I make it a point to never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by incompetence. I hold to this point even when the outcome of such incompetence is harmful to what I consider to be important interests. However, with new war threats looming, holding the MSM to a higher standard of competence is crucial.
The upcoming Annapolis Summit, already being downplayed on all sides, is all too likely to be a disaster. The Palestinians and their allies have made clear that their presence at the summit depends on Israeli willingness to cede negotiating points that are non-starters for most Israelis (the right of return, sovereignty over the Temple Mount, etc). Further, even if Mahmoud Abbas (who is either too weak or too disinclined to confront the terrorists among his Fatah movement, let alone non-Fatah terrorists) can be seduced into attending the conference, the Palestinians have already threatened a third intifada if the talks fail. [HT: Elder of Ziyon]
... Thursday, senior Fatah official and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia warned that if the upcoming regional peace summit does not yield results, Palestinians are likely to respond with a third, more intensified uprising, Army Radio reported.
"If the talks fail, we can expect a third and much more severe intifada," Qureia, who is also known as Abu Ala, was quoted as saying. Qureia currently heads the Palestinian negotiating team.
It is in this context that the slowly developing drama of France2 and Pallywood must be understood. Reporters, most especially foreign corespondents, have long held themselves up as models of hard-nosed, cynical sophistication. They have long held pretensions of responding to a higher calling, that is, to bring the spotlight of conscience onto the oppressors who harm the innocent, to give voice to the silenced . Beyond the damage they have already done to their craft by abandoning the attempt to report facts, they are risking more serious damage to their credibility by their daily attempts to manage and direct the "narrative." However, I am not concerned with their livelihoods; I am concerned with how this is likely to play out as we approach another round of fighting in the Middle East.
Yesterday, Richard Landes asked Just how little do MSM journalists understand?
In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, Gal Beckerman offers France2 some friendly advice. In the process, he shows just how inadequate both the MSM’s clichés about “coming clean” are in dealing with this affair, and how inadequate the imagination of seasoned reporters in even beginning to imagine the role of Pallywood in news production. It illustrates the difference between American journalists who can’t even imagine that al Durah might be staged and European reporters who blandly assert:
“Karsenty is so shocked that fake images were used and edited in Gaza, but this happens all the time everywhere on television and no TV journalist in the field or a film editor would be shocked.”
Beckerman, to his credit, suggests that France2 should have aired the tapes in full in order to resolve the dispute. The conclusion of Beckerman's piece, The Unpeaceful Rest of Mohammed Al-Dura, How French 2 could have quelled the controversy is worth quoting:
I imagine the tapes will probably show that the Israeli soldiers did not kill the boy, and that the cause of his death was either unclear or the result of a Palestinian bullet. Either way, it should be pretty obvious that when you’re dealing with such murkiness, the best thing to do is throw as much light as possible on the story. It just seems strange that it has taken two court cases to force France 2 to do just that.
The problem with such reportorial insouciance is that images of Mohammed al-Durah took on iconic significance and were a major factor in the violence of the second intifada. Again, from Beckerman's article:
No single event was responsible for igniting the Second Intifada, which began seven years ago and effectively killed off the “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians. Or, rather, there are specific causes for why violence erupted in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the cafes and markets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but the reasons depend more on who you’re talking to than on what actually happened—either it was Ariel Sharon’s inflammatory visit to the Temple Mount or Yasser Arafat’s scheming that provided the first push.
Regardless, once the killing began there was one media event that, indisputably and instantaneously, fanned the flames and primed the Palestinian people and the wider Arab world for confrontation: the televised death of twelve-year-old Mohammed al-Dura.
The fifty-nine seconds of edited footage, aired on France 2, was repeated thousands of times on September 30, 2000 and in the days and weeks that followed. A young boy and his father at the Netzarim crossing in the Gaza strip are caught in the crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian police and gunmen. The child cowers behind his father who tries to protect him with his arm — a still image that has been reproduced over and over again on posters and postage stamps - and then in the last series of frames he is slumped over, dead. Al-Dura became the Palestinian martyr, a symbol of Israel’s ruthlessness, its disregard for innocent life, the life of a defenseless boy.
What is profoundly noteworthy in Beckerman's article is his near complete refusal to consider that the entire al-Durah affair may well have been fabricated, (which would explain why it isn't so "strange" that France2 has resisted the airing of their tapes.) Beckerman does better than most reporters, whose primary descriptors these days would have to include a marked incuriosity about events and facts that bring their world view into question, but he also shows part of the reason so many reporters make such wonderful dupes.
Con-men will confide that their best targets are often those who are most cynical. Such people are so worried about being seen as foolish and overly trusting that once you can establish even a minimal trust, they get caught in a web of mis-perception designed to support their self identification as a sophisticate. In other words, once you have them minimally fooled, their self-image demands that they deny they have been duped until it is much too late for them to do anything about it. For most victims of con-men, it is only money at stake (and their injured pride); for the sophisticated reporters who have been continually duped by the Pallywood industry, their livelihoods, their ideology, and their sophisticated self-conception are all at risk if they find they have been made fools. There is so much at stake for them personally that the lives of the Israelis and Palestinians that were sacrificed on the altar of Mohammed al-Durah are secondary to their own affective states.
If and when a new Intifada breaks out between Israel and the Palestinians, the blogosphere must be on the alert for discrepancies in reporting from the battlefield. Any and all reports coming from Palestinian sources must be approached with a high level of suspicion; Palestinian reporters are not "objective" observers but active participants in the information war against the Israelis and the West It would help as well if the Israeli government would not immediately respond to terrible events with the worst caricatures of Jewish guilt; they, too, must be held to higher standards. It is no more ethical to enable murderers than to enable suicides.
[Richard Landes has helpfully posted an al-Durah FAQs for your perusal and enlightenment.]