Wednesday, August 02, 2006

News bias

"If it bleeds, it leads" is a well-known procedural axiom in American TV newsbroadcasts. That is to say, scenes of injuries, fires, violent crimes and the like have a capacity to attract viewers that a calm discussion of, say, string theory lacks.

This axiom is strangely neglected in the American TV coverage of the war in Lebanon. While some scenes of devastation have been shown, the greatest emphasis is on interviews with Israeli generals and political figures. The invasion and the purported suppression of Hezbollah are treated, it seems, as mere technical problems. The Israeli authorities have been issued carte blanche to solve them any way they deem necessary.

Three weeks ago there was considerable sympathy with the Israeli position, even in countries that do not normally adopt this view. Hezbollah was (and is) firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel with the intent of causing damage and killing people. The Hezbollah raid and the kidnapping of the two soldiers were an additional provocation.

However, the Israeli response has been so disproportionate and indiscriminately vengeful as to evaporate the well of sympathy--everywhere except in the US, which by the will of the Bush administration remains bound at the hip to the state of Israel. Many have bought into the "unified-field" theory of terror, holding that an attack on one set of such people is an attack on "terror" tout court. Not to be discounted is the Israel Lobby, fear of which keeps our media and politicians silent.

The Israelis seem determined to reduce as much of Lebanon into rubble as they can. The scenes of destruction appear constantly on world TV--everywhere but the US.

The effect of this divide in perception will be to complete the isolation of the United States from the rest of the world.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marty Peretz disagrees vehemently. He insists Israel is a "liberal society," which exempts it from the critiques "from below." Stangely, Israel's and the U.S.'s exemptionism is near parallel. Like GWB's "terrorists," Israel's "Palestinians" are by default non-military enemy combatants. A recent Israeli court transcript between an Israeli prosecutor, a Palestinian defendant, and an Israeli judge (in the "London Review of Books") was most enlightening. The prosecutor, when asked for evidence, "deferred" to the "file," the defendant and his attorney asked to "see" the "file," but the request was denied on "security" grounds, because the "file" is inviolate. The attorney asked to "hear" the charges, which the prosecutor claimed was in the "file," and the judge determined that the "file" was unavailable to the defendant and his attorney on "security" grounds. The transcript repeats this process almost ad infinitum. Finally, the Palestinian defendant's lawyer demanded to be told the "charges" for his client's incarceration. No evidence, just the "charges." Again, the prosecutor referred the judge to the "file," and because the "file" was secured for national security reasons, the judge determined the "file" justified the defendant's retention in jail and denied the attorney a "look" at the charges, because the charges were in the "file." Even the Palestinian attorney lost it. "Somewhere in this viscious circle must be an opening that someone can idenfify the charges against my client without revealing the secrets in the "file?" No, claimed the prosecutor, not without violating the "file," and the judge agreed, the "file" is the case, and so to open the "file" to anyone would defeat the case. So, screamed the defense attorney, give me a CLUE, what does the "file" suggest that my client may be guilty of, assuming there is evidence to convict? Well, said the judge, if we told you that, then you'd know the State of Israel's case, and that would violate the "file," so you may not know that, because that would violate the "file."

Before one goes off half-cocked at the vicious and endless Israeli regress, the very same thing is happening in the United States. It is the Jose Padilla case. The very same regress, and the very same governmental insistence that the disclosure of a "crime" would compromise a state secret. But that is precisely the point, the state secret is so secret that unless someone at some point can tell the defendant what he is charged with, no one will go anywhere. And Jose Padilla is an American citizen. Unlike the Palestinian, he has constitutional rights that guarantee he "face his accused," and be affored a "fair and speedy trial." So far, well into 3-1/2 years of incarceration without a criminal charge, only the "word" of the President of the U.S. is a "given," and no one but the President seems to know what that "word" is. The President insists Padilla is a terrorist, which he may well be, but at least charge him with a crime and then bring him to a fair and speedy trial. No can do. That would violate a state secret. But Padilla is an American. He is entitled by rights to face his accused, to know the charges, mount a defense, and have a speedy trial. Not so, says the prosecutor, and well over 3 years later, the guy languishes in limbo hoping someone at sometime will tell him what he is accused of, and that he and his counsel can actually meet face to face, and that he can "defend" himself against whatever charges may or may not be brought against him. For now, the "file" or designation as "terrorist" is all that stands between the Palestinian Israeli and the American Padilla.

That the U.S. and Israel are allies, indeed "bedfellows," is nothing new. That the two "liberal" societies are following the same illiberal scripts as liberal societies is nothing new. What's new is that nothing is, and that both "liberal" societies can be surreptitiously illiberal in defiance of their own principles seems not to disturb their respective country men one little bit. At least Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are admittedly illiberal, and in their explicit lack of hypocrisy, they may have one "up" on the rest of us. Sadly, even "we" are not trying to conceal our illiberalism. In the new world order, the two illiberal societies by an exponent of ten are very much the same.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

"If it bleeds, it leads" was abolished for the US invasion of Iraq.

It's difficult to tell if Israel is the US proxy in a war to make Sunnis consider Shi'ites brother Muslism or whether the Israel lobby cripples news coverage and gets arms and aid (the tail wagging the dog, as it were).

9:00 PM  

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