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Monday, January 16, 2006

Why let reality get in the way of good PR?

The Australian Jewish News (AJN) argues that the world's media has been generally fair to an ailing Ariel Sharon:

"Sharon, in our opinion, was a tough and courageous leader who did much to advance Israel’s interests by erecting the security wall and disengaging from Gaza - but he did not believe in a 'peace process' with the current Palestinian leadership, nor did he pursue one since his election in 2001. The main thrust of Sharon’s policy, after all, was unilateralism, not bilateralism - the fundamental prerequisite for a 'peace process' between Israel and the Palestinians.

"But if the world’s media insist on portraying Sharon as a champion of peace and reconciliation, this is one occasion when we won’t argue with them."

The AJN may not care about the truthfulness of such adulation, but surely a newspaper of record should worry about accuracy (especially in light of recent figures that show the high price of the "peace process" for both Palestinians and Israelis.) At least Haaretz understands what a serious newspaper should be focusing on:

"It is difficult to know whether the government's decision to imprison 800,000 Palestinians in the northern West Bank by thinning out traffic almost entirely at the main crossings from Jenin, Nablus and Tul Karm southward was taken after all the implications had been taken into consideration, or, as is often the case, whether the decision was made by the military and Shin Bet security services on the ground. It is doubtlessly easier for the security forces to pursue those planning acts of terror when the West Bank is divided, when roads are closed and reduced traffic at the crossings allows for maximum control of the Palestinian population. There is also no doubt that a few dozen Islamic Jihad activists are travelling around the northern West Bank and planning acts of terror. The question is whether someone has taken overall responsibility for the clearly disproportional steps taken since December 2 against a huge number of people, preventing them from living lives that are already difficult.

"It is Hamas that benefits from this worsening situation, channelling the distress and frustration to the ballot box on election day." [It is interesting that Hamas is now talking about the possibility of negotiating with Israel.]

If the AJN wants to best serve its Jewish constituents, it needs to move past the platitudes and tell readers more than what they want to hear.


Blogger Ibrahamav said...

Compared to past international media coverage of Ariel Sharon, which on a number of occasions in recent years has gone beyond personal demonization to outright anti-Semitism, the reporting on Sharon since he suffered a massive stroke last week has been relatively benign. Sharon, the butcher, the bulldozer, the war criminal, the "successor of Hitler," has suddenly been humanized in several usually hostile quarters, such as the BBC.

But only up to a point. Even amid this improved coverage, as Sharon lies fighting for his life, many articles in the Western media have retailed untruths, almost in passing, as though they were incontrovertible historical facts: Sharon initiated the second intifada, Sharon ordered the Sabra and Shatila massacres, and so on.

According to a Google search, there were over 24,000 articles published on Sharon in the 24 hours following his stroke last Wednesday night. But it was only four days later, in Monday's Washington Post, that there was the first mention of Sharon's protracted and successful libel battle in the 1980s against Time magazine for its inaccurate suggestion that he had encouraged the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

Equally, there has been almost no reference to the fact that the Sabra and Shatila massacres were carried out by (Christian) Arabs against (Muslim) Arabs, in response to massacres by Muslims, and virtually no indication that the Palestinians themselves had carefully planned the 2000 intifada.

This is by their own admission. For example, the PA Communications Minister, Imad Al-Faluji told Al-Safir (March 3, 2001): "Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong. This intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat's return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton."

And the jailed Palestinian terror leader Marwan Barghouti told the Palestinian paper, the Jerusalem Times (June 8, 2001): "The intifada did not start because of Sharon's visit to Al-Aqsa. The intifada began because the Palestinians did not approve of the peace process in its previous form." But now as then Western media are uninterested in passing such comments on to their readers.

Most of the reporting has failed to supply any context — for example as to why Israeli troops had entered Lebanon in 1982. I have seen hardly any references to past moves Sharon made for peace, such as the 1982 dismantling of Yamit and 13 other settlements in the Sinai.

There have also been some nasty headlines and cartoons. "He is the King Kong of massacres" ran the headline of a news report on Sharon on January 8 in The Observer, the Sunday affiliate of Britain's Guardian newspaper, referring to the recently released remake of the 1933 movie classic. "Ariel Sharon, agent of perpetual war," was the headline of an article in the relatively moderate Lebanese paper, the Daily Star, on January 7, 2006, by its editor-at-large and frequent guest on America's NPR, Rami Khouri.

"Sharon's legacy does not include peace," is how a January 5 feature on the BBC News website by Paul Reynolds, the BBC's World Affairs correspondent, was introduced, while Richard Stott's January 8 column on Sharon for the mass circulation (British) Sunday Mirror was titled "Middle Beast."

On Friday, the entire front page of the (London) Independent carried a photo of Sharon with the words "Inside: Robert Fisk on Ariel Sharon." The article, over 7000 words extracted from Fisk's new book, was hardly about Sharon at all, and consisted almost entirely of Fisk's claims about what happened at Sabra and Shatila. Unsurprisingly, Fisk made no mention of Sharon's successful American court ruling against Time.

Yet overall, the international coverage of Sharon since his stroke has been relatively kind. Who could have imagined, for example, that the New York Times — which for decades has blackened Sharon's reputation — would run a comparatively complimentary editorial on him by Benny Morris? Who could have imagined that the home page of would this week show Sharon sitting in a grandfatherly pose looking on as Chanukah candles were lit?

I use the term "relatively kind" because it is important to recall what the coverage of Sharon was like until just a few weeks ago. He was not only reviled in the international media, but frequently portrayed in viciously anti-Semitic terms.

In Spain, for example, on June 4, 2001 (three days after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 young Israelis at a disco, in the midst of a unilateral Israeli ceasefire), the liberal magazine Cambio 16 published a cartoon of Sharon (with a hook nose he does not have), wearing a skull cap (which he does not usually wear), sporting a swastika inside a star of David on his chest, and proclaiming: "At least Hitler taught me how to invade a country and destroy every living insect."

A week earlier, El Pais, Spain's equivalent of The New York Times, published a cartoon of an allegorical figure carrying a small rectangular-shaped black moustache, flying through the air towards Sharon's upper lip. The caption read: "Clio, the muse of history, puts Hitler's moustache on Ariel Sharon".

Cartoons in the Greek press in 2004 showed Sharon as a Nazi officer. One of Italy's leading papers, Corriere Della Sera, ran a cartoon on March 31, 2002, showing Sharon killing Jesus. (The cartoon, which was timed to coincide with Easter day that year, was published as Israelis lay dying from the Netanya Passover massacre three days earlier.)

Hundreds of similar anti-Semitic motifs have been applied to Sharon in recent years. The Economist magazine compared him to Charles Dickens's infamous anti-Semitic stereotype, Fagin. (An earlier edition of The Economist ran a blackened front cover with the words "Sharon's Israel, the world's worry.") And grotesque cartoons of Sharon have continued to appear until as recently as six weeks ago in, for example, the Guardian.

Now, by contrast, attitudes to Sharon are by and large restrained, even respectful. But we still have to wait and see whether journalists in the supposedly respectable world media have decided to rid themselves once and for all of the anti-Semitic overspill in their Israel coverage. It is much too early to tell.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 8:11:00 am  
Blogger orang said...

Pilgrims from Brazil have managed to slip in with the crowds of Jews and Muslims come to pay their respects. They swear they saw a halo form over the head of Arik-photos are hazy/inconclusive. Also he blessed them by making a sign of the cross with his right hand. Tears came down his cheeks when they were discussing the exclusion of Ronaldo from the World Cup squad.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006 10:23:00 pm  

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