When Propaganda Masquarades as News
Prof. James Tracy
November 25th, 2012
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The week-long Israeli onslaught against largely defenseless Palestinians in Gaza that began on November 14 provides a basis for assessing how Western corporate media whitewash the war crimes of Americaâs foremost ally in the Middle East. There are three often intertwined techniques consciously applied to such news coverageâhistorical context, sourcing, and objectification of the enemy to be targeted. Such practices can readily transform journalism into propaganda that acts to abet such crimes while at the same time allowing journalistic institutions to still claim the mantle of âobjectivity.â
Such methods are on full display in the reportage of Israelâs most recent operation in Gaza. The use of such propaganda fits within a broader campaign of media disinformation that subdues potential outrageâparticularly in the USâover Israelâs overwhelming use of force against an oppressed and vulnerable people, most of whom are civilians.
Meaningful historical context for understanding Israelâs aggression is almost entirely absent from most Western news coverage of the event. If present, such context would illuminate Israeli government officialsâ true motivations for a military venture that involved 750 airstrikes in four days alone. ââOperation Pillar of Defense,ââ Nile Bowie observes,
launched just months away from Israelâs elections, is a calculated component of the Netanyahu governmentâs strategy to topple Hamas and continue absorbing Palestinian territory. Decades of occupation and apartheid have shaped the current scenario; Israel has dehumanized an entire people by seizing their land and forcing them into prison-like ghettoes. Adherents to political Zionism have shown contempt for a genuine political solution to the Palestinian conflict, and the Netanyahu administration is poised to crush all opposition to the Jewish state.
Major Western media focused instead on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) November 14 assassination of Hamas leader and Palestinian hero Ahmed al-Jabari, while blatantly omitting the fact that he was also a major figure in negotiations for a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel freshly brokered by Egypt. Hours before Hamas strongman Ahmed Jabari was assassinated,â IsraelâsÂ HaaretzÂ newspaper reported the day following the assassination, âhe received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the cease-fire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip.â
Apart from Western alternative media such critical details were quickly dispatched to the memory hole. Major news outlets almost systematically relied on Israeli government, military, and intelligence sources to shape its coverage, where Jabari was reviled as âthe commander of the military wing of Hamas.â Reuters, for example, proceeded to source an IDF spokeswoman who proceeded to lay out the dominant frame for the coverage. âThis is an operation against terror targets of different organizations in Gaza,â she declared. âJaabari [sic] had âa lot of blood on his hands.â Other militant groups including Islamic Jihad were on the target list.â
A similar report in the UKÂ TelegraphÂ taking the tack of Israeli official pronouncements beings with the lead, âAhmed Jabari probably didnât event hear the missile that killed him, launched from a drone in the skies over Gaza City as he drove an ordinary saloon car through a quiet residential street.â Emphasis on Jabariâs military status and alleged criminal and terrorist activities invariably legitimates Israelâs flagrant barbarism. Further, by holding Jabari up as a dangerous renegade supposedly representative of the Palestinian people the stage is set for attacks on civilians that are much more readily rationalized in the public mind.
Honest contextualization of the crisis leading readerships to greater understanding would involve consulting and publicizing both Israeli and Palestinian perspectivesâan undertaking Western journalists are now adept at through their routine discussions with Syrian âactivistsâ reporting on the alleged atrocities committed by the Syrian Army against Syrian citizens and the gallant Free Syrian Army ârebelsâ in that close by theatre.
In the case of Gaza, however, such media are apparently unable to locate well-heeled Palestinian âhuman rights activistsâ exiled in London who receive routine reports from like-minded âactivistsâ on the ground in Gaza. If such activists are functioning their reports are not seeing the light of day.
Press coverage further underlines what clearly does not exist in Gaza: a parity of deadly force between the IDF and Palestinians and, moreover, Israelâs victimization at the hands of militant Palestinians. Terms such as âclash,â âconflict,â and âviolenceâ misleadingly suggest exactly these conditions and anticipate permissible actions in a field of battle provided for under the Geneva Conventions. Such terms contrast greatly with aerial attacks using state-of-the-art weaponry on unarmed women and children.
Nevertheless, CBS News presented a timeline of events in Gaza that fit well alongside Israelâs public relations maneuvers seeking to downplay the IDFâs overt aggression. âIsrael launches Operation Pillar of Defense in response to days of rocket fire outside of Hamas-ruled Gaza. The offensive, which included 20 airstrikes, resulted in the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the military commander of Hamas.â
Another failure to provide adequate context and sourcing involves Israelâs relentless drive to build more settlements on Palestinian lands under Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak while firmly refusing Palestinians a right of return. This is one of the most essential and yet misunderstood pieces of the puzzle for understanding Israeli-Palestinian relations. Yet such important historical factors are largely devoid from the prevailing Western media frame through which the Gaza tragedy is viewed.
A LexisNexis Academic search in newspaper and magazine articles and broadcast transcripts for November 13 to November 21 using the terms âIsrael,â âGaza,â and âHamasâ yields 2,203 citations. Of these, less than ten percent (205) mention âsettlements,â while barely two percent reference âhuman rights.â
Given the relevant history and facts most observers would conclude that at the end of the day the leading conceptsâland rights, human dignity, justice and respectâmust be understood and reconciled before there can be peace in Palestine. The fact that much of the American public especially is misinformed or unaware of the profuse atrocities and injustices committed with its tax dollars and tacitly in its name attests to the continued centrality of propaganda, made all the more effective in its thoroughgoing attempt to masquerade as news.
5. CBS/Associated Press, âTimeline of Recent Israel-Gaza Violence,â CBSNews.com, November 20, 2012Â http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57552203/timeline-of-recent-israel-gaza-violence/
About the author:
An Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University, James Tracy’s work on media history, politics and culture has appeared in a wide variety of academic journals, edited volumes, and alternative news and opinion outlets. Tracy is editor of Union for Democratic Communicationâs journal Democratic CommuniquĂ© and a contributor to Project Censoredâs forthcoming publication Censored 2013: The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2011-2012. Additional writings and information are accessible at memoryholeblog.com.
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