When is one targeted killing different from another?

The holding of Israel’s actions to a higher level of scrutiny than either a Muslim country or another Western country is commonplace among the cognescenti. 

This double standard enables Israel to be vehemently criticised with front page pictures and screaming headlines while greater numbers of civilian deaths caused by Allies in Afganistan are greeted with an 8th page yawn ..  and Muslim killing Muslim barely rates a mention. 

So it’s gratifying to read Paul McGeough’s article in this weekend Sydney Morning Herald entitled America’s deadly robots rewrite the rules in which he says that President Obama has ramped up targeted killings with little criticism or notice from the Main Stream Media.  A subheading in the article is most revealing “A democrat’s targeted killings, it seems, are not quite the same as those of a Republican.” 

The filtering and manipulations that go on behind the news, (and against which Israel is battling),  are discussed in greater detail in “Fit to Print – Misrepresenting the Middle East” by Joris Luyendijk.  As Michael Gawenda states about the book “Luyendijk writes damn well and is an very honest journalist .. There is much in this book we should all be discussing and thinking about”. 

One point that came through was that the news agencies are the eyes and ears. Indeed, it is the news agencies that are the key determinants of what is news, NOT the local correspondent who is often reduced to being the presenting face rather than the news gatherer.  So we are must be aware that distortions and biases by agencies such as Reuters are insidious and can be particularly damaging

 As Luyendijk writes “It was in Ramallah that I first noticed how television determines your view of reality: you don’t know what you are NOT being shown, and what you are shown makes a much larger impression than newspaper articles or radio programmes.  A colleague of mine neatly summed it up as: words target your mind; images hit you in the gut”.

He continues “Before I’d seen television crews at work, I’d always watched the news with a fairly trusting attitude.  I’d had no idea what was out of shot when a Palestinian woman stood in front of the ruins of her bombarded house, raised her hands to the heavens, and cried: ‘My children!’ The emotion might well be authentic, but when I saw a shot like that being filmed in Gaza, I realised that viewers were watching something other than a private emotional outburst.  The woman was crying out ‘My children’ while, two feet away from her, a muscular bloke was trying to angle his camera so that the raised  hands didn’t get in the way of the close-up of her face.  There was a microphone dangling two feet above the crying woman’s head, and around her there’d be an interviewer, his interpreter, and often a gathering – camera crews draw people like bread draws ducks.  How had the team found this woman?  Of course, it could be that the cameraman had spotted her and taken the shot without her permission.  But it was more likely that an interviewer had chosen one woman from a small group; that she’d been positioned so the sun didn’t produce any backlighting, and the rubble was visible but not dominating; that the neighbourhood rascals had been persuaded to be quiet; and that, after a gesture from the soundman, the interviewer had asked, via the interpreter, ‘What happened to your children?’.

Another revealing episode is described in the chapter “The law of the scissors”.  Luyendijk was asked to provide some footage that was damning about Ariel Sharon in Sabra and Shatilla.  As he states “We hired a local camera team, proceeded to the camps, and that’s when I made a mistake I’m still ashamed of.  Talking with camp inhabitants, I stumbled across some ‘inconvenient data’ , as anthropologists call it – information that doesn’t fit with your story.  Palestinians told me that the so-called War of the Camps a few years later had been much worse than the infamous refugee-camp bloodbath.  ‘That was terrible’, they said, ‘but it only lasted 2 days’. The war for control over the camps years on, on the other hand, had lasted months: they talked about starvation, and described nauseating acts of brutality perpetrated by Syrians and the Amal Shiite militia… Then I slipped up as a journalist.  I should have changed the angle of the story, or at least worked this part of it into the reportage.  But I’d come to do a story about Sharon’s comeback, and I simply missed the double standards that kept indirect Israeli responsibility for twelve hundred deaths in the news for 20 years, while a much larger massacre by Syrians and Lebanese was forgotten.  We carried on looking for people who’d lost family members in the ‘right’ bloodbath.”

Luyendijk quotes in his preface a very apt line from the Leonard Cohen song “There’s a war”  ‘There’s a war between the ones who say there’s a war and the ones who say there isn’t’.

When journalists like Luyendijk can admit to something they are ashamed of, and McGeough can acknowledge that the Media is soft on Obama for action that would otherwise be criticised, there is hope.

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