Friday, August 25, 2006

The role of the media in wartime

I've tried to avoid commenting on the Israel-Lebanon crisis, largely because I considered the entire situation to be rather too nuanced for a typical Reptile post. As a natural Israeli-supporter I was troubled by the stated aims of the Israelis, and concerned that their tactics and strategy didn't seem to mesh. What was the point of a prolonged destruction of infrastructure if not to prevent Hezbollah being re-supplied during the conflict? What was the point of that if not to enable a large-scale infantry assault on Hezbollah fighters?

By agreeing to the ceasefire when they did Israel forfeited the opportunity to attempt a ground-level demolition of Hezbollah, while having already attracted world opprobrium for its bombing tactics. I can certainly see the merit of an argument that says such disapproval was a valid price for a successful campaign, but that is palpably not what happened.

That said, there is an unambiguous lesson to be learned here. That Hezbollah made a concerted attempt to subvert media coverage to gain sympathy for their cause, and that the world media were heavily complicit in allowing this to happen. We have Green Helmet Guy - arch manipulator of the Qana bombing; we have the world's unluckiest home-owner - owner of at least five houses in Beirut; we have the blowing up of an Israeli warship - actually a decommissioned Australian destroyer; we have the curious case of the Red Cross ambulance - comprehensively debunked now.

The doctored Reuters photos were, in and of themselves, not hugely significant. It really doesn't matter whether the smoke cloud over Beirut is big or really big. What does matter is that the press in this war have either systematically been played for idiots by Islamic terrorists, or have actually been complicit in propagandising for them. Maybe the problem is that when a story comes along that neatly confirms all you own prejudices, you look at it with less scepticism than otherwise. Maybe it is simply that all reporters would sell their own grandmothers for a story, and Hezbollah became very good at creating or embellishing them. Damn disturbing either way.


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