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A Disproportionate Bias Fuels Media Take on War

August 24, 2006 By:
John R. Cohn M.D.
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Israel's battle with Iranian-backed Hezbollah has produced numerous opportunities for media commentary.

A Reuters' photographer has been fired for altering images, and much has been made of efforts by Hezbollah to manipulate the coverage from territory they control. Photographers are escorted and supervised in areas of damage, with evidence suggesting that some of these events are stage-managed to facilitate news coverage, repeating ambulances pulling away with sirens blaring to make sure all the videographers get their shots.

A short video making rounds on the Web shows the same woman crying over two different houses, on different days and in different places, and a Lebanese man rescuing bomb victims in one picture and, as an apparently staged casualty, himself, in another photo (www. aish.com/ movies/JP/PhotoFraud.asp).

Hezbollah fighters prevent journalists from photographing Katyusha rocket launches from civilian areas. There have been no pictures of Hezbollah bunkers and bomb shelters to contrast with the unprotected homes of their neighbors, but pictures of Israeli tanks and soldiers are common in news reports.

Coverage of Israel's response to Hezbollah's unprovoked attack shows how too many in the media see this as a David-and-Goliath battle, not recognizing that the Israelis -- vastly outnumbered -- remain the David in the story, surrounded by increasingly well-armed neighbors who reject their right to exist.

On Friday, Aug. 11, in The New York Times, a map on Page A10 that showed Lebanese "Fleeing the South." This was similar to a map that appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, earlier in the conflict, prepared by the Associated Press, titled "Displaced by Fighting in Lebanon."

Neither map gave any hint that Israelis were forced to flee their homes or hide in bomb shelters. Unfortunately, in this war, displaced Israelis (like the many hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who fled from Arab lands generations earlier) usually don't count.

Perhaps the biggest media issue throughout the conflict has been the appropriateness of Israel's response. The Inquirer addressed this in a piece by Dion Nissenbaum, who used to work with Knight Ridder, but apparently ended up with McClatchy in the chain's sale.

Israel has the impossibly difficult job of stopping Hezbollah's real crimes, while still adhering to the stringent rules of warfare that Nissenbaum's interviewed "experts" (three to one against Israel) implied Israel needs to hold to.

While amplifying Israel's military action, Nissenbaum minimized that of Hezbollah and the damage it's caused, describing Hezbollah as "a troublesome militant group with a few thousand fighters," and asking the rhetorical question, "Is Israel's overpowering military action against Hezbollah a reasonable response to the militant group's July 12 ambush, in which two Israeli soldiers were captured and three killed?"

Most of Israel's response, of course, was not to the kidnapping but to the thousands of ball-bearing-filled, anti-personnel rockets that have been fired at Israeli locales in the north, driving hundreds of thousands from their homes and perhaps a million Israelis into bomb shelters.

Without a hint of irony, Nissenbaum writes of Israel's response as "overpowering" and "unwarranted," while noting it "failed in the air and failed on the ground" to stop Hezbollah.

So, in a single story, Israel was "ineffective" and "overpowering," entitled to "retaliate," but only in a "reasonable" way.

As Nissenbaum noted, Hezbollah's use of civilian areas to store and fire rockets is "a clear violation of international law, which bans using civilians as human shields." Those crimes went unanalyzed.

This column was written for the Israel Advocacy Task Force of the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.




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