Aug 2, 2006

Watching two different wars

Think the US news media's coverage of the Lebanon war is biased against Israel? Apparently, it's even worse in the UK.
British journalism generally celebrates eyewitness accounts with a consistency in emotional tone that discourages cool asides to discuss mitigating circumstances; US television reporting out of Lebanon, by contrast, has occasionally been in danger of becoming all context, focusing on Hizbullah tactics to the exclusion of the humanitarian tragedy. Fox News, in particular, has sought to bolster Israeli public relations. An anchor at one point asked Ehud Barak what he would like the world to know about Hizbullah and Hamas.


The difference between British and US polls on the current conflict are striking. Just over a fifth of Britons polled pre-Qana, compared with nearly half of the Americans questioned at about the same time, said they thought the Israeli use of force was proportionate; and another 9% of American respondents thought the Israelis were not being tough enough.

Some of that extraordinary divide must be attributable to the very different realities on British and American television screens.

One reporter guilty of providing context is Anderson Cooper. I've never even seen the show, but a friend emailed me about last night's episode, a transcript of which is available here. Cooper takes great pains to examine the extreme anti-Semitism that undergirds Hezbollah's ideology.
COOPER: Well, of course, it is Hezbollah which has ruled south Lebanon, controlled that region, not the Lebanese government over the last several years.

My next guest, Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for "The New Yorker," visited south Lebanon and got some extensive tours by Hezbollah of the areas under their control and of their television station.

He joins me now.

Jeffrey, thanks very much for being with us. You know, I reread your article from several years ago about south Lebanon. It is just a fascinating look at life under Hezbollah, and of the inner workings and the message of Hezbollah.

I think what's been lost in a lot of this coverage is just how anti-Semitic Hezbollah is in the rhetoric.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, "THE NEW YORKER": Yes, it's absolutely fascinating, Anderson. The anti-Semitism -- there's two things that are fascinating, rather. One is how embedded in the core of Hezbollah ideology, anti-Semitism is. And I don't mean anti-Israel thinking or anti-Zionism. I mean frank anti-Semitism.

The other thing that's so interesting about it is how blunt they are and how frank they are about their anti-Semitism. They don't hide it. They don't try to mask it in any way. They state very openly to you when you ask their exact feelings about Jews, which are quite extreme.

COOPER: It's interesting because I talked to a representative news editor from al-Manar TV, and I asked him, you know, does Hezbollah still want to destroy the state of Israel? And I know Larry King has asked him that same question, and he rarely -- he basically doesn't answer that question. He sort of seems to avoid it. Which is so at odds because I mean Nasrallah himself is very point blank and matter of fact and open about his hatred of Jews.

GOLDBERG: Well, you know, al-Manar is an interesting place. They are slightly more schooled in let's say obfuscation or public relations. The leadership -- I mean, one of the things about Nasrallah that's so interesting is how straightforward he is. And you see that in all of his statements on Israel. And even his statements on America. There's no attempt to soften the language.

And the other thing about it that's so shocking, I think, when you first hear it -- is I always notice this -- and one of the first things I noticed, was the use of epidemiological metaphors to describe the role of Jews in the world. Not just Israel, but Jews. Talking about Jews as a cancer, talking about Jews as a parasite on society. And they generally are very forward about this.

ADDED: Not all US media outlets are wallowing in context.

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