Now if Albanian Kosovars had been setting off nail bombs, killing school children, and firing rockets maybe we'd be a little closer to an analogy, just not the one Cole would like.
8.7.2006 10:01am
NRWO:
An irony concerning the photos: Some people claim that the photos can readily be detected as fakes (the worst Photoshop's ever made!). Other people seem to claim that the photos cannot readily be detected as fakes, and therefore could be used to manipulate perceptions of the war. Strange, it seems.

1. Does anyone know if the photo was actually doctored? Or if the Reuters's photographer was a Hezbolla sympathizer? Could the photo have been set to newsprint copy without any intention of manipulating perceptions?

2. Does anyone know if "dark" smoke means worse outcomes from bombing? Under some circumstances, the color of smoke probably provides little information for determining (human) kill rate or effectiveness, which is probably a function of the type of bomb used and the structure being bombed.
8.7.2006 10:28am
rarango (mail):
Eddy: you know that the IDF has killed more civilians than HBA..you know that how? Ahhhh: you got it from Reuters.
8.7.2006 11:48am
Erasmussimo:
NRWO, I think it safe to say that the photo was doctored. We don't have video of somebody doctoring the photo, but the photo itself shows smoke in a pattern that is physically all but impossible. But I think your larger point is very significant: who cares if there's more smoke? What does it prove? Can anybody here find a single comment anywhere in the blogosphere or in the media in which somebody used the extra smoke as an indication that the IDF was doing something bad? Let's be honest: the doctored photograph doesn't say anything worse about the IDF than the original. If the photographer wanted to smear the IDF, this doctoring does nothing to accomplish that.

Much the same can be said for other questionable photographs. Somebody described a doctored photograph of an Israeli aircraft dropping flares and bombs. OK, the photograph was doctored; that doesn't seem to prove anything one way or the other. The doctorer's political biases are not demonstrated in such doctoring.

I also have some reservations about the complaints against staged photographs. Politicians stage photos all the time -- how about the time Mr. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier with the sign "Mission Accomplished". Does anybody here believe that Mr. Bush is in the habit of flying around in combat aircraft dressed in flight suits? Of course not. This was clearly a staged event, intended to provide the public with images favorable to the President. I don't condemn the staging (although I thought it a little overdone). In the same manner, if Hezbollah arranges for photographers to see the most dramatic examples of death and destruction, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

The issue is not whether the photographs were staged, but whether they were falsified. Was the dead child actually dead? Was the destroyed building actually destroyed? So far I have not seen any accusations that the photographs were falsified.

Lastly, those commentators who condemn the entire Reuters organization should, if they are consistent, condemn the Bush Administration in equally harsh terms, for the Bush Administration is equally responsible for all the mistakes of the US government for the last six years.
8.7.2006 11:57am
abb3w:
I feel Cole's analysis is off the deep end, it's not because he likes the peak oil theory. The predicted consequences of peak oil seem to be arriving: minimal to zero surplus production capacity; minor transient reductions in supply causing disproportionate price changes; major remaining oil supplies in increasingly inaccessible or politically hostile areas. Iran's supplies of oil will be critical for at least (bare minimum) five years.

I think Cole is mistaken about cause and response, however. Cole places too much deliberate emphasis on conscious market and political manipulation and too little on the classic "invisible hand" pressures. It's not the hawks that are looking for this trouble. The region has been unstable since at least the founding of Israel. The current mess is comparable to the Bosnia/Serbia/Etc civil war in the historical scale... not (yet) worthy of the WWIII name being thrown around. (Of course, WWI started with a minor Bosnia/Serbia incident.) The reason we're all paying such close attention is not because we want to conquer for conquests sake, but that chaos in the region has disproportionate repercussions on the US (and global) economy. Outside entanglements spreading the scope of a conflict... hmmm.

Still, "More wars to come" has been an easy prediction since some Funky Mushrooms gave rise the the Book Of Revelations. It's not possible with public information to distinguish between hawks leading the times, or merely reacting to the times. Cole's suspicion is merely untestable paranoia.

I'd halfway agree with his suggestion about the importance of alternate energy, although I'd add nuclear to the mix and disagree about the ease of it. Whether or not this is the Big One, I see no reason to believe that the mid-East oil zone will grow much more stable any time soon. Increasing our energy independence will result in diminishing our economic reliance on that particular ticking time bomb. But that is NOT a simple problem.
8.7.2006 12:28pm
cld:
I think there is a difference between a staged picture depicting damage from a war and a planned photo/speech opprotunity. To me, they are apples to oranges.
8.7.2006 12:36pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
For a long time, Reuters refused to use the term 'terrorist' when describing the 9/11 hijackers. This is when a lot of people realized there was something a bit off about them.
As far as I know, they still refuse to do so, or to apply it to any Islamic terrorist. (They do apply it to the IRA, though, which shows their bias.)


Politicians stage photos all the time -- how about the time Mr. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier with the sign "Mission Accomplished". Does anybody here believe that Mr. Bush is in the habit of flying around in combat aircraft dressed in flight suits? Of course not. This was clearly a staged event, intended to provide the public with images favorable to the President.
But the "staging" was done by the administration, not the media, and the latter portrayed it as such. If they had put forth such images as if they were candid shots, that would have been a problem. In other words, the fact that it was "clearly a staged event" makes it different than the Hezbollah situations, which are not "clearly" staged.


I feel Cole's analysis is off the deep end, it's not because he likes the peak oil theory.
What I found most amusing about Cole's post was that it was like this supposed Middle East expert just discovered that there was oil in Iran. When I read it, I got the sense that it was a revelation to him. Indeed, little of his piece really had anything to do with "peak oil" (also not a new theory, of course), and most simply had to do with the fact that there's lots of oil there.


Also, as per Cole's attempt at debunking the analogy:
Besides, the whole analogy is wrong. Milosevic's forces were ethnically cleansing the Kosovars. ... Who was Hizbullah ethnically cleansing in early July?
Does Cole not realize that the position of virtually the entire Muslim world -- including Hezbollah's patron, Iran -- is that Israel needs to be ethnically cleansed of Jews? (Answer: yes. That's why Cole invented a phony semantic debate a few months ago to argue that wiping Israel off the map doesn't mean wiping Israel off the map.) Does he not realize that complaints about Israeli "settlers" are actually calls to cleanse the "Occupied Territories" of Jews? Does he not realize that Hezbollah has explicitly said, in the last few years, that Jews need to be shipped back to Germany? Does Israel have to wait until the ethnic cleansing is actually happening to defend itself?
8.7.2006 1:03pm
MnZ (mail):
Erasmussimo,

I think most people are not condemning Reuters. I think they are once again questioning how much faith they should place in the press.

Here we have example of poor attempt to doctor photos. Back in 2004, it was a poor attempt to create fake memos. In other words, there were people trying to manipulate the news, but they were too incompetent to do it correctly.

If the press is so easily fooled by incompetent manipulation, might they be even more fooled by skilled manipulation?
8.7.2006 1:05pm
magoo (mail):
Date:
Fri, 2006-07-28 00:00
Author:
Matthias Gebauer
URL:

Source:
Spiegel Online
Body:

Propaganda is part of every war, just like bombs and soldiers. Still, it's remarkable how professionally Israel deals with foreign journalists, catering conscientiously to all their needs. Lunch included.

The mother of Israeli soldier Seargeant Shimon Dahan at her son's funeral on Thursday.

The phone rings at 9 a.m. — right on time. "Hello, this is the Government Press Office," pipes a woman's voice. "What are you planning to do today? Do you need an idea?" And then the suggestions just keep coming — interview partners; a tour to the houses in Haifa that were struck by Katyusha rockets, complete with victim interviews. An expert will come along too, one who explains the nature of the rockets — "in clean sound bites, if you want."

There's more on the plate. "The highlight is still to come," says the lady from Israel's press office, the GPO. "We can offer an interview in Naharya with the parents of the kidnapped soldiers," she says. She explains that the parents of Ehud Goldwasser, who has been held by Hezbollah since July 12, are waiting in a hotel. An interpreter? No need. "They speak good English, don't worry."

Many journalists come along, most of them by GPO bus. About 15 camera teams have set up their equipment. Twenty radio and print journalists are enjoying their coffee and the specially prepared sandwiches. Then the parents arrive. The father self-consciously steps up to the microphone. The desk in front of him bristles with microphones — as if a politician were giving a press conference. He's sweating slightly; the veins on his forehead are bulging.

Shlomo Goldwasser doesn't have much to say — not much more than the banal phrases security officials often teach parents so they stay on message. "They, my son's kidnappers, are responsible for Ehud's safety," Goldwasser says. "They are also responsible for returning him to us soon — and unscathed." He says he can't think of anything else to tell us. He's a father, he says, not a politician.

"Please don't smile"

Goldwasser has barely finished speaking when a journalistic scrum erupts and cameramen start to shout. "Mr. Goldwasser, over here," one of them calls. "Please don't smile." Others want to hear childhood stories — "It tugs on the viewers' heartstrings." Elsewhere, the man's wife has to leaf repeatedly through the family photo album. She responds to the orders given her like a robot and would presumably even start crying if she were told to do so. Fortunately no one makes such a request.

The disgraceful spectacle goes on for 90 minutes. The parents say they've got nothing to do with politics, nor with the war. They've been told appearances in public could save their son. And it's all organized and choreographed by the Israeli government's press office — organized for foreign journalists, so that one of the reasons for the current war, the suffering of parents and civilians, receives the public attention it is due. But the parents, in this story, somehow come off only as extras.

Propaganda is a part of war — especially when a state wants the world to see its decision to take up arms as justified and just. It's no different than the run up to the first Gulf War or the more recent war in Afghanistan — or, more perfidiously, to the second US war against Iraq. Vast armies of public relations workers develop an emotionally charged image meant to provide media and public support for the conflict's architects. It's standard procedure — public relations for war.

Not all the information circulated in such a controlled atmosphere, of course, is to be believed. But it's hard to criticize Israel for wanting to see victims of Hezbollah rockets — 17 killed since the beginning of the war against the militant group — in the media. Indeed it is precisely these victims that fuel the Israeli operations currently raging in southern Lebanon.

PR warriors take to the mountains

Still, Israel's support and supervision of foreign journalists seems downright excessive. As soon as you've received your press credentials from the GPO, you're bombarded with e-mails and phone calls. When covering other crisis regions, German reporters often have to make an effort to be extra nice and polite and have to search out interviewees and contacts themselves. Not here. In Israel, reporters are on an all-inclusive package trip — and are well looked after.

Well-thought-out story ideas including transportation, lunch and selected military experts — all these things are offered without ever having to be asked for. Many journalists happily accept the offer. For days, images of Israeli artillery units flickered on TV screens the world over — one reason of course being that the PR warriors always took the camera teams to the frontlines around sunset. The soft, warm twilight is favored by camera men and photographers.

An e-mail that arrived on Wednesday is a good example. It offers no less than 11 news stories. The Israeli refugees, perhaps. Or the problems with Arab Israelis? A feature about how an entire village has been dispersed across Israel? A report on people who had to leave their houses? Former hostages? Or a village that has been shot at for decades? It's all available.

There's no need to go anywhere. "The contacts can be reached by phone," the woman from the press office says. "It's better to do it that way, especially for the radio." The organizers know exactly what the reporters want. Radio and TV journalists often have to go on air so often that they barely get a chance to leave the hotel. So when a Katyusha rocket strikes, an e-mail containing a list of eyewitnesses, complete with their mobile phone numbers, is more than welcome.

Language barriers are willingly breached as well. Every list includes eyewitnesses with different language profiles. There's plenty to choose from in an immigrant country like Israel: English, French, Spanish, Russian and of course several German speakers in every city. Laborious simultaneous translations are rendered superfluous by the service.

The Israeli public relations experts, though, have their work cut out for them. With public opinion turning against the Israelis following the bombing of the UN outpost in southern Lebanon, the country's use of excessive force is once again a major issue. And the war doesn't seem as though it will come to an end any time soon.
8.7.2006 1:44pm
Zed (mail) (www):
Some notes on the authenticity of digital photographs:

Pretty much every professional digital SLR has what is called a "raw" mode, which contains the raw, unprocessed sensor data, which actually has to undergo a mathematical transform before it can be viewed as properly colored pixels. These files are substantially larger than compressed, viewable files like jpgs, but there are no commercial tools to do do Photoshop-style edits directly on them, and Canon cameras in particular have a feature that allows the camera to digitally sign the file for subsequent verification, making them basically unforgeable without massive resources to compromise some camera hardware or bribe a Canon executive.

Sometimes, it's infeasible to transmit or store huge raw files, however (especially out in the field), so you have to go with jpgs -- but all professional digital cameras will also store EXIF metadata in the image noting what camera it came out of -- and Photoshop (and all other commercial editors that I am aware of) will change or strip this metadata subsequently. It can be replaced by a skilled forger, but someone who botched an image manipulation this badly won't have known how.

What this tells me is that Reuters isn't so much as scanning the metadata of the images it is receiving. It's a very trivial matter to write a script to check that the EXIF data matches a known camera, and not editing software, and you could check dozens of images per second. That this isn't being done speaks very poorly of Reuter's methodology.

I remain unconvinced at this point that this implies that there is a practice of deliberate deception on the part of Reuters, however, or that there is more falsification of information favorable to Hezbollah than there is falsification of information favorable to Israel -- but it does make me less inclined to trust Reuters reports that contradict other reports elsewhere.

Also, insofar as it concerns Israel striking a day late, yes, it's pretty damning that Israel decided to bomb civilians well after any Hezbollah were gone. It makes a mockery of the idea that Israel is trying to minimize civilian casualties. If it were a fixed military emplacement, yes, it would make sense to strike it at whatever point in time -- but it wasn't.
8.7.2006 1:46pm
Erasmussimo:
David, you assert that there's a difference between the obviously staged nature of the aircraft carrier event and the (possibly) deceptively staged nature of the Hezbollah photo-ops. Yet, the photographers were being guided by Hezbollah press people, and no effort was made to conceal this fact. Clearly, this was a Hezbollah photo-op. What's deceptive about that? Moreover, no claims have been made that the content of the photos was false or misleading. Nobody has declared that the corpses were faked, or that the buildings were not destroyed by IDF actions. So far, the complaint seems to be about the fact that Hezbollah's PR people have gotten just as good as Western PR operations.
8.7.2006 1:48pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Magoo, the Speigel piece is interesting, though it conflicts with the considered views of almost everyone who has studied the matter that the Israeli government is terrible at p.r., and that the p.r. wing of the military has a tiny budget--the J. Post reported that the official in charge of media relations with regard to Israeli civilian casualties has a staff of one, himself, and a cell phone.

Also, this may be mistranslated from the German, but there is no evidence in this story that the Israeli gov't "supervised" anyone, as opposed to just presenting opportunities. If the media is too lazy to do its own work, that's a problem. As a foreigner who has visited Israel, I can tell you that it would be very difficult to negotiate one's way around by car if you don't read and speak. But almost no reporters sent to Israel have any knowledge of Hebrew, making them dependent on someone--gov't spokesmen, political activists (who tend to be extermists on one side or the other), etc for their stories.
8.7.2006 2:28pm
NRWO:
Is anyone willing to argue that the smoke reveals something about the photographer's or Reuters' intentions? The photo does reveal that Reuters has insufficient quality control checks in photoprocessing -- a journalistic sin, to be sure. The photo does not reveal, as best I can tell, that Reuters or the photographer had nefarious (and politically oriented) motives, to shape public perception. Moreover, it is at least debatable that the doctored photo would have had any effect on perceptions at all, relative to the original (light) smoke photo, or whether the darker smoke really does signal greater kill rates.

In the absence of an analysis of photos that are ostensibly anti- or pro-Israel, another possibility is that Reuters is an equal opportunity offender: Reuters might release pro- and anti-Israel photos that differ from the originals (or that are staged) equally often. (I suspect that such occurrences are rare, relative to the total corpus of photos promulgated during a period of time, but this is an empirical question.)

Although I am heartened that blogs provided a de facto quality control check on the MSM, some blogs seem to suggest this is another Rathergate or gottcha moment. I am not so sure, and I would like to see a comparative analysis (perhaps sampling randomly from sets of photos deemed pro- or anti-Israel), to determine if the MSM disproportionately doctors ostensibly anti-Israel photos, and to determine the frequency with which this occurs.
8.7.2006 2:42pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
Yet another set of tortured analogies by Erasmussimo, along with the typical degradation to the more and more absurd. The fact that Presidential addresses are always one part stagecraft, and only a fool would expect otherwise, doesn't seem to figure into his/her logic. Again, Garbage In - Garbage Out.

There is one stark similarity between the atrocities of Abu Girab, and Reuter's staged photographs - the ability of we, the consumers', to vote on such matters.

We are voting with our feet everyday, by abandoning the mass-media outlets which Reuters serves. We will be able to vote in the other case, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of 2008. Currently, it appears that the choice the Dumbo Party will offer us then will very look much like the status quo. But, unfortunately, our political system seldom offers us more than two viable choices. And it currently appears that, as in 2000 and 2004, in 2008, the Jackass Party will offer us something far worse.
8.7.2006 3:54pm
MnZ (mail):
NRWO,

The photographer in question also took two pictures from slightly different angles of the same rubble. Then, he claimed that the rubble was the result of the bombings of the "previous night." So, what is so bad about that? Well, the pictures were "dated" a week apart.
8.7.2006 4:07pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The doctored smoke photo was not purported to prove anything.

It was to be available to any who wanted "proof" that Israel was bombing indiscriminately.

"Did you see? Rght there on Reuters? Hits all over the place. Precision targeting, my ass." And so forth.
8.7.2006 4:11pm
te (mail):
The plot thickens . . .

Details here
8.7.2006 4:34pm
josh:
thank GOODNESS for these posts proving once and for all that all the Lebanese deaths are a hoax. I knew those anti-semites were just making it all up! Clearly, no one other than Israelis are dying and the conspiracy concocted by the media is just a farce.

Too bad DB will never address the fact that any other group covered by the media engages in identical measures as Hezbollah to present its side of the stoiry. I guess that's why comments dont exist on Lingren's and DB's posts above.

Very sad
8.7.2006 4:34pm
te (mail):
8.7.2006 4:34pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
MnZ, I'm condemning Reuters, altogether. Something very sick going on there, including the death threat in May by one of its London employees against Charles Johnson, plus numerous other faked stories and photos.

A North Carolina newspaper just fired one of its photographers for enhancing the color of the sky in a sports photo. In newspapering, what Reuters has done is inexcusable.

The motives of the photographer remain unknown. He was a free-lancer, maybe he was just trying to sell more pictures. But to suppose the faked picture had no political content is absurd.

What the original (now published) showed was a haze of smoke from a small attack. As faked, it showed a huge city in flames.

As a newspaperman, I hesitate for reasons of pride to attribute 'mistakes' of the kind Reuters has been convicted of to incompetence. I'd rather think it is bad faith.

In fact, I do think it is bad faith, deliberate faking to further an anti-semitic agenda.

But as the New York Times has recently proven, mere incompetence cannot be ruled out a priori.
8.7.2006 4:39pm
Erasmussimo:
Zed, we cross-posted, so I have just now read your post. Thank you for the information on digital signatures. I knew that it was theoretically possible but I didn't realize that some of this has already been implemented. It certainly suggests that, in the future, all news services should require that photographers submit anything remotely controversial in raw format, so that its provenance can be verified.
8.7.2006 4:50pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Josh, you say any other group covered by the media uses the same tricks HB does.

We're talking about Reuters' actions here. Do you think Reuters is an arm of HB? That would be interesting.
8.7.2006 5:21pm
Zed (mail) (www):
Erasmussimo:

There are some technical hurdles to overcome before one can go all the way with that (in particular, a photographer trying to transmit those images over a shaky cell phone link may very well not have the time to send raw files between 8 and 20 megabytes in size per image, nor the memory card space to be storing them in the first place), but certainly I would have figured that the metadata would at least have been checked.
8.7.2006 6:12pm
NRWO:
Harry,

We're on the same side with regard to journalistic ethics.

However, we apparently differ with respect to whether it is appropriate to cast attributions of bad faith on Reuters, which, we agree, clearly dropped the ball. And we certainly differ with respect to your statement that, "In fact, I do think it [Reuters's publication of the photo] is bad faith, deliberate faking to further an anti-semitic agenda."

That's an assertion, not an argument. Statements like that (whether intentional or not) tend to ignore the many honorable people who work at the institution and the newspaper industry at large and to which you belong.

What's the evidence that Reuters, as an institution, seeks to further an anti-Semitic agenda?

The dispositive evidence, it seems to me, would be widespread, systematic and disproportionate doctoring of photos, especially to make them appear anti-Israel (as opposed to pro-Israel). I would guess that the practice of doctoring is relatively rare (made rarely still by watchdog blogs -- good for them), relative to the total number of photos promulgated in the public, and the effects of such doctoring are unknown.

On the broader issue of factual accuracy in the media (with which we are in full agreement), be careful about criticizing the Gray Lady and other outlets in your business. Even the best apparently sometimes get it wrong.
8.7.2006 6:13pm
ctw (mail):
"http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb"

this is a good start. but in order to make the VC a readable legal blog, one needs the syntax for this as there are other posters to be purged. eg, is it "[firstname][last initial]" for every poster? multiples separated by commas, spaces, other?

thanks.
8.7.2006 8:06pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
NRWO, I dunno, I haven't found the memo that tells Reuters apparatchiks to support the non-terrorists of Islam. And I understand that Charles Johnson can get way, way under people's skins.

But death threats, faked photos, a consistent history of misrepresentation? This is a law blog, but I'm just a provincial newspaper reporter. My standard of proof has been met.

As for the other honorable employees, I've quit papers for conduct a lot less problematic than that.
8.7.2006 8:29pm
josh:
Richard Aubrey, you may be talking about bad faith by Reuters but my "bias" reads it as ongoing attempts to discredit an entire profession for reporting facts that DB and others on this former legal blog don't like. Were we to draw the same conclusions about the legal profession based on the misdeeds of one lawyer, I assume those on this former legal blog would be up in arms.

If it's only Reuters we're talking about, then the analogy would be condemning an entire firm should be attacked for the actions of one unscrupulous attorney. As far as I know, Greenberg Traurig is still in business, despite having Abramoff as a former partner. Which is as it should be.

But in Bernstein's world, the analysis begins with complaints of those who reports facts negative to Israel. If misdeeds of someone in the media can be discovered all the better to smear the entire profession so that such negative facts are likewise discredited.

Jack Abramoff has and will be thoroughly punished for his actions. It appears this Reuters employee will be as well. It defies belief that one profession (journalism) can be attacked when the other is not.

Don't tell me this is just about Reuters. One can hear Bernstein (Powerline, Malkin, et al) salivate when they stumble upon journalistic error. The underlying message always becomes: don't trust the facts being reported that make MY side look bad. It's intellectually honest and sad, particularly for a scholar of laws.

A former prof of mine at Tel Aviv University and Holocaust survivor used to take great pride in the fact that Israel had developed a crime rate in line with the rest of the Western World. He disliked the stereotype of the bookish Jew, and was happy his people had its criminals just like everyone else.

Guess what. The Jason Blairs, Steven Glass's and lone Reuters photog in this case are criminals. Just like everyone else.

How does that change the facts on the ground in Lebanon for you?
8.8.2006 12:35am
Rational Thinker:
Am I the only one floored by Mr. Bernstein's putatively serious claim that "the considered views of almost everyone who has studied the matter that the Israeli government is terrible at p.r."?

Could there be some attempt at documentation of that? I myself am always amazed at how quickly after some Israeli attack leading to the death of many civilians all those Israeli spokesmen--perfectly presentable to American TV viewers, speaking excellent English--are available for interview, explaining that it could not possibly have been helped and that it is really the enemy's fault.

A link to these studies, David, would be most interesting. Would it compare the PR budget of Israel to those of other governments in the Middle East?
8.8.2006 3:23am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Josh. You referred to every party in war doing p.r. things. We were referring to Reuters doing p.r. things. So either you missed the point or you figure Reuters is a party in this war.

If you want to talk about absolving organizations because the lowest person involved is punished, I'm sure you'd apply that to the US response to the misdeeds at Abu Ghraib. Right?

Hajj has been faking stuff and the hard-eyed editors have been missing it. Either Reuters lies about their vetting process being thorough and disinterested, or they lie about vetting at all. In neither case do they tell the truth, and none of that has to do with Hajj, who isn't being quoted. So we're up a couple of levels.

If an organization can't do the job it claims it's doing, the rest of us are entitled to notice and go elsewhere for the service.

While it is impossible to prove somebody's motivation--they may be lying even to their diary--that doesn't mean we can't make some judgments.

We are not in a position to get Reuters personnels' wrists up between the shoulder blade and make them admit what we all know is true. That doesn't mean they aren't doing it. If the only allowable proof is the confession of the perp, criminal law is in trouble. And don't bother getting all literal and obfuscatory on me and pointing out this isn't a criminal matter.
8.8.2006 11:16am
josh:
Richard Aubrey,

I absolutely would apply similar logic to the US response to Abu Ghraib. That's an excellent analogy.

Just because some nitwits (those charged and convicted as well as those higher-ups who weren't but should have been) committed those attrocities, I would never use those events to smear the soldiers who put their lives on the line for our freedom.

Unfortunately, for the intellectually dishonest among us on the left and right, that type of smear is par for the course. Just as Bernstein seeks to argue that the media is not credible enough to report facts he doesn't like (based solely on anecdotal evidence of a a miniscule percentage of the whole), some unfortunately use Abu Ghraib to attack the military, even though their true anger lies with the policial wing that prosecutes the war, and not the soldiers themselves.

It's an excellent analogy. Thanks for raising it.
8.8.2006 1:38pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Well, Josh, if you think it's an excellent analogy, then the Reuters equivalent of a Brigadier General needs to be fired. Along with several in between. Failing that, Reuters is failing.
Or perhaps I missed it?
If Reuters isn't firing the equivalent of a Brigadier General, the analogy doesn't hold.
In fact, what it means is the negligence, the wink-nod to the editors, the lack of interest in checking the output, all of the equivalents of what got so many people in trouble ref AG is going unaddressed.
Lousy analogy, which, btw, I didn't make.
8.8.2006 1:56pm