Sunday, March 9, 2008

Anti-People News, or Allied Propaganda

A Commentary on State-Worshiping News Agency Reports

As an opinionated independent writer, I am not bound to any particular guide for personal expression. I follow various, widely accepted style and punctuation rules, but it's also common for me to use double quotation marks, italics, or "[sic]" to express sarcasm, disapproval, or irony—or to denote fraud where I see it. If I feel particularly agitated about some media-state fraud, I might throw in a little extra dirt, slightly off-topic for effect. I might even cuss. But I can do these things—damnit!—because I'm not allegedly a journalist.

"Neutral" or "objective" news agencies like AP and Reuters, on the other hand, typically operate by certain long-standing traditions and rules. They're not supposed to express their political opinion or taint fact with opinion if it is not an Op-Ed or editorial. They should relate the story and not paint it with gratuitous content. They should not try to make a story fair and balanced. They should report the news as it went down. And they usually do.

Sort of.

They have clever ways of bending the rules to benefit one side—usually "the state," e.g., the USA or Israel or Great Britain. AP does it to perfection. In a short March 7 report titled "Israeli Warplanes Fly Over Beirut," the news giant uses the typical corporate media tools of omission and selective context to misinform the reader, but also employs creative quoting and extraneous content to further marginalize the source and tacitly apologize for the state's wrongdoing.

Shape-shifting

This is interesting and, apparently, lots of fun. Instead of putting the full body of a source's quote inside quotation marks, editors enclose a few words, paraphrase 5–10 more, then finish the quote with another enclosed few words of the original. If the journalistafascists at "agencies" put out their own manifesto, this propaganda technique would be found in the chapter titled "Creative Shape-shifting," and the following would be fig. 1:

"Two enemy Israeli warplanes" flew over the southern city of Tyre, Beirut and the port town of Jounieh, north of the capital, before heading back to the "occupied territories," the army said in a statement. The Israeli army said it knew of no activity in Beirut. ¹

On the surface, it appears harmless, and as a style, it usually is; but it is also used to depict major issues as being controversial when they are really cut-and-dry. It can be an effective tool for shaping public opinion.

Consider these:

Q: Why did AP enclose only "Two enemy Israeli warplanes" and "occupied territories" in double quotes? Is it just for clarity and style, or is it a way of telling readers something extra without literally telling them?

A: The editors at AP apparently disagree with the international consensus that says the 40-year-plus Israeli presence in, and rule over, the Palestinian Territories is in fact an illegal occupation. Such facts are so rarely ever revealed by corporate media. If they are mentioned at all, it is in passing or as a controversy. Using double quotes only on that term marginalizes the message without all the troublesome truth-telling and without appearing to engage in controversy.

But why not put militant in double quotes? Or right to exist. Or spreading democracy. Or democracy. Or international community. Or moderate and radical and liberal and conservative. If it's so controversial, and there's no consensus, then why take any news account as "verified" or fact? Let's double quote every word or phrase we think is controversial, like news agency. What do ya say? I do it all the time.

"That's" not so appealing "to us," reply corporate media.

A: The folks at AP seem to agree with neocon-Likudnik policy, which requires that the Lebanese resistance to U.S. and Israeli meddling and aggression be downplayed and marginalized. If the Lebanese army is echoing the majority sentiment of the Lebanese resistance (opposition) by calling the state of Israel the enemy occupier, then the alliance among Israel, the USA, and Jumblatt-Hariri Lebanon appears unwise and suspect. Pretty soon, other such treacherous alliances are exposed. Suddenly, the state has much more explaining to do; which means more work for the states' apologists and news agencies: not good. It is much easier to marginalize the source from the start than it is to go back later and do damage-control on a mass scale. Double quoting only select words and phrases does the trick.

A: It is not just a style thing. Bookending the entire quote, using ellipses if necessary, is acceptable and is easier than coming up with succinct and factual paraphrasing between the quoted phrases. It even looks more honest and accountable to quote in full without the additional narration in the middle (though it can be used malignantly too).

For example:

"Bookending the entire quote . . . is acceptable, honest, and easier than . . . paraphrasing between the quoted phrases. It even looks more honest and accountable . . . (though it can be used malignantly too)," the writer said in a blog entry.

-as opposed to-

"Bookending the entire quote," said the anti-neocon blogger, is honest and "easier" than "factual paraphrasing." It looks "more honest and accountable," said the U.S.-designated polemicist-at-large. The technique could be used "malignantly," he added.


Both styles are patchy, but the full-quote style is not colored by the reporter's or editor's words and does not selectively enclose certain terms in double quotation marks; it is therefore not controversial or controversy-inducing.

Q: Why not quote the Israeli army instead of paraphrasing it?

A: Direct quoting would confirm to the reader whether the Israeli warplanes flew over Lebanese airspace as reported, and therefore, whether the state committed the crime. So instead, additional controversy is inserted via paraphrasing, as a clever way of covering for the state. To wit, an airplane that reportedly "flew over" Beirut isn't necessarily engaging in "activity in Beirut." Is it? No? Yes? Oh, the controversy! (See how that works?)

Although the title of the report is a definitive statement ("Israeli Warplanes Fly Over Beirut") the body of the report leaves doubt in the minds of readers—especially those not familiar with the contemporary history of conflicts in the region.

Extraneous Content & Transference

Corporate media use these techniques well to justify Israeli and U.S. aggression everywhere. The very first sentence of the AP report reads:

Israeli warplanes flew over Beirut on Friday, the Lebanese army said, a day after a Palestinian gunman killed eight Jewish seminary students in Jerusalem. [Ibid.]

Q: Why mention something that went down in Jerusalem in the same sentence about overflights over Beirut?

A: It takes the focus off the state's criminality and creates a time-line beneficial to the state in question.

The main effect: It is implied that we should not be criticizing the state of Israel for what readers will surely feel is a far lesser offense than what Israelis endured the day before; that is, if the state of Israel committed an offense at all, what with all this "controversy."

Image © Carlos LatuffIf AP can imply a link between a massacre by a Palestinian citizen against Israeli citizens and a reported violation of Lebanese airspace the next day by the state of Israel—all in the intro—then they've done their job. They have planted the seeds of controversy. They have injected a contrived balance. They have framed the debate where it is not their place to do so.

The report continues to focus on the massacre in Jerusalem, running interference for the military-state:

Hezbollah's Al-Manar satellite TV station said a previously unknown group called the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh and Gaza was responsible for the attack on the Jewish seminary - a claim that could not be verified.

Mughniyeh, a senior Hezbollah commander, was killed in a car bomb in Syria last month. The militant Shiite group has blamed Israel for the assassination and vowed retaliation. [Ibid.]

Q: Why the paraphrasing of a satellite channel that is declared by the U.S. government to be a terrorist holding and therefore banned in the United States? Why are certain news outlets allowed to hear or read "terrorist propaganda" while regular individuals can not?

A: It helps marginalize the state's chosen enemies and paint them as barbaric and blood-thirsty across the board. As far as readers know, the unverifiable claim could have been made up by a news medium or the Mossad; but they may never find out if they live in the United States, thanks to neocon isolationism. Either way, doubt and fear are propagated. The mention of the "militant Shiite group" vowing revenge further justifies the Israeli aggression, or at least shifts the focus away from it. The same goes for the Palestinian massacre in Jerusalem.

After all, an Islamic militant group threatening revenge is scarier and more deplorable to most readers than a seemingly benign Israeli overflight. A Palestinian gunman massacre is scarier and more deplorable to most readers than a seemingly harmless if not controversial violation of airspace. Neither event had anything provably to do with the overflights, but were mentioned anyway, for effect.

The last three paragraphs of the AP report omit authoritative sources in favor of the same voices that were marginalized earlier.

Israeli warplanes frequently fly over south Lebanon in what Israel says are reconnaissance missions. The overflights have drawn ground fire from Lebanese troops on at least two occasions since an Aug. 14, 2006, cease-fire ended a monthlong [sic] war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.

They have occasionally flown over Beirut.

Three Israeli reconnaissance planes violated Lebanese airspace in southern Lebanon Thursday, the Lebanese army said in an earlier statement. [Ibid.]

The main effect is this: How can the reader be sure that Israel violated airspace when the only source given for that charge is the Lebanese army. Remember them? They're the same ones who consider Israel to be "the enemy," and who dare to refer to Israel's stomping grounds as the "occupied territories." Through creative quoting, they've been tacitly pigeon-holed as a biased and unreliable source.

This is partly how news agencies and mainstream media are able to omit international law, official records, and humanitarian facts and figures without appearing as obvious apologists for the state.

By reading this report or any other giant agency or corporate media account, you wouldn't know that "ground fire from Lebanese troops" is a natural and LEGAL response to Israel's ILLEGAL and hostile acts of "occasionally" flying over Beirut and other parts of Lebanon.

By reading the AP report, you wouldn't know that those Israeli flyovers are are in violation of the aforementioned ceasefire and many other United Nations Security Council resolutions—or that those violations are recorded not only by anti-Israel biased, Lebanese army officials, but by authoritative neutral sources as well:

In addition, Israel has never ceased violating Lebanese sovereignty by overflights, contrary to Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and countless Security Council resolutions, including 1701.

British Foreign Office Minister, Kim Howells, presented data compiled by UNIFIL on these overflights for January to April 2007 to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee at its request. According to this data, published in its report Global Security: The Middle East on 25 July 2007 [8], there were 45 overflights in January, 47 in February, 67 in March and 113 in April. And Michael Williams, then the UN Secretary-General’s Middle East envoy (now Prime Minister Brown’s), told a press briefing on 25 July 2007 that there were 271 overflights in June (see USA Today report [9]). ²

Those overflights don't seem so occasional after all, now do they.

Q: Why are armed Israeli and U.S. aggressors not referred to as militants or guerrillas?

A: U.S. and Israeli media watchdogs, in essence, edit press reports to make the the U.S. and Israel look good when their policies and actions are absolutely insane. News agencies and corporate media "cover" the state by using only the language approved by said watchdogs. U.S. and Israeli agitprop is stove-piped through agencies in this way, so it's always fit for print. Every major corporate medium then contracts these agencies for breaking news. Each outlet has a different take on the original agency release; but the universal message is a cookie-cutter format—one that "covers" state activity.

Summary

Readers of AP reports are often misled. The current example is not an isolated instance: news agencies regularly ignore the most credible and authoritative accounts, facts, and figures in favor of marginalized or obviously biased sources. When the United States or Israel is reported to have committed a war crime or engaged in unlawful activity, it's framed as being controversial. (Did they break the law? I don't know? These anti-Israeli anti-American witnesses say so, but can you trust them? Gosh.) Instead of reporting what the law says, or what human rights organizations say, AP reports the biased "he said/she said" accounts, leading you to conclude that the marginalized voices in the report aren't to be trusted, and therefore the state activity in question is probably benign or overblown.

According to AP, there are equations between the Israeli flyovers in Lebanon and the Palestinian massacre in Jerusalem, but none between the Palestinian massacre in Jerusalem and the Israeli massacres in Gaza. Somehow, the ongoing talley—scores of Palestinian civilian deaths—from Israeli military incursions doesn't merit a place on the time-line. Israeli tanks, jets, and drones bowling over and through Gaza neighborhoods isn't newsworthy in a report that is allegedly about Israeli flyovers in Lebanon; yet, a Palestinian gunman's shooting spree in Jerusalem most certainly is?

I don't like the moral equivalency stuff any more than the next person, but these agency reports are the stuff of propaganda mills.

Notes:

[1] Zeina Karam (AP): "Israeli Warplanes Fly Over Beirut": Associated Press: March 7, 2008
http://apnews.myway.com//article/20080307/D8V8NKR02.html

[2] David Morrison: "Lebanon: Israel's violations of Resolution 1701": David Morrison.org.uk: August 30, 2007
http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/lebanon/1701-israels-violations.htm & http://www.friendsoflebanon.org/index_files/News9.htm

Additional Resources on Pro-State Bias in Media:

Film: Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land (Media Education Foundation, 2004)

Article: "
A Study of Bias in the Associated Press," by By Peter Phillips, Sarah Randle, Brian Fuch, Zoe Huffman, and Fabrice Romero (Project Censored, 2006)

Book Review: "
Media Disinformation: A Review of Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair's End Times," by Stephen Lendman (GlobalResearch.ca, 2007)

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