Wednesday 28th of February 2024

the art of the media porkies......

The practice of “embedding,” which requires correspondents to report in war and conflict zones as part of a given military unit, struck me as a repellent compromise with power as soon as American media began accepting this unacceptable practice. It is an undisguised effort to control what correspondents see and hear, and so what they write or broadcast, and so what their readers, listeners and viewers think.

It is a trick, in short. The ruling or governing power’s military pretends it respects the rightful freedom of an independent press, while correspondents and editors get to pretend they serve as brave correspondents and principled editors. 


By Patrick Lawrence
    Special to Consortium News 


There is no respect, bravery or principle in any of it. Embedding is a charade, an offense on the part of everyone who participates in it. 

It is an act of deprivation in that it gives those reading or viewing the work of embedded correspondents the illusion they are informed while they are, most of the time, kept ignorant of the war or conflict they are eager to understand. 

As in various other ways, Israel’s real-time barbarity in Gaza has worsened the relationship between media — Western media, I mean — and the powers they are supposed to report upon. As to audiences, they — we — are left utterly confused to the extent the common language with which people can communicate begins to fail them. 

The result is not silence. It is a senseless cacophony that echoes through a weird no-man’s land in which nothing can be said without the risk of retribution or condemnation or banishment. Civil discourse is more or less out of the question. 

We are now a dreadful step on from embedding, it seems. It is no longer enough to tether correspondents to the perspective of the military from whose side they report. We appear to be on the way to having wars fought — huge, bloody, consequential wars — without any witnesses. 

Last week Politico published a lengthy piece on the Biden regime’s argument that the current “pause” in Israel’s merciless murder spree in Gaza and the exchange of hostages proves the policy cliques in Washington have done the right thing. It does not take much for these dangerously unqualified people to fool themselves. 

But the White House remains “‘deeply, deeply worried’ about Israel’s longer-term strategy and what the next phase of the war may look like,” Politico reported. Then this:

“And there was some concern in the administration about an unintended consequence of the pause: that it would allow journalists broader access to Gaza and the opportunity to further illuminate the devastation there and turn public opinion on Israel.”

In plain English, Biden’s people fret about what the slaughter of Palestinians will look like once it resumes — appearances being not quite all but nearly. But if there was no one there to see and report the savagery, there would be no appearances to worry about. 

Trita Parsi at the Quincy Institute brought this quotation to my attention, and I cannot do better than his comment on it: “I’m speechless.” 

It is interesting that at least some people in the Biden regime seem to consider relations between power and the media to be adversarial in the old-fashioned way. And how fine it would be were the corporate press and broadcasters to get their correspondents into Gaza on their own and report what they see as they see it. 

This seems to me perfectly possible. The BBC, Al Jazeera, and various wire services — Reuters, The Associated Press, Agence France–Presse — are among the news organizations with bureaus in Gaza City. 


Since Vietnam

But the record to date indicates that cowardice and supine compliance will prevail over the aforementioned bravery and principle. This is how embedding journalists got started in the post–1975 years. The defeat in Vietnam spooked the Pentagon and the political leadership, which blamed the media for turning Americans against the war. By the Gulf War, August 1990 to February 1991, embeddedness was s.o.p. among American media. 

A reporter named Brett Wilkins published a well-reported piece in Common Dreams a month into the Israel Defense Forces’ war crimes in Gaza. In “U.S. Corporate Media Outlets Allow IDF to Vet ‘All Materials’ from Embedded Reporters in Gaza,” Wilkins laid out the whole disgusting nine. His lead:

“U.S. corporate media outlets have granted Israeli military commanders pre-publication review rights for ‘all materials and footage’ recorded by their correspondents embedded with the Israel Defense Forces during the invasion of Gaza, a precondition condemned by press freedom advocates.”

Wilkins goes on to name a few of the names — among them CNN and NBC — who indulge their spinelessness in this manner. And he quotes the feckless Fareed Zakaria offering the boilerplate excuse for this gross breach of professional ethics. “CNN has agreed to these terms in order to provide a limited window into Israel’s operations in Gaza,” Zakaria deadpans. 

Speechless a second time. 

A photojournalist named Zach D. Roberts gets my award for the pithiest summation of this daily travesty. “What CNN is doing here is creating ad b-roll [supplementary video footage] for the IDF,” Roberts said. “It’s nothing resembling news and the CNN employees that participated in it aren’t anything resembling journalists.”

So far as I can make out there are few-to-no exceptions to this condemnable practice. The New York Times sent two correspondents and a photographer into Al–Shifa Hospital earlier this month and had the integrity to acknowledge they were escorted by the IDF and to report that a hole in the ground the diameter of a manhole cover did not look much like a Hamas command center. 

[Related: IDF Knew Real Hamas HQ While Lying About al-Shifa]

But “limited windows,” in Zakaria’s slithery phrase, are nonsense, and the Times should have declined the tour on any terms but its own. This seems to me the only way the press and broadcasters can reclaim the professional sovereignty they gave up in the post–Vietnam years. 

Devastated Credibility 

Since then we have witnessed a succession of what I count as fatal compromises. This kind of conduct is part of what has devastated Western media’s credibility and left the reading and viewing public abandoned in the dark. Now we are down to embedding as bog standard procedure and the hinted possibility that correspondents may not be able to bear witness to conflicts and wars under any circumstances. 

Journalists were once considered among the guardians of language. Writing and editing with rigorous attention to clarity and correct usage was how language as a vessel of meaning was preserved and protected. 

Look at the circus all around us now. Anti–Semitism can mean anything you want it to mean. Ditto anti–Zionism. Anti–Israel can mean anti–Semitic, Hamas can be cast as a terrorist organization, a real-time genocide can be marked down as self-defense. The Times invites us, in Sunday’s editions, to wring our hands as we search for “a moral center in this era of war.” 

It is an invitation to drown in blur and induced confusion. I put this down in part — in large part — to the derelictions of those reporting what is called — incorrectly, a case in point — the Israel–Gaza war. 

I have watched recently a goodly number of videos recorded in Gaza and seen many photographs taken on the ground there. Here is a video of Gazans fleeing for their lives, published two weeks into the bombing by Al JazeeraHere are some photographs shot by Mohammed Zaanoun, a Palestinian photographer, and published on Nov. 23 by The New Humanitarian, which was founded at the U.N. in the mid–1990s. 

This kind of material, produced by professional journalists, various kinds of nongovernmental organizations, relief agencies and the like, is readily available. How differently would people think, how much clearer would their understanding and conclusions be, were our major media to make it available. 


Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of Journalists and Their Shadowsavailable from Clarity Press or via Amazon.  Other books include Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. 

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the magic show....


The Magician’s Hat, and the Great Simulacrum of Palliative Balm       


The Magician steps onto the stage, his black cloak swirling about him. Centre stage, he flourishes his hat: It is empty. He punches it lightly to demonstrate its solidity. The Magician then picks up certain objects and places them into his hat. Into it goes AnsarAllah’s seizure of an Israeli-owned vessel (the situation is being ‘monitored’); into it goes the Iraqi strikes on U.S. bases (barely noticed by the main-stream media); into it too go the 1,000 missiles fired into northern Israel by Hizbullah; into it goes the hot war in the West Bank. The Magician turns to the audience – the hat is empty. But the audience knows those objects have a physical reality, but somehow they are magically obfuscated.

It is in this way that the western main-stream media maintains deterrence by playing down the state of war through what Malcom Kyeyune describes as “a simulacrum of peace” – of a gently subsiding conflict and the quieting deployment of (paraphrasing Kyeyune) a very “post-modern question”: What exactly is the meaning of civilian ‘non-combatant’ anyway?

One aspect to the image of easing conflict is the hostage exchange that has been agreed. It is both real, and at the same time it underpins the simulacrum that once Hamas is annihilated, and the hostages released, then the problem of 2.3 million Palestinians can go into the magician’s hat, and be eased from sight. For some, the hope is sincere and well intentioned – that once the fighting ceases, it will stay ceased, and that an end to the bombardment in Gaza might open a window to some political ‘solution’ – if it can be extended sine dei.

‘Solution’ being here but a polite word for the EU’s attempted bribery of Egypt and Jordan. Reportedly, the EU President, Ursula von der Leyen, visited Egypt and Israel to present them with financial offers ($10bn for Egypt and $5bn for Jordan), in exchange for the dispersal of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip elsewhere – effectively to facilitate the evacuation of the Palestinian population from the Strip in line with Israel’s aims of ethnically-cleansing Gaza.

However, former minister Ayalet Shaked’s tweet – “After we turn Khan Yunis into a soccer field, we need to tell the countries that each of them take a quota: We need all 2 million to leave. That’s the solution to Gaza” – is but one by senior Israeli political and security figures extoling what Israel increasingly sees as the “solution” for Gaza.

But by being so explicit, Shaked likely has torpedoed Von der Leyen’s initiative – for no Arab state wants to be complicit in a new Nakba.

Hudna or ‘time out’ inevitably is highly precarious. In the 2014 fighting, when IDF forces initiated military sweeps in Gaza after a ceasefire had begun, it led to a fire-fight and the collapse of the cease-fire. The fighting continued for another full month.

Two key lessons that I learnt from trying to initiate truces on behalf of the EU during the Second Intifada were that a ‘truce is a truce’ and only that – both sides use it to reposition themselves for the next round of fighting. And secondly, that ‘quiet’ in one confined locality does not spread de-escalation to another geographically separate locality; but rather, that one outbreak of egregious violence is virally contagious, and spreads geographically instantly.

The present hostage exchange is centred on Gaza. However, Israel has three fronts of hot conflict open (Gaza, its northern border with Lebanon, and in the West Bank). An incident occurring in any one of the three fronts may be enough to collapse confidence in the Gaza understandings and re-launch Israel’s assault on Gaza.

On the eve of the truce, by way of example, Israeli forces heavily bombed both Syria and Lebanon. Seven Hizbullah fighters were killed.

The point here, plainly said, is that the historical precedents of Hudnas leading to political openings are not that great. A hostage release, per se, resolves nothing. The issue in the present crisis runs far deeper. When, ‘once upon a time’, Britain promised the Jews a homeland, western powers also (in 1947) promised Palestinians a state, but never took it to implementation. This lacuna ultimately is culminating in a head-on train crash.

The Israeli Cabinet’s ambition for a Jewish State on the biblical lands of Israel simply is intended to block any Palestinian State from emerging either in part of Jerusalem, or elsewhere in historic Palestine. In this context, Hamas’ actions were precisely intended to break this impasse and the endless paradigm of fruitless ‘negotiations’.

Unsurprisingly, Israel’s Defence Minister already has announced Israel’s intention to renew fighting immediately after the end of the cease-fire. Israeli officials have been telling their U.S. counterparts that they anticipate several more weeks of operations in the north of the Strip, before shifting focus to the south.

Thus far, the IDF has been operating in areas close to the shoreline in Gaza, and in places, such as the Wadi, south of Gaza City, where the subsoil does not facilitate the building of tunnels. These are the areas, therefore, where Hamas does not have significant defensive capabilities. Should military action be renewed, the IDF is likely to move away from the northern coastline towards the Gaza City epicentre, allowing Hamas to manoeuvre more easily, and inflict greater losses on the IDF and their armoured vehicles. In this sense – away from the simulacra – the war is just beginning.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been described both in Israel and in the western MSM as a ‘dead man walking’ in political terms. Be that as it may, Netanyahu has his strategy: He has openly defied the Biden Team on every war-related issue, except that of eradicating Hamas.

During a press conference last Sunday, Netanyahu touted a “diplomatic Iron Dome”, saying he would not give in to “increasingly heavy pressure … used against us in recent weeks … I reject these pressures and say to the world: We will continue to fight until victory — until we destroy Hamas and bring our hostages back home”.

Yonatan Freeman, from the Hebrew University, perceives the gambit in Netanyahu’s vague statements: He defies Team Biden, yet takes care to leave sufficient ‘wiggle room’ so that he can always blame Biden, whenever he is ‘forced’ by America into some reversal.

The Israeli Cabinet’s strategy, therefore, rests on the big bet that Israeli public opinion will hold – despite Netayahu’s personal disapproval ratings – due to the overwhelming public support at this point for the two declared objects set by the War Cabinet: Destroying the ‘Hamas regime’ and its capabilities, and the release of all Israeli hostages.

At its core, ‘the bet’ lies in the conviction that public sentiment – contextualised deliberately by the Israeli cabinet in absolute Manichean terms (light versus the dark; civilisation versus barbarism; all Gazans being complicit with ‘Hamas’ evil’) – will ultimately arouse a wave of support for the further move of taking “the fiction” of a Palestinian state off the table “once and for all”. The table is being set for a long war against ‘cosmic evil’.

The ‘solution’, as National Security Minister Smotrich and his allies underline, is to offer Palestinians a choice – ‘to renounce their national aspirations and continue living on their land in an inferior status’, or to emigrate abroad. Put bluntly, the ‘solution’ is the removal of all non-subservient Palestinians from the lands of Greater Israel.

Turning now to the contending perspective:

The ‘united axis’ supporting Palestinians observe that Israel continues to adhere to its initial military goals of destroying Gaza to the point where there is nothing left – no civilian infrastructure at all – by which Gazans might live, were they even to try to return to their collapsed homes.

They see this Israeli objective fully supported by Biden when his spokesman said:

“We believe that they have the right to [embark on further combat operations in Gaza]; but [such actions] … should include greater and enhanced protections for civilian life”.

Regional security commentator, Hasan Illaik, notes,

“Axis officials also believe that conciliatory-sounding U.S. statements, which sometimes suggest that a de-escalation phase is imminent, are nothing but an effort to repair a public image heavily damaged by unstinting U.S. support for Israel’s continuing massacre of Palestinians in Gaza”.

So, is Israel, supported by Team Biden and some EU leaders, winning?

Tom Friedman – an intimate of Team Biden – wrote in the New York Times on 9 November – after traveling around Israel and the West Bank:

“I now understand why so much has changed. It is crystal clear to me that Israel is in real danger — more danger than at any other time since its War of Independence in 1948”.

Far-fetched? Possibly not.

Back in 2012, U.S. author Michael Greer wrote that Israel was founded at a particular propitious time, despite being surrounded by hostile neighbours:

“Several of the major Western powers supported the new state with significant financial and military aid; of at least equal importance, members of the religious community responsible for creating the new state, who remained back in those same Western nations, engaged in vigorous fundraising efforts to support the new state, and equally vigorous political efforts to get existing governmental support maintained or increased. The resources thus made available to the new state gave it a substantial military edge against its hostile neighbours, and its existence became enough of a fait accompli that some of its neighbours backed away from a wholly confrontational stance”.

“Still, the state’s survival depended on three things. The first, and by far the most crucial, was the ongoing flow of support from the Western powers to pay for a military establishment far larger than the economic and natural resources of the territory in question would permit. The second was the continued fragmentation and relative weakness of the surrounding states. The third was the maintenance of internal peace within the state and of collective assent to a clear sense of priorities, so that it could respond with its full force to threats from outside – instead of squandering its limited resources on civil strife or popular projects that contributed nothing to its survival”.

“In the long run, none of these three conditions could be met indefinitely … When it happens that these early patterns of support break down, Israel may find itself backed into a corner”.

Last week, a leading Israeli commentator noted:

“You might think a Presidential visit, presidential speech, three Secretary of State visits, two Secretary of Defence visits, the dispatching of two aircraft carrier groups, a nuclear submarine and Marine expeditionary unit, and the pledge of $14.3 billion in emergency military aid, are testament to the unwavering support the U.S. is extending to Israel” …

“Think again”.

“Underneath the full and robust backing of the Biden administration, there are dangerous and treacherous currents that are chipping away and encroaching on public sympathy for Israel across the United States. Polls released last week contained the most alarming and telling data: Public support for Israel is cratering – particularly amongst the 18 – 34 age group. Another poll shows that 36% of Americans say they oppose additional funding for Ukraine and Israel: Support for funding Israel, only – was at 14%”.

What is truly remarkable is that the leaders of the new narratives are the youth of Generation Z, Y, and Alpha. Leveraging social media, and speaking directly to their peer groups, they have conveyed the grievances of the Palestinians to the world. Many had limited knowledge of Palestine, but their unfiltered sense of justice fuelled their collective anger against Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Greer’s second and third conditions for Israel’s survival also are metastasizing as the global tectonic plates grind and move: Non-western powers are not siding with Israel. They are coalescing in opposition to the Israeli Cabinet’s aspiration to end the notion of a Palestinian State, once and for all. And today, Israel is bitterly divided on the vision for its future; what it is exactly that constitutes ‘Israel’ and even that very post-modern question, ‘what it is to be Jewish’.