The Media's Rules of Engagement for the Middle East
Robin Miller looks at some of the propaganda tactics used by the mainstream media to help shape public opinion and perceptions about the Israel/Palestine conflict.
The media plays a crucial role in fashioning Americans' attitudes toward the Middle East.
That role: to maintain a consensus supporting Israel.
According to a recent poll by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, only one quarter of Americans know that a majority of countries are more sympathetic to the Palestinian position than to Israel's, and only one in three are aware that more Palestinians than Israelis have died in the conflict.
What are the rules that American mainstream media follow in order to produce these dramatic results?
Rule 1: See the Middle East through Israeli eyes
This is crucial. Slavishly following Israeli terminological dictates, the March 29, 2002, Israeli invasion of the West Bank – although devastating Palestinian civil infrastructure, demolishing whole swathes of cities and leaving 200 dead – was merely an "incursion." Israeli killings of Palestinian militants are "targeted killings" rather than assassinations, or, more accurate still, the work of death squads.
A smaller-scale military operation is described as a "concentrated campaign against terrorism," a "rolling police action," or in any other fashion that cleaves to the Israeli perspective.
To maintain the fiction of the Palestinians as the aggressors, only Israel "retaliates."
Rule 2: Ignore the historical context
The Palestinians have been subject to 60 years of dispossession – since Israel booted them out upon its birth in 1948 – and 41 years of occupation of occupation, since the June 1967 war. These facts are basic to understanding the Palestinian position, yet they are almost never communicated.
The anger born of this decades-long repression is natural and legitimate (even when the manner of its expression is not), yet the Western media, at its most despicable, locates the basis of Palestinian resentment only in racial hatred. The San Francisco Chronicle tells readers that a suicide bomber's goal is "to kill Jews," while the Detroit Free Press finds in bombers "a hatred of Israel so powerful that they see Jews only as enemies who must die."
Rule 3: Avoid the fundamental legal and moral issues posed by the Israeli occupation
A half-dozen recent articles on Israeli settlements have appeared in mainstream media. None stated the undeniable fact that the settlements violate international law. All the stories focused on the settlers, portraying them as plucky pioneers, much like the mythology of the American West. The Palestinians play the role of Native Americans, crazed and ruthless killers from whom the settlers must protect themselves at all times.
Rule 4: Suppress or minimize news unfavorable to the Israelis
On May 1, 2002, Israeli forces killed eight Palestinians, including a baby and two small boys. The American media's reaction: total silence.
Eight Israeli deaths would have been front-page news.
If Palestinian deaths aren't wholly suppressed, they are treated as mere background noise. Thus, in typical coverage, the AP reports that "in new fighting, a 7-year-old Palestinian boy, an armed militiaman and an Israeli Arab woman riding in a taxi were killed by Israeli army fire in three separate incidents."
In other news, two northbound lanes of the interstate are closed for repairs.
And, if an Israeli atrocity must be admitted, pretend that no one really knows what happened. After five Palestinian policemen were found executed in Ramallah in the early days of the recent Israeli invasion, the Washington Post could only guess that "something nasty happened."
The Observer in London made the facts clear: "Five men were put to death by the Israelis, each with a single coup de grace administered to the head or throat."
If necessary, invent excuses for the Israelis. After an Israeli sniper killed the deaf bellringer at the Church of the Nativity, The Los Angeles Times reported that the soldier "killed him for fear he was a suicide bomber," although there's no such evidence, and Israel initially denied shooting him.
Rule 5: Muddy the waters when necessary
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other organizations dedicated to monitoring human rights have no difficulty discerning widespread Israeli violations.
Time magazine, though, tells readers that "principles can be elusive," and the New York Times assures us that the "letter of the law does not spell 'clarity.'"
Rule 6: Doubt all Palestinians assertions, no matter how self-evident
Everything a Palestinian says is labeled a "claim," never acknowledged as a fact. Palestinian merely "say," for instance, that Israel obstructs medical care, even as human rights groups document the ambulances turned back and the wounded who bleed to death yards from a hospital.
It's only a Palestinian "belief" that Washington is biased toward Israel, though the matter could hardly be clearer.
Palestinians merely "charge" that the intent of the settlers is to prevent the formation of a viable Palestinian state, though the settlers' goal is openly stated.
In a stunning example of this principle in action, Daniel Williams, reporting from Nablus for The Washington Post, tells readers that the Palestinians "say" civilians died in the Israeli assault on that city, even while the bodies of eight members of the Shobi family lay in that city's morgue, all killed when Israeli bulldozers collapsed their house.
Rule 7: Condemn only Palestinian violence
Words invoking moral condemnation may be employed when describing Palestinian violence. Thus, The New York Times can speak of Palestinian "atrocities," while The St. Petersburg Times labels a suicide bomber a "murderer." Yet in the American media Israeli settlers who purposely kill Palestinians are "vigilantes," "militants" or "extremists," but never "terrorists."
And when Israeli soldiers slaughter Palestinians, readers are informed that "civilians have been killed, as tragically happens in all wars."
Reading the mainstream media on a consistent basis, it's not hard to discern its guiding principles