Home Chronology Day 1, Dec 27, 08
Welcome to Second Draft's review of the Mainstream News Media's coverage of the Gaza War one year later. Every day we plan to post a series of items from the news coverage at the time, and compare it with how well it holds up a year later, given how much we have learned since.  We include TV news, print media, the results of NGO Reports on the major incidents, the Goldstone's Report's treatment of the same incidents, and a collection of bloggers comments, then and now in response to this coverage.

The main focus is on how the TV news covered this, and we offer every day a selection of coverage from both BBC and CNN International. We chose them for their prominence world-wide as an accepted "standard" of first-rate journalism.  We cannot put up all the material and therefore acknowledge that the sample is not "objective" or even balanced. Our choice of videos is intended to give some of the more revealing moments that expose underlying attitudes among the journalists and anchors that help the critical viewer appreciate the degree to which they, themselves, are neither "objective" nor "balanced."  If anyone wishes to suggest other segments to put up, or segments from other stations that are available online, whether to reinforce or to challenge our sense of the forces at play in producing the "first draft of history," we welcome them.



Hamas' Strategy and the Role of the Mainstream News Media

Western analysts have begun awakening to the unfortunate fact that the “weak” side in an asymmetrical conflict views the mainstream news media as a theater of war, and considers it not just a major battlefield, but the central one. Indeed, since they cannot win in the battlefield, they realize that only by convincing the “strong side” that the war was futile, no matter how often they win battles, by appealing to anti-war sentiment among citizens of free and open societies, can they hope to win.

In both the second Lebanon War (summer 2006) and again in the Gaza war (Dec-Jan 2008/9), both Hizbullah’s and Hamas’ strategy was essentially to try and survive until international opinion forced Israel to withdraw, meanwhile arousing abiding hatred for their enemy.  As Jeremy Bowen put it at the beginning of the latter conflict,

Israel always has one eye on what's going on and another eye on international reaction... they have a certain amount of time to act to achieve what they want to achieve before international pressure on them stops [them] because of the pressure on [them for killing] civilians..."

As a result, evidence suggests that Hamas deliberately fired from the midst of Gazan civilians, and exaggerated the number of civilian casualties, in order to provoke this outrage among outside observers.  As one Gazan told Italian reporter Lorenzo Cremonesi:

The Hamas militants looked for good places to provoke the Israelis. They were usually youths, 16 or 17 years old, armed with submachine guns. They couldn’t do anything against a tank or jet. They knew they were much weaker. But they wanted the [Israelis] to shoot at the [the civilians’] houses so they could accuse them of more war crimes [italics mine].

Palestinians first developed this technique of firing from civilian areas to maximize civilian casualties during the Lebanese Civil war (1975-82) in which as many as 100,000 civilians died in the course of seven years.  While some (above all the perpetrators) deny this, it explains a great deal (if not all) of Hamas’ behavior during this conflict (including their studious avoidance of any real combat).  Thus Hamas wanted to make the following talking points, at least as far as Western media are concerned:

  • Hamas is willing to be moderate, to respect the ceasefire, and are only resisting the Israeli siege.
  • The rockets they fired were merely symbolic acts of resistance, 
  • The rockets cannot compare with Israel’s assault on Gaza which is grotesquely disproportionate.
  • The Israeli attack has caused a massive humanitarian crisis, victimizing, indeed targeting Gazan civilians.
  • The civilian casualties are massive, the vast majority of the deaths.  
  • The world needs to cry out in horror and stop Israeli aggression.
  • The attack on Gaza only strengthens support for Hamas which seeks to defend its people.
  • Israel must stop firing immediately to prevent a total catastrophe in Gaza, and 
  • Israel must cease the attack, open borders completely, and deal with a unified Palestinian leadership.

Such a strategy stands out in the history of military conflicts: few if any armies before this particular series of battles with Israeli troops have ever sought to maximize death among their own civilians.   And yet, tragically, the more Palestinians die, the better for Hamas.  Most significantly, this strategy can only work if the news media plays the supporting role of replicating Hamas’ message.

The question we put before those of you who come to view the coverage of the Gaza conflict is the degree to which the Mainstream news media played into the hands of Hamas by:

  • repeating Hamas talking points as if they were “facts”;
  • interviewing “specialists" who repeat those talking points, with little challenge;
  • failing to follow up on evidence that Hamas worked to maximize the humanitarian crisis;
  • aggressively challenging Israeli spokesmen for their tactics;
  • underplaying evidence of Israeli efforts to minimize civilian casualties;
  • limiting their audience’s exposure to the argument presented here. 

If indeed the Western new media does play a critical role in supporting Hamas strategy, then, whether they wish to or not, whether they know they are doing so or not, they are in fact contributing to this cannibalistic strategy.

What the motives might move journalists to proceed in such a manner remain open to discussion, and we invite comments on the subject.  Perhaps the most honorable one might be the belief – I think widely shared within the Western journalist community – that they are contributing to a swift end to the violence and relief for the civilians being harmed.  That this approach violates their own obligation to report critically and accurately, rather than as advocates for (their idea of what will contribute to) “peace,” and that, in the long run, they contribute to the victimization of civilians by their own elites, seems to escape them.

We invite visitors to watch the news clips, read the NGO and Goldstone Reports on the more salient incidents, and the critiques offered by participating analysts and bloggers, and make up their own minds.  We also hope that a good share of journalists who actually care about their profession and its impact on the global scene today, will consider this critique and reconsider the broad and dysfunctional consensus that we believe the evidence we bring before you reveals.

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