Two brief vignettes:
Shortly after 9/11, a mother of a four year told me that she had left the TV all day that terrible day. She didn't realize that her 4 year old was watching the replays of the attack until her daughter called out to her, "Mommy, they are doing it again." Her 4 year old did not realize that each viewing of the attack was a replay. To her, every viewing was a new attack.
During my last year in Medical School, I took a one month elective at the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital Prison Ward. This was a unit for people who had been charged with serious crimes and were being evaluated to determine whether their mental state rendered them capable of criminal intent and competent to stand trial. One man was fairly typical. He was actively delusional and had been arrested for a serious assault. He explained that he had been informed by the newsman on Channel 2 that he was in great danger and that a white man was going to kill him along with many other people. When he was on the street shortly thereafter, he saw a white man, realized this was the assassin (and heard the Newscaster confirm it by saying, "Its him!") and attacked the man, who was a stranger, in order to protect himself and other innocent people in the vicinity.
In the first case, a child lacks the mental maturity and capacity to realize that the images she is seeing on her TV are not depictions of current reality but a replay of a past act. In the second case, a psychotic man lacks the capacity of reality testing, which would have informed him that his perceptions were being dangerously skewed; in fact, what he "heard" were auditory hallucinations rather than a newscasters verbal productions. There is no question in these two situations that we cannot hold the child or the psychotic fully responsible for their level of understanding and behavior.
Yet, the question we must address now is more complicated. What happens when a population hears and sees the message, authoritatively presented everyday by newscasters, that an Oppressor is killing innocents?
How can the AmericanIsraeli Oppressor respond when a population with a limited ability to critically parse the images they see daily on their TV's hear and see dangerously slanted material on their TV?
Richard Landes has reviewed John Rosenthal's The French Path to Jihad, a long article in Policy Review. Richard summarizes the report and concentrates on the role of French TV in creating French Muslim Jihadis:
John Rosenthal has an excellent and thoughtful piece in Policy Review on what makes a French immigrant from a Muslim country turn into a Jihadi. It is a long essay based primarily on prison interviews conducted between 2001-2003 by Farhad Khosrokhavar, Quand Al-Qäida parle: Témoignages derrière les barreaux (When al Qaeda Talks: Testimonials from Behind Bars) which “provides us with an unprecedentedly large body of evidence on the backgrounds, worldview, and motivations of those who make the choice for violent jihad in the name of Islam.”
The piece is long and well worth reading. What I have excerpted below concerns the role of French TV in arousing hatred of France and the West. [Bold highlights mine.]
The source of the inmates’ convictions about the injustices of which they accuse France is experience. What, then, is the source of their convictions about the injustice they believe Palestinian Arabs suffer at the hands of Israel and its presumptive American accomplice? “The TV.”
It is important to recall in this connection that the first language of most of the inmates interviewed is French. Some, like Jacques, do not speak Arabic or have at most only a very limited knowledge of it. “The tv” to which they allude for the most part is undoubtedly French television. In France, where the cable and satellite television markets remain relatively limited (and were even more so when the interviews were conducted) and where just two channels split the bulk of the network television audience for news programming, the“the tv,” generically designated in this way, typically means either tf1 (the only privately owned network to offer substantial news programming) or leading public broadcaster, France 2.
I think one can safely argue that the anti-Zionist, anti-American media, that so delights in images of Israeli and American misdeeds contributes significantly to the impulse that produces Jihad. Given that that media-produced skew is in part due to a rhetorical drive to push Israeli and American leaders towards a peaceful, negotiated solution, we find a remarkable and potentially deadly irony: our peace-minded media unleash the dogs of war.
I can not do justice to the original article or to Richard's review and both should be read in full; however, the salient point is the effectiveness of the televised image to evoke and provoke hatred of the West in the eyes of the "innocent victims of Western oppression". This represents the triumph of the left's suicidal and homicidal hatred of their own culture. France 2 has taken part in such self-destructive image mongering with conscious design; the evidence is available at The Augean Stables and the Second Draft.
We now know that the same kind of distortion and overt propaganda is an important element in the delegitimization of our efforts in Iraq. The case has been made, and it is a powerful indictment, that the news media's success in depicting the murderous insurgency as being composed of the victims of American aggression and as currently winning in Iraq, has gone a long way in recruiting and maintaining the insurgency. More recently we have seen that AP, once thought of as a non-partisan purveyor of information, has not only used questionable sources for their reporting, but is untroubled by all the evidence of their failures.
As Richard Fernandez points out, the West is losing the information war because the "means of production" of "news" is overwhelmingly in the hands of people who do not see themselves as members of Western Civilization; instead the leftists and quasi-leftists populating the news media see themselves as on a mission to make this world a better place for the poor and down trodden. Unfortunately, they have shown themselves to be spectacularly incapable of separating the lofty rhetoric of their "higher truth" from actual behavior and we are all left at risk because of their "good intentions":
The Left had no difficulty in painting a portrait of a New Guernica with digitally altered pictures, fake sources, unsupported accusations, racist charges and whatever else they could think up even as the bombs were falling. Now Israel produces the grainy, real pictures to show that it was the Hezbollah which committed the war crimes. That's a serious accusation supported by serious proof. But how can these low-resolution UAV images compete with the full color, staged photographs of New York Times cameraman Tyler Hicks? No, the IDF has been beaten in the propaganda war and it will be beaten again in the next few months if Lebanon turns hot. Beaten because it did not have the infrastructure -- the "concerned" committees, speakers bureaus, media houses, legal aid shops, international organizations and an army of writers -- to compete with the lie.
One of the goals of the invasion of Iraq and the attempt to bring democracy to the heart of the Arab/Muslim Middle East, was to prevent the gathering storm of Muslim irredentism from precipitating a Global clash of civilizations between the West and more than one billion Muslims. It is bad enough that tyrants and dictators manipulate the images and news they supply to their people in order to externalize their rage and aim it at AmericaIsrael (two countries who have increasingly become seen as synonymous in the Muslim world); it is even worse when Western Media outlets lend their prestige and imprimatur to such ultimately dangerous and self destructive efforts.