Monday, January 12, 2009


Here's a link to a lecture given in May 2002 by Hanoch Marmari, at the time editor-in-chief of Haaretz, at an international conference of media types. It's a bit more self-congratulatory than warranted, but otherwise worth reading, even though it's almost seven years old. He enumerates five fundamental sins of the media reporting on the Mideast: Obsessiveness, prejudice, condescension, ignorance, and the fifth, which he adds at the end, naivete. Nor does he shy away from criticizing the media for their heavy-handed interventions in the events themselves:
One day, historians examining this period of crisis will have to consider the circular process by which the media were transformed from observers to participants. From covering the story to playing a major part in it, to stimulating and sometimes agitating the environment for their own media purposes. The media in this cruel Israeli-Palestinian conflict are like a very rich junkie, who parks his Mercedes on the high street of a slum. You can be sure that in no time at all, everyone will be out there, pushing a whole variety of merchandise.
The reason I'm citing him here, however, beyond the value of his comments, is because of the story with which he opened his talk, the story of one Abu Ali of Jenin who told a gullible European journalist the IDF had killed all nine of his children, even while all nine were still very much alive; the European newspaper which turned this into a two-page story somehow never got around to informing its readers that thankfully, the story actually wasn't true. In case you wonder if Abu Ali might at least have been sincere, though mistaken, Marmari makes it quite clear later on that this couldn't have been true: whoever was there and knew the facts, such as his one anti-Israeli reporter Amira Hass, knew fully well that there had been no massacre.

Which means Abu Ali lied. Me, I'd be superstitious to tell someone about the death of my children, but perhaps that's just me.


Those of you old enough to remember the turn of the century may recollect the persistent story, repeated endlessly as an article of faith, whereby the international blockade of Iraq throughout the 1990s had caused the death by starvation of half a million Iraqi children. That's 500,000 children, a large number by any standard.

Then, in 2003, the Americans invaded Iraq, and for a few months it was safe enough for Western journalists to wander around the country, reporting on the lack of WMD and how awful the Americans were. One story that didn't get told was the story of the parents of those half a million dead children. So far as I can remember, there was never a single interview with a single Iraqi parent who told about how their child had starved to death. Moreover, there were no pictures of Iraqi children on the verge of starvation. Nor any stories about the allies rushing large convoys of basic foodstuffs to a famished populace.

The entire story disappeared. I'll go out on a branch here and speculate that it was never true, and was tailored from full cloth by a combination of liars who invented it and malicious ignoramuses who gleefully disseminated it.

If anyone wishes to disprove me, I will of retract this allegation once it has been proven wrong.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 of course gave birth to a whole industry of unverified and often wrong numbers of casualties. Of course, unlike the previous case, when the Americans and British invaded Iraq in 2003 they set in motion a train of events in which many tens of thousands of Iraqis did die, most of them civilians, and most of them at the hands of their fellow Arabs. Yet Google enables you the opportunity of going back to the media reports of 2003 and 2004, where you'll see that the numbers of the purported dead were significantly higher than the numbers being cited in, say, the horrific year of 2006; an indication that once again some observers were not being careful with their numbers, peculiar as this may sound.

Compared to the true and false numbers bandied carelessly around for Iraq, the numbers of dead in Gaza in this campaign are paltry: not hundreds of thousands, but hundreds, period. Were the real number to be in the thousands, we'd be hearing about it; since the IDF itself says its troops have identified hundreds of fighters they have personally killed in battle, it's likely the total is more or less correct. That some of them, probably even a few hundred, really are non-combatants, most horrifically children, is true. Yesterday, according to the reports, the troops reported they had killed up to fifty armed Hamas fighters.

Yet that number deserves to be looked at again. The IDF and the armed wing of Hamas are engaged in fierce face-to-face combat in a densely built city. Hamas prepared for this battle for quite a while, it dug tunnels, stored explosives in homes, booby trapped schools, a zoo, and many residential buildings - and the number of civilian dead on a typical day of fighting is... Five? Ten? Twenty?

That's what the international tumult is about? Did I miss something?


Ashley G said...

Hi, firstly, like the Blog. Just found it via Michael Totten.

Motivated to write after what you mentioned about the Iraqi victims of sanctions. Suggest you seek our a copy of Backstabbing for Beginners by Michael Soussan, a "whistleblower" from the oil for food programme.

Anonymous said...

During the Lebanon war of 2006 I realized that I knew next to nothing about the kind of war the IDF had to fight and consequently which journalists seemed trustworthy and which not. I once observed an urban warfare maneuver the US army held in the hamlet I lived in but that seemed not enlightening at all. Therefore I bought this book about Falluja
and found it a very illuminating read despite the fact that it was obviously written mostly for soldiers and therefore had a lot of jargon. But what happened and what was reported was a really good lesson. I trust Bing West because I read his report about Haditha and at the same time I read another one from Langewiesche whom I'd always enojoyed. What a difference! Both were true to the event and tried to be fair to the soldiers, but one (West) had combat experience (Vietnam) and that showed in the writing. And reading Bing West also cured me from the belief that good writers must have good imaginations - when it comes to real life horror in combat this is obviously not so and they resort to "oh how horrible" it is horrible no doubt, but what the soldiers have to go through is horrible also and NOT negligible because they have volunteered for the job as those Americans in Falluja had. Therefore the definitely talented Langewiesche seemed in his writing about Haditha almost callous.
rgds, Silke

Anonymous said...


First things first. Most people don't have a thorough grasp of numbers. Counting is not a pleasure. And, in many cases, they develop habits where their eyes glaze over; rather than spending any time with difficult number puzzles.

I, too, can fall into that category. Yesterday, on the Net, (posted at Free Republic) was a COMMENT that was attached to an article, that showed europe's detailed map, with the question: What is the pecentage of muslems leaving in "these parts."

From all the noise, I had assumed, "gee, London must be 45% muslim by now. And, I was wrong. England's population that is NON-muslim is 95% of the total.

So, how can so much noise account for the low numbers?

That's because attaching itself to the propaganda machine is the "4th estate." (Media.)

By now, if you can do "numbers," you'd know that the printing presses that once printed money for the paper and magazine owners. And, later, the movie industry. Has somehow hit the skids.

Yes, so too, Detroit. A "special case" killed by unions, who have no concept of risk.

Keep tuned. Because all businesses survive at the pleasure of consumers. Fail your customers, and even if you don't go out of business, you'll no longer be making obscene profits.

You'd think if you could turn in massive profits you'd be extremely careful about your business practices. This is not true in real life. In real life the "organization men" can make real bloopers. And, suffer the consequences.

We know what just happened in real estate! Because all that speculation and greed, led to a result.

But what about ideas? What happens when the "intelligencia" tries to pass off PC? Even if they get away with it for years and years, there comes a day that it's obvious, Bernie Madoff is running that "greed filled pork fest."

Soon, Dubya leaves office. He even admits to some of his mistakes. But he's a "C" student! And, always privileged. Does he know "something went wrong? How about when he looks into his brother Jeb's eyes? How about when his mom lets loose?

Whatever the invasion of Irak was about; it soon became clear to me that Bush was opting to enrich the sunnis. At the expense of the shi'ite. He miscalulated. And, in the end, with all the sacrifices made, Bush got shoes thrown at his head. Something that is now repeated by street thugs who demonstrate their abilities to yell.

America learned a lesson.

Pretty familiar to a lot of Israelis. And, that is you're better off "balancing" the interests of different arab tribes, than you'd be "trying to bring them up to civilization's standards." (It's okay. There are a lot of europeans wrapped up in socialism. Where you'd see another case of driving freedoms underground.)

At some point, just like with words, there's no ability to change anyone else's opinion. Period. You can just say what you please.

That the media has missed the boat? Well, now in gaza, Al-Jezeera, who loved giving some arabs 15 minutes of fame, on TV; they've stopped doing "man in the street" interviews. Nah. I don't wonder why.

What will Obama and Hillary do? That's a good question. But if it were a horse race, I wouldn't bet my last dollar on any arabian horse.

Up ahead? Well, Israel has elections coming up. And, if there's one thing I do notice, now, it's that Livni couldn't stop Condi! So, before the signature fell on the "new resolution," Olmert went and got Bush on the phone. He said, "now." And, the phone operator, and the staff at the White House saw the problem that Condi did not see.

It's just amazing to me how poorly Dubya performed. He had eight years on his journeys through Yale and Harvard, and came up empty. Neither place left a dent on his brains. And, he's spent eight years in the White House, too. Ditto. He's not even worth a "C."

But the American people sure learned a lot!

And, no matter what else is ahead, neither Obama nor Hillary are Kings and Queens. They're very dependent on public approbation.

One single misstep, and neither one will be able to count on the spirit of the American people protecting their backs.

The grace of the Internet, where opinions can be found on almost every subject, and you'd see how this medium is eating the various "vegetarian lunches" that once belonged to the hoi poloi. Will there be egg on the faces of the intelligencia? Well, they're not called "egg heads" for nothing.

And, just as you could learn from children's literature; "all the kings horses, and all the kings men, couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again!"