Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bad Times Had by All

[Ed. These images are side by side. widen your browser window for the full and glorious effect. Whatever that was, it blowed up real gud.]

One needn't hunt around too much to see the glee with which US media oulets view the latest insane escalation of violence in the Middle East. And while these two admitted rags are thrilled with the sight of explosions, especially when those bombs are reigning down on Lebanese, Palastinians and other swarthy Arabs, the horror show is clearly enjoyed by the likes of CNN, which last night broadcast continuous coverage of the naked and outsized Israeli aggression and had all the appearances of the latest blockbuster Hollywood offering: sure to be this summer's big hit!

Far from needing to offer an opinion about the obvious and outrageously asymmetrical response of Israel to the second kidnapping of Israeli troops (there are already plenty of those abounding), objectively, actions in the Middle East now appear to be verging on complete madness. But US media coverage once again sides with Israel, pronouncing that country's action as entirely justified. The world sat back and watched as Israel stormed through Gaza, punishing the Palestinian civilian population with any number of violations of international law and treaty, but now that Israel is bombing civilians of a sovereign nation in retaliation for the pissant behaviour of Hezbollah, the handwringing in American mainstream media has been amped up considerably. It needs to be, otherwise America's Middle East love child might come out looking rather shameful in all of this. Hezbollah's and Hamas' actions were designed to provoke exactly the kind of excessive response that Israel unleashed, something that Israel probably understood but chose untempered retaliation anyway.

While CNN was having a grand time last night with all of this, the frenzy really kicked in when Hezbollah leaders cooperatively declared that Israel's attack now meant "open war." There, on the screen, was the bold declaration "Hezbollah vows 'Open War.' " Paradoxically, this simple graphic overlayed scenes of Israeli forces bombing and blowing up various "targets" in Beirut and elsewhere. War had clearly been declared and launched but the juxtaposition of the words of Hezbollah over top the actions of Israel seemed clearly designed to do at least one or, possibly, two things: confuse the viewer about what those explosions were and who was causing them and create an impression that Hezbollah's "war" would look like what the Israelis were already in the process of actually doing.

But today's New York Times offered an excellent example of a far more subtle American media bias regarding Israel. When you're the self-proclaimed "paper of record," sometimes subtlety is a must, at least as regards the news articles. Concurrent with this effort, we continue to be treated to further coddling of the president as the US media downplays Bush's disgraceful lack of engagement in this issue, as though his joksy, folksy European vacation is just what the US president should be doing while the Middle East hovers on the brink of all out war. Indeed, Bush appears utterly removed from world affairs at the moment, a bit player still confined to the task of appeasing his Christian fundamentalist base with threats of a veto on the potential passage of a stem cell funding bill. Irrelevancy, thy name is Bush.

But let's take a stroll through the NY Times and see what passes for "objective" coverage on the subject of Israel's tortured relationship with its Arab neighbours. It should be noted up front that readers will not gain much, if any, understanding of the situation there but that is not what the NYT is trying to impart. In fact, the biggest stories today read like a simple litany of events: this was blown up, that went kaboom! Bombs fell here, there and everywhere. Oh, and dozens of Lebanese civilian refugees were killed but we'll skip quickly past that.

What is presented in the NY Times is a far more subtle bias than that which is proudly displayed by the New York Post and the Daily News. At least those cage liners are honest about their positions, which is more than can be said for the Times.

Observe, for instance, a story on page A7 that informs readers of one of the terrible collateral effects of the violence, attending the overall theme of the day that this is all Hezbollah's fault:
2 More Israelis Are Killed as Rain of Rockets From Lebanon Pushes Thousands South
The lede continues the dispiriting news:
More than 100 rockets rained down on northern Israel on Friday in a third straight day of attacks....
The effect of this, or at least its intended effect, should be obvious: not just 2 but 2 more Israeli citizens are dead. Not until the last sentence of the story does a reader learn that a total of 4 Israeli civilians have been killed since Israel began its bombing campaign and Hezbollah responded, but the inference a reader is to draw from this is that there must be lots of Israeli dead; those vile Muslims are raining death upon innocent Israelis. While technically true, the article's apparent implication that this is something that has happened without a larger context is a striking example of bias through omission, the purpose of which is to inititate a reaction of shock and misery. There certainly is no mention of the horror raining down upon Lebanese civilians, 60 or more of whom have been killed with hundreds now wounded. A reader is biased against Lebanon before the story even begins. No article appears with an in-kind headline for Lebanese victims of Israeli bombing and shelling. None.

But the blame game is most overtly layed out by the Times' lead editorial, which begins:
With the circle of violence in the Middle East expanding alarmingly, it is important to be clear about not only who is responsible for the latest outbreak, but who stands to gain most from its continued escalation.

Both questions have the same answer: Hamas and Hezbollah. And Israel needs to be careful that its far-reaching military responses, however legally and morally justified, do not end up advancing the political agenda that Hamas and Hezbollah hard-liners had in mind when they conceived and executed the kidnappings of Israeli soldiers that detonated the fighting.
I might more expect this sort of drivel from Bill O'Reilly and it seems a stretch, by any measure, to claim that dozens of dead civilians and attacks on civilian infrastructure -- violations of international law -- are "morally" justified for the kidnapping of two soldiers. And the Times is quite wrong here: this action by Israel is most assuredly not legal.

Furthermore, this statement clearly ignores the decades of conflict and illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and further disregards Israel's previous violations of international law and past incursions into Lebanon, including orchestrating the of shameful slaughter of hundreds of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila. This region of the globe, comprising Israel, the Occupied Territories, Lebanon, Syria and, hovering in the background fueling the tinderbox with more arms, Iran and the United States, has been intwined in conflict for decades and each party and their proxies have promoted violence as a first response to any and every slight. But to Times editors, no such context exists; there is only the here and now. This willfully myopic perspective permits Times editors the simple idiot's luxury of pronouncing that the current trouble is all Hamas' and Hezbollah's fault.

One rather astonishing feature of the Times' reporting and, indeed, most discussions of this current dilemma, is the passive role assigned Israel. In much of the media and in White House discussions of behaviour, the onus is all on Hezbollah, as though Israel's actions are those of some inanimate object thoughtlessly reacting as if guiding by the natural laws of physics. Take, for example, this small snippet, a warning from the Pentagon that sounds like a weather alert:
a senior Pentagon source warned that should the Arab world and international community fail in the efforts to convince Syria to pressure Hizbullah into releasing the soldiers and halt the current escalation Israel may attack targets in the country.
Arabs, a twister's coming. Better wise up because there's nothing anyone can do.

But perhaps most telling of all is that the Times now find themselves in frightening ideological proximity to that most simple of world leaders, George Bush, who managed to find some time between pork roasts to let the world in on his understanding of the problem with the Middle East:
In my judgment, the best way to stop the violence is to understand why the violence occurred in the first place. And that’s because Hezbollah has been launching rocket attacks out of Lebanon into Israel, and because Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. That’s why we have violence.
Ignoring the laughable notion that George Bush actually has an "understanding" of the situation, which he clearly does not, the parallel positions of the White House and the NY Times are hardly even faintly dissimilar: See? Who said this whole thing was complicated? In the Middle East seen by Bush and NY Times editors, there are no decades of strife, no violations of international law, no violations of UN resolutions, no illegal settlements, no occupation, no thousands of Palestinian dead. It's all Hezbollah's fault. Simple.

Like Bush's clueless disregard for the horrible history of the region, The Times' position is, ultimately, shabby and simpleminded and one that is a disgrace for a newspaper that thinks itself the "paper of record."*

* For a thorough and scathing review of the New York Times editorial history and its blatant diregard of international law and by corollary, the US Constitution, I highly recommend Friel and Falk's, The Record of the Paper.


Blogger Kel said...

Excellent post Bhc.

I often wonder why so many Americans are so wilfully misinformed on this subject and your article does a good job of explaining that. It's because people are wilfully misinforming them!

And I saw Bush's stupid remarks with Putin. It's like history started yesterday, or last Wednesday.

The conflict must never be seen in a wider context.

Having said all that, the front covers of those two newpapers you show simply shocked me.

I've never seen people enjoy a war so much - to paraphrase the lovely Ann Coulter.

3:48 AM  
Blogger theBhc said...

Thanks, Kel.

The NY Times, as the supposed "liberal" vanguard, is a strange bird when it comes to Israel. While the paper has popped a few good stories lately that have sullied the Bush adminstration -- hence the accusations of treason by Bush supporters -- their long standing position w.r.t. Israel is perfectly in line with the likewise long-standing US position on the Middle East,

I frankly don't see much resolution there as long as Washington remains unmoved from their asymmetrical support of Israel. And now, with the lateest blatantly insane actions, this country's press relishes further bloodshed as long as it is Israel doing the letting.

You should check out "Paradise Now," if you haven't seen it already. It is an excellent film that every American should see. It presents the other side of the story and does it very well. Of course, it was panned here by the media establishment (or ignored completely); claims were made that the movie advocated terrorism. I can't believe these people are that stupid, but the institutional treatment of Israel/Palestine issue, and the myth that Israel are the victims in this fiasco, is now so ingrained in American society, no amount of reasoned discussion even seems possible. As you pointed out in one of your posts about that fucker Bolton, he stands back and tells the UN to butt out; nothing to do here people. What an ass.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Kel said...

It is one of the things that has astonished me since I started discussions online, either in my early days on the newsgroups or here on the blogs.

The sheer scale of ignorance amongst Americans about the true history of the Israeli/Palestine dispute - and the myth that "little Israel" seeks peace but simply lacks a partner - is mind-boggling.

I often found, especially on the newsgroups, that people would say things that were simply factually incorrect. When you pointed out the factual inaccuracy they would immediately change their position but not their support. Nothing Israel ever does can be condemned as Israel acts with a "moral" army.

Even Sabra and Shatilla - which moved Reagan (their hero) so much that he kept a picture of a Palestinian girl on his desk until the day he left office - makes no impact on these people. That atrocity was "committed by the Phalange" apparently with Israel bearing no responsibility. Despite Sharon being found "personally responsible" for the massacre by Israel's own Kahan Commission.

I notice today that Bill Kristol has come out and said that America should treat Israel's war in Lebanon as the US's war.

I actually rather admire the fact that he's the first neo-Con to come right out and make the linkage. Up until now any person who suggested that the US was doing certain actions to aid Israel was criticised as anti-semitic. Kristol has let the cat out of the bag.

Personally, I am not remotely anti-semitic and consider such people buffoons.

I am however anti-colonialist - as I thought every good American was - and that puts Israel's actions and my beliefs very far apart.

Colonialism doesn't exist in this case though, if the history you have been taught is fucked up beyond belief. I heard Bill O'Reilly today say that Cindy Sheehan was "extremist" because "she says Israel is occupying Palestine". Again what planet is he on that this fact can even be under dispute?

He did this live on air. No wonder Americans don't understand the situation if O'Reilly can say that and not have the phone lines into the studio melting with callers anxious to correct him.

But then, who can blame ordinary Americans for feeling confusion on this subject when Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, talks of "the so called Occupied Territories".

I mean to say, that's the Defence Secretary, what chance do the punters have of ever understanding what is actually going on if the people in power spew this garbage?

2:50 PM  
Blogger theBhc said...

I may have told you this before, but the reality is that US support of Israel is nothing but a liabilty to any US interests elsewhere in the region. But this nation refuses to recognise this and blindly continues the support without any very good reason. This nonsense about Israel being the "only democracy" is so specious it makes me laugh when I hear that. Since when did US support of a foreign government have anything to do with whether it is a democracy or not? This country has overthrown or backed overthrows of any number of democracies over the last hundred years. We've propped up dictators and popped them when they got uppity. Democracy doesn't enter into it.

So what is the deal with Israel? Holocaust guilt? AIPAC funding? Zionist neocons (Kristol, Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, ...)? There is certainly no strategic interest there and there is no oil, so what is it? I'm not sure there is a simple answer to that but we also are likely never to know what it or they might be.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Musclemouth said...

Excellent discussion you two are having. If I may interject, I would suggest that U.S. interest in Israel is motivated by strategic placement in the Middle East. It's within striking distance of oil.

I'm sure history has nothing to do with the motives. Holocaust guilt, nah. I mean there OUGHT to be guilt, and a sense of responsibility for our forebears' actions, but I doubt the popwer elite have any guilt of the human sort. They participate in rituals specifically designed to "cast off care" and cleanse the conscience. This makes perfect sense, since to be in power you have to do evil things. Can't let conscience weigh you down.

As for Zionism, I believe that is used as a mere excuse for propping up friends in the Middle East for the aforementioned purpose of being within striking distance of oil. Judaism is a religion of people, and those people are thus manipulated to consent by powerful people.

There is no limit to the amount of people governments are willing to kill to achieve their selfish aims of power.

12:57 AM  
Blogger theBhc said...


While I would agree with your final sentiment, I have to disagree with the idea that support for Israel is a significant strategic plus. In fact, it is a significant minus for the US. The US has, since WWII, pursued alliances around the Middle East -- Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Iran (pre-revolution). All of those petroleum allies have political disputes with the Israeli occupation, donate to Palestinian Authority, and, in fact, support the militant factions Hezbollah and Hamas. The PNAC plan for a strategic platform in the Middle East had nothing to do with Israel -- you can't control the oil spigots from a place that has no oil. The spigots are in places that do not appreciate US support of Israel and that causes a great amount of friction.

Not enough friction, mind you, that the oil dealing has ever really been threatened. The pursuit of enormous profits and wealthy living has far outweighed any concern the Saudis might have for the plight of the Palestinians. If US influence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict were balanced, this would probably make things far smoother for the US in the region writ large.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Kel said...


I share your puzzlement at the blind support Israel gets from the US. People say stuff like, "It's the Jewish vote" which is a nonsense as the Jewish votes accounts for about 2% of the population.

I've often wondered if it's the born again Christian support for Israel - a whacking 40% - that forces US politicians always to back the Israelis no matter what. I mean those buggers are waiting for Rapture and, as far as I can tell from their excitement at what's currently taking place, Israel has a helleva lot to do with this apparently.

I'm unsure whether the Israelis merely supply the venue, but the born-againer's are having their hair done this week, getting ready to meet The Lord! I kid you not!

9:25 AM  
Blogger theBhc said...

Yeah, well you should plow around and check what has been found on the Rapture Ready forum (no, i'm not making that up) at various sites. These people are quite thrilled.

Check out Jon Swift, who a few choice quotes from these maniacs. As a teaser:

For the first time in my Christian walk, I have no doubts that the day of the Lords appearing is upon us. I have never felt this way before, I have a joy that bubbles up every-time I think of him, for I know this is truly the time I have waited for so long.

10:19 AM  

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