The Dangers of a Monopolized Press
(and the social value of blogs)
One of the very worst examples of journalistic error, bias, and apparent manufacturing of misinformation involves the reported death of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura in Gaza five years ago. There is very compelling evidence that the scenes were staged by Palestinian reporters and cameramen, operating for the French TV. And yet, the French TV made it extremely difficult for anyone to examine the raw footage of the events that day.
In a very thoroughly documented piece in Commentary (from which the above quotation is taken), Nidra Poller raises some serious questions about what happened. And if, as many believe, this single news story has done so much to reopen the wounds in the Middle East, the reporters and French TV have much to answer for.
During the 55-second sequence we see two bullets hitting the wall, which is already pockmarked with a number of other bullet holes nowhere near father and child. A cloud of dust obscures the last few frames. There is no sign or sound of a crossfire. There are no death throes.
The rest, as we say in French, is literature. There can be no further attempts to reconstruct the incident by adding to those 55 seconds since, as France-2 has now revealed, there is no additional footage.
But now look again at the Reuters outtakes. A jeep drives up a road, turns, goes down the other side, takes part in a battle scene. An ambulance pulls up, a “wounded” man is dragged across the road, placed on a stretcher, loaded into the ambulance, the ambulance drives away. Men run from position A to position B. Children toss Molotov cocktails at the IDF fortress. There is much laughter and cheering from the “audience,” clusters of cheerful young men watching the show.
All this time, traffic trundles through the intersection, schoolchildren go by with their bookbags, a fashionably dressed woman talks on her cellphone and chats and jokes with cameramen who stand nonchalantly with their backs to the Israeli position. Things are moving, the energy level is high, the shababs are fearless. Palestinian policemen mingle in the crowd, occasionally shoot a few rounds into the air, join in the battle scenes, get “wounded” and come back for more. Children set fire to tires; you can almost smell the rubber burning. The France-2 cameraman, Abu Rahmeh, is there, too, clearly visible, in the heat of the action, filming ambulance evacuations of fake casualties in large patches of real time. Familiar, retrievable, believable.
The piece is quite long, but required reading. Phil has pointed out that a competitive press (including the blogosphere) may not lead to fewer errors, but it does discipline and correct the errors that are made, intentionally and otherwise.
Thanks to BenS, MA, and SC for this and various related links.