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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 20, 2003

3 Times bias = bias

The recently discovery of Jayson Blair's deception has been cause of much discussion in the media.  Part of the problem with the media (specifically the New York Times) is not the outright deception, but the articles which contain no overt falsehoods but are dishonest when taken as a whole.

To be sure there are many details in each story.  Part of reporting is understanding what's important and what isn't.  Making that choice does tell something about the reporter (and his/her editor.)

I know that news organizations defend themselves against charges of bias by saying that pro-Israel advocates don't want to face the truth. It's more accurate to say that we don't agree with the truths that the media selectively presents.

Take for example Sunday's article about a new Hezbollah created video game.

In an article that seems more a video game review than an investigation of Islamic extremism, Daniel J.Wakin reported "Video Game Mounts Simulated Attacks Against Israeli Targets."
It seems that the most popular video game in parts of Lebanon is one that allows the player to simulate destroying Israeli soldiers or simply popping PM Ariel Sharon in the head for the heck of it.
While not the first politically oriented video game to enter Middle Eastern cyberspace, "Special Force" is a sign of Hezbollah's elaborate propaganda efforts. Its popularity is also an indication of Hezbollah'ssuccess in permeating popular consciousness in Lebanon and in gaining political legitimacy here.

Washington has implicated Hezbollah in terrorist attacks in the 1980's and says it remains a terrorist force with worldwide operations. With the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, the United States hasrenewed pressure on Lebanon and one of Hezbollah's sponsors, Syria, to disarm the group and halt its activities.

Hezbollah says it is focusing on resisting the Israeli occupation of a disputed patch of land on Israel's northern border and on providing moral support to the Palestinian struggle in the West Bank and Gaza.

Its relentless attacks helped drive out Israeli forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, ending a 22-year occupation. That has given Hezbollah a certain stature here and elsewhere in the Arab world.

Hezbollah has capitalized on that stature, entrenching itself in Lebanese society with the patronage of Syria, the power broker here, and with Iranian financing and arms, United States and Israeli officials say.
Take, for example, the above five paragraphs.

A few things are presented as unqualified facts. Hezbollahs' "relentless attacks" forced Israel from southern Lebanon. That success translated into "stature."

What's presented as opinion? That Hezbollah has been "implicated" in terrorism by the United States. Adding a degree of remoteness to Hezbollah's terror Wakin only mentions Hezbollah terrorism from the "1980's." What about the three soldiers who were kidnapped and apparently murdered in October 2000? What about Elchanan Tenenboim who was kidnapped by Hezbollah later? Hezbollah isn't simply "implicated" in terror, its involved in it up to its members' eyeballs.

Another thing: Why is Israel's presence in Lebanon described as an occupation but Syria - which has occupied Lebanon longer and more brutally than Israel - is simply described as a "power broker" not an occupier in Lebanon?

Finally Wakin cites Hezbollah claim that "... it is focusing on resisting the Israeli occupation of a disputed patch of land on Israel's northern border ..." without comment. Until three years ago, no one claimed that Shebaa Farms was part of Lebanon, it was always considered part of Syria. Once Israel withdrew from Lebanon and the Security Council certified that Israel has totally withdrawn from Lebanon, Syria "ceded" Shebaa Farms to Lebanon in order to allow Hezbollah's grievance to persist. The reporter had a responsibility to point out that the "patch of land" was not considered part of Lebanon. Instead he chose to promote Hezbollah's view without challenge.

Mr. Zain said the video game also served as a counterweight to other games on the international market that depicted Arabs as terrorists instead of as freedom fighters with legitimate grievances. He said "Special Force" was less bloody than many other games.

"We want others to know our land is occupied, our people are imprisoned in Israeli jails, our houses are being demolished," he said.

The border area controlled by Hezbollah is quiet for now, he said. "But we do not want the resistance concept to vanish," he said. "We want this idea to live among the Arab people, the Islamic people."
Now we get the scoop on this game from one of its developers. Apparently Mr. Zain is most concerned about PR. He wants Hezbollah to be viewed as "freedom fighters with legitimate grievances." Where's the NY Times telling us uncomfortable truths that Hezbollah is still a terrorist organization?

I remember an episode of "Get Smart" where the bad guys, KAOS, issue an ultimatum via a commercial, complete with a jingle and a disclaimer that KAOS is a Delaware corporation. It was very funny having a criminal organization passing itself of as a commercial enterprise. At least it's funny in fiction. It's not funny in real life, but that's exactly what the NY Times is doing here: portraying a terrorist organization as a video game manufacturer with a message.

By coverning for Hezbollah the New York Times squanders its role as an uncoverer of the world's ills and instead becomes an advertiser for a terrorist group.

The hottest video game for the teenagers of Beirut's southern Shiite neighborhoods is "Special Force," a creation of Hezbollah, the strongly anti-Israel militant organization that is on the United States' terror list.
Of course I have no reason to be offended by the Times's reporting. Hezbollah isn't a terrorist organization; it's a "militant" organization.

What I'm complaining about is not uncommon at the NY Times. Last week, when reporting on the British suicide bombers, the Times used a tone in describing the terrroists that suggested that they were little more than mischievous boys stealing hubcaps off of cars. Little Green Footballs critiqued the Times very well last week.

I realize that this doesn't have much to do with video games, but again it speaks volumes about the bias at the Times when dealing with the Middle East. Overall, James Bennet gave a reasonably good survey of Rabbi Elon's plan in "The Exit That Isn't on Bush's 'Road Map'" Still the following 4 paragraphs really bother me:

Mr. Elon has formed ties to other Christian leaders, including Pat Robertson. In October, he addressed the annual convention of the Christian Coalition. According to The Forward, a weekly focused on American Jewish life, he was cheered by thousands of evangelical Christians waving Israeli flags when he called for the "relocation" of Palestinians to Jordan. Mr. Elon says he envisions a voluntary transfer.

For Palestinians, Mr. Elon's message amounts to incitement. "Imagine a country that said, `These Jews aren't really happy here, and we're going to give them rights in another country,' " said Michael Tarazi, a legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization. "The entire world would rightfully see that as anti-Semitic. And there would be, correctly, public outcry."

In 1989, in his autobiography, "Warrior," Mr. Sharon argued that Jordan was the Palestinian state. He said then that Palestinians in the West Bank should be granted political rights in Jordan, while living under Israeli security control among Israeli Jews.

Mr. Elon adds that Israel should deport "terrorists and their direct supporters" and dismantle refugee camps, settling refugees abroad in Arab nations. Palestinians call this forced transfer, or ethnic cleansing. Mr. Elon calls it "the completion of the exchange of
populations that began in 1948."
Bennet is perfectly willing to use the loaded term "ethnic cleansing" that Tarazi, Arafat's American born mouthpiece, to define Elon's plan. All he offers in Elon's defense is a single fragment talking of the "exchange of populations." There's a strong historical precedent for population exchanges after wars. But more importantly, Elon is referring to the expulsion of nearly the same number of Jews from Arab countries as Arabs who fled "Palestine" in 1948. The main difference being that the Jews who left were not leaving in fear from a theater of war, but were forced from their homes. These Jews of course were absorbed by Israel. Their Arab counterparts were allowed to languish in order to preserve a culture of grievance and hate against Israel. It's a significant point that Elon was making here, and it deserved further exposition. Bennet might also have noted that the situation Tarazi described is what happened to the Jews 55 years ago. How ironic.

One last exapmple the Times's bias (for now.) Bennet's choice of words in "Israel Pulls Back From Peace Plan After 4 Attacks" leaves something to be desired:
After convening his cabinet tonight, Mr. Sharon issued an implicit repudiation of a new international peace plan, which calls for simultaneous concessions by both sides and rapid political progress to achieve peace and a Palestinian state in just three years.
Which side is repudiating the road map? The side that refuses to fight terror or the side that responds. Worse he refers to the Palestinian Arab obligation to fight the terror against Israel as a "concession." It is and has been an obligation of the PA to do so since 1993. Even if you argue that Oslo Accords are now a dead letter, launching attacks - or allowing them - against your opponents makes one the aggressor. Israel is the aggrieved party here and to suggest that its response is somehow hurting the chances for peace is unoforgiveably obtuse.

Cross posted on David's Israel Blog and Israpundit