[Neil Netanel, guest-blogging, May 16, 2008 at 3:25pm] Trackbacks
Blood Libel or Just Libel?

France's public broadcaster, France 2, has sued blogger-media critic, Philippe Karsenty, for libel. The lawsuit centers on Karsenty's allegation that the scene, which France 2 broadcast in September 2000, of twelve-year old Muhammad al-Dura crouching behind his father in a Gaza intersection moments before he was reportedly shot and killed by Israeli gunfire was staged by Palestinians on the street and that France 2 and its Jerusalem bureau chief, Charles Enderlin, are now covering up the hoax.

The France 2 broadcast, filmed by France 2's Palestinian cameraman, Talal Abu Ramah, with Enderlin's voiceover stating that the father and son "are the target of fire from the Israeli positions" and that the son was shot dead, helped to fuel the Second Intifada in September 2000 and became an incendiary icon throughout the Middle East and beyond. The incident was memorialized throughout the Arab world, including on postage stamps in a number of countries, and became a symbol of Palestinian martyrdom and Israeli killing of children. The France 2 broadcast appears in the background of the video of Daniel Pearl's beheading taken by his killers.

Subsequent investigations have raised serious questions about the source of the gunfire and, indeed, whether Palestinian activists on the scene staged the entire incident in collaboration with the France 2 camera crew. Writing in Atlantic Monthly in 2003, James Fallows concluded that whatever else happened to al-Dura, he was not shot by Israeli soldiers and that the rest remains a mystery.

I recently saw Karsenty present his case, together with outtakes he has obtained from the France 2 broadcast, on a panel featuring former CNN senior vice president and general counsel, David Kohler, and former veteran CBS news correspondent, Murray Fromson. Viewing the outtakes, it seemed obvious to my untrained eyes that the incident was staged. The father and son remain frozen in crouching position, ostensibly to avoid Israeli gunfire, even as others run right past them. Other TV crews are filming just a few feet away from the father and son, directly in the alleged line of fire. And the son changes his position and raises his elbow after he was reportedly killed.

Nonetheless, a French trial court ruled in October 2006 that Karsenty had committed libel. It is clear from the decision (I assume the accuracy of an unofficial translation) that French libel law puts a far more onerous burden on the defendant than does US law and contains little of the free speech protections that, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, US courts have imposed on defamation law to prevent the chilling of speech. The French court required Karsenty to prove the truth of his allegations -- not just that the event was staged, but that France 2 and Enderlin are covering up the hoax -- and that Karsenty's proof "be perfect, complete and correlative to the defamatory allegations both in their substance and their impact." The court also declined to view all the France 2 outtakes. In the United States, France 2 and Enderlin could not prevail unless they established that Karsenty published his claims knowing them to be false or with reckless disregard of the truth.

Karsenty has appealed and the French appellate court is due to issue its ruling on May 21. Karsenty is optomistic, in part because the appellate court did view the France 2 outtakes that, Karsenty believes establish that the al-Dura incident was staged.

The kind of media manipulation to which the al-Dura incident points is all too common in reporting from the region. Recall the initial Palestinian reports in September 2000 of an Israeli massacre of 3,000 Palestinian civilians in Jenin, broadcast without question by CNN, NPR, the BBC, and others, while the truth turned out to be 52 Palestinians killed, most of whom were armed combatants. (See here and here.) More recently, Hamas has staged and Western media reported electricity shortages in Gaza, replete with candles purporting to provide needed light while, as it turned out, screens blocked sunshine from streaming in through the window.

Certainly, some media outlets seem all too eager to transmit reports of Israeli atrocities. But the problem is far broader and deeper than that. Both broadcast and print journalists face tremendous pressure to produce under a highly competitive 24/7 news cycle. At the same time, many news organizations have sharply reduced their staff of foreign correspondents. As a result, they are increasingly reliant on local stringers and camera operators to report on local stories. In areas of conflict, it is inevitable that more than a trivial percentage of local reporters will be partisans and that video footage will be designed or doctored to favor one side or the other.

One hopes that major news organizations are able and willing to weed out the vast majority of questionable reporting, just as CNN refused to broadcast the al-Dura footage. But there are, of course, no guarantees. And, as I emphasized in an ealier post, fact-checking, like quality original reporting, costs a lot of money.

For their part, bloggers do an admirable job of exposing media failures. At the same time, for better or for worse, the Internet serves as an unfiltered outlet for the stories and footage that media organizations deem insufficiently trustworthy to carry.

2008 grad (mail):
So, the Israelis have committed LESS atrocities against the Palestinians than the media has reported.

Yea, right.
5.16.2008 4:59pm
yankev (mail):
Well, I was wondering how long we had to wait before the usual "So you think Israel can do no wrong" posts began. And 2008grad's post above is even more extreme than that.

Note the absence of any outrage or even regret over what appear to be deliberate and outrageous anti-Israel lies. Proof once again that to some, any denunication of Israel is self justifying, whether true or not.
5.16.2008 5:21pm

Inaccurate denunciations of Israel are completely unjustified.

However, writing things like "Certainly, some media outlets seem all too eager to transmit reports of Israeli atrocities" in a post about how the media grossly inaccurately reported on an incident that was unfavorable to Israel suggests that the author thinks, or wants to advance the idea that, the media is unjustly biased against Israel--when in fact the opposite is the case.
5.16.2008 5:27pm
RBG (mail):
And, of course, one reason 2008 grad is convinced that the number of Israeli atrocities is underreported is no doubt because he or she sees these reported incidents and infers that, as with rape, the reported incidents are only a fraction of the total number of incidents. Thus do even false reports of atrocities contribute to the rock-solid belief that Israel violates the human rights of Palestinians with impunity.
5.16.2008 5:27pm

or maybe 2008grad consults the Israeli media and the reports of every human rights organization.
5.16.2008 5:38pm
Keep in mind that the function of journalism is to provide inexpensive and entertaining filler to go between the ads; in that context, the use of propaganda freebies is entirely justified.
5.16.2008 5:46pm
holdfast (mail):
I wonder how many additional people - both Israeli and Palenstinian - were killed by this piece of propaganda masquerading as journalism? How many Pakistanis were killed in street clashes because of Newsweek's BS story about the Koran swirly?

The media seems to think that it has unlimited rights (including the right to protect its sources, no matter that those sources may have been lying to serve their own interests) but no responsibilities when it gets the story tragically wrong, whether because of laziness or, as in this case, outright malice? We need a media that can ask hard questions and hold governments accountable - that is vital to a democracy, but I think that the currrent MSM seems to be more about slandering Israel, opposing the President and giving the Obamassiah a constant rimjob. I am not advocating some sort of government action, but it is long past time for consumers and shareholders to stand up and demand some housecleaning.
5.16.2008 5:55pm
Happy People:
There must be some truth in Karsenty's assesment, if mighty TV tries to quash him with libel action.
5.16.2008 6:00pm
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
To believe that the Al Dura case was an Israeli atrocity, rather than just another Pallywood production, requires one to believe that, among other things, while a Pallywood film crew was staging a whole battery of phony atrocities, they happened to stumble across a real one.

And that's just the start -- there's also some violations of laws of physics when Pallywood cameras are filming that are also required.
5.16.2008 6:01pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
The organization I work for hosted a panel at the National Press Club yesterday, and I made note of a quote from Josephy Pulitzer on a plaque outside of the room we were in. It is strikingly fitting for this topic, though it speaks primarily of journalism in America:

Our republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public spirited press, with the trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, and demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.

Anyone else think that Pulitzer rolls in his grave every time a story like this comes out?
5.16.2008 6:11pm
Steve P. (mail):
There must be some truth in Karsenty's assesment, if mighty TV tries to quash him with libel action.

Or maybe Karsenty's being libellous. I have no idea, and Neil seems pretty certain that the incident was staged, but the action of suing for libel can't be used as evidence that libel did or did not occur.
5.16.2008 7:08pm
cubanbob (mail):
Why does Israel even let those propagandist masquerading as journalist in to the country in the first place? Expel them and close their bureaus. They have no obligation to let foreign journalist in, especially these obvious frauds like the BBC. It isn't like they are going to get even worse slander by those by kicking them out.
As for Gaza, would any other country put up with that? Just cut them off completely, no power, no food, no fuel, nothing. If they fire a rocket, fire 50 back. Eventually the Palestinians will either give up, emigrate or die. But that will their call. Or they can give up and take the deal offered to them. Honestly why does anyone care about the Palestinians? Arabs routinely kill far more non-Arabs than number of Palestinians ever killed by Israeli's in the last 60 years. Yet no one is pushing the constant drumbeat against the Arabs like the left does against the Israeli's. Shouldn't the Arabs stop occupying all the lands they have conquered in the last 1400 years as an example to the Israeli's? Until then Isael should not negiotiate with these criminals,ignore the Europeans and kick the UN out all together.
5.16.2008 7:18pm
Mel Aranoff (mail):
Another useful piece corroborating Prof. Netanel's excellent points can be found in Commentary's September 2005 issue by Nidra Poller, entitled "Myth, Fact and the Al-Dura Affair"
5.16.2008 8:39pm
Passing By:
Let's see... Why did the international media pick up the story, attributing the shooting to Israeli troops... Could it be because Israel initally accepted responsibility for the shooting ("The first reaction then on the part of Yom-Tov Samia, who was at the time the head of Southern Command, was: There is no certainty that the boy was shot by the IDF."), retreating from that position only after the matter became a media cause célèbre?
5.16.2008 10:29pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Passing By, English isn't my strongest language, but unless I'm parsing that seriously wrong, Mr/Mrs Samia does not seem to be accepting responsibility for the shooting, only stating lack of information.
5.17.2008 12:23am
Bleepless (mail):
As to French libel law, Soviet defector Viktor Kravchenko sued the French Communists for libel. Then, as now, the French judiciary was vile. If memory serves, the court awarded him five francs. See his I Chose Justice.
5.17.2008 1:09am
I ran 2008grad's post through Babelfish, using the 'Israeliphobe-to-English' function. Here is the translation in English:

"So what if it was faked? Israel is EEEE-vil, and this CONFIRMS it!"

(I just found that interesting.)
5.17.2008 10:01am
David M (www):
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 05/17/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day…so check back often.
5.17.2008 10:25am
emsl (mail):
Again and again, we get clear evidence not only that events like this are staged, but that the media are complicit either out of carelessness or outright hostility to Israel. Does anyone else remember the so called "massacre" that was revealed to be untrue? What about the fuel crisis with the picture that ran all over the world of Hamas meeting by candlelight when it was later revealed that the meeting took place during the day and the curtains were closed to create the illusion of darkness? Or the recent revelation that one of the Gazans who had allegedly died as a result of the border closure is, in fact, alive and (oddly enough) is now seeking to enter Israel for medical treatment?
Each time, most international reporters simply take things as they are served up -- Reuters, BBC, AP -- without any context or mention of all the prior hoaxes. This is simply another example in a nearless endless list.
5.17.2008 11:07am
a nearly endless list? Is it as long as the list of times that pundits and bloggers of all stripes echo urban legends that meet their biases?
5.17.2008 12:14pm
topsolm: Don't you think the bar should be higher for "stories" that involve war crimes? Or is this on the same level as, say, the "report" that George Bush asked the president of Brazil whether they have black people?

My take: Before one posts about the killing of innocent people, one really should verify one's sources.
5.17.2008 2:15pm
FredR (mail):
An essential start for the MSM to admit the problem exists and that it matters. During the Vietnam war a Viet Cong colonel worked as a correspondent for Time and funneled lots of useful information to Hanoi. The modern equivalent is APs Bilal Hussein, whom they continue to defend as a a legitimate journalist.

The problem goes all the way back to the invention of the camera. In the Civil War photographers often posed corpses for more dramatic effect, something that I addressed awhile back in a blog post.

Bay Area photog Zombie listed four types of visual fraud:
1. Digitally manipulating images after the photographs have been taken.
2. Photographing scenes staged by one side or the other and presenting the images as if they were of authentic spontaneous news events.
3. Photographers themselves staging scenes or moving objects, and presenting photos of the set-ups as if they were naturally occurring.
4. Giving false or misleading captions to otherwise real photos that were taken at a different time or place.

Unfortunately, it's all too common and made worse by western journalist who openly sympathize with "insurgents."
5.17.2008 2:41pm
Michael B (mail):
Could be wrong, but I believe this is the first time a conspirator has posted (directly) upon L'Affaire al-Durah, far worse than L'Affaire Dreyfus ever thought of being.

2008grad's myopia is not surprising though it is stunning, it serves a certain mobius-strip complacency, myopia and self-satisfaction. Passing over Daniel Pearl, passing over al-Durah as contemporary and perduring blood libel of momentous proportions, passing over the varied incitements it has caused around the jihadist dotted and blotched globe, passing over even Ramallah and what Ramallah serves to reflect in a far more penetrating fashion within Sunni Arab and Shi'a Muslim societies, passing over all that and more, 2008grad opts for massive equivocations, gutting virtually all moral and intellectual proportion from the realities and from the basic sense of things. And in case it's gone down the memory hole:

Ramallah and what Ramallah serves to reflect in a more probative sense in those societies (v. first and second photos, respectively).
5.17.2008 4:08pm
2008 grad can be excused-as a recent college grad, he shares the ignorance that most college grads accumulate. after all, he knows everything given that he made it through 4 years of college, going to classes 12-15 hours a week. on the other hand, he could simply be a jew hater. I can't give the older individuals involved in this case that same benefit of the doubt.
5.17.2008 5:25pm
LM (mail):
Which older individuals?
5.17.2008 9:20pm
JJ125 (mail):
Thank you previous posters for perfectly illustrating the problem here — anytime Israel is criticized, someone gets labeled a "Jew hater" rather than having their underlying claims addressed. The most amazing thing to me is that we can criticize the US government at will for all their wrongdoings, but once you replace "US" with "Israel," there is some mysterious, golden aura that simply cannot be mentioned in any line of criticism. This makes for terrible debate that will never solve the Mideast conflict.

The truth is it's completely ignorant to think this is a one-sided affair. Both the Palestinians and Israelis have engaged in despicable, illegal, and immoral activity. We all hear and know plenty about the suicide bombings by Palestinians so I won't bother, but its undeniable the Israelis have blood on their hands as well (see: clusterbombs, collective punishment, bulldozing homes, illegal settlements, blatant discrimination against Arab citizens, etc., just to name a few). And despite the rhetoric, Israel is only a "democracy" if you're a Jewish citizen. These are undisputed facts that many people wish to ignore so that they are not labeled "anti-Semites".

This isn't about being "Jew haters", it's about addressing a situation that will not simply disappear if we pretend that one side is blameless. There is an Israeli human rights organization (B'tselem I think) that keeps track of Israeli transgressions in full — I recommend those of you who believe Israel is blameless to read up on it, because it's a sight you won't see in the American media. And in regards to the rumored media bias, here is one study on the topic:

It's time to move forward rather than stifle the debate.
5.18.2008 5:11am

Do you honestly believe that the major barrier to "solving the Mideast conflict" is Americans who defend Israel?
5.18.2008 7:26am
[...] anytime Israel is criticized, someone gets labeled a "Jew hater" rather than having their underlying imaginary claims addressed.

5.18.2008 11:03am
Rich Rostrom (mail):
Jihadists and state gangsters in the Middle East routinely bribe and threaten journalists. Also, subversion through control of translators and escorts. Many Western press in post-liberation Iraq relied on the same translators and escorts they had been previously assigned by the Saddam regime. Imagine how that affected man-on-the-street interviews.

The Western press embraces the role of internal critic toward its own society. This is enormously valuable. It is also completely alien to most Middle Easterners, for whom everything is a tool to serve clan or faction interest. Westerners don't realize this, and the result is that Middle Eastern factions routinely exploit the Western press's itch to be the internal critic by feeding them anti-Western lies.

Israel is part of the West, for this purpose; its own press is vulnerable to this too.
5.18.2008 12:49pm

Let's see... Why did the international media pick up the story, attributing the shooting to Israeli troops... Could it be because Israel initally accepted responsibility for the shooting ("The first reaction then on the part of Yom-Tov Samia, who was at the time the head of Southern Command, was: There is no certainty that the boy was shot by the IDF."), retreating from that position only after the matter became a media cause célèbre?

You might want to reread what you quoted. It doesn't mean what you seem to think it does
5.18.2008 3:31pm
HipposGoBerserk (mail):

On the off chance you might return, I wanted to respond to your moral equivocation:

clusterbombs - neither illegal, nor IMHO, inappropriate
collective punishment - not proven nor relevant, not lethal
bulldozing homes - not no blood on their hands from this
illegal settlements - assumes facts not in evidence; the status of the occupied territories is extermely complicated and valid legal arguments exist justifying the settlements. More to the point, they are not a significant issue in the conflict other than as a propaganda point.
blatant discrimination against Arab citizens - so blatant that the vast majority of Arab Israelis hate the idea of losing their Israeli citizenship in any peace deal and thousands of Palestinians keep moving into Jerusalem to have the privilege of being so discriminated against, where's the blood here.

I'm not saying I agree with these policies, just that I'm stunned that you could throw some moral equivalency between these policies and suicide bombings. I'd really love for you to articulate how you get to this point.

5.19.2008 12:59pm