Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix I Segment 12/15
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There is, in fact, a great body of evidence showing that the media continued to adopt the basic U.S.-Israeli premises throughout the Lebanon war, and beyond, quite uncritically.43 But the relevant point here, once again, is that the possibility of pro-Israel bias in the media (hence pro-U.S. bias, since the U.S. government gave strong backing to the invasion until the last moment) is virtually not raised, even to be dismissed, and is clearly unthinkable.
Bolling does observe that "we had very little representation [in the meetings] of Arabs and pro-Arabs who feel, and have long felt, that U.S. media coverage of the Middle East is, basically, blatantly pro-Israeli and that Arabs and their interests and viewpoints are consistently denigrated -- and who see no reason to change their opinions on the basis of the coverage of the war in Lebanon." He does not explain why only "Arabs and pro-Arabs" could draw such conclusions from investigation of the media. The tacit assumption is that people have only passions, no thoughts. This assumption is not only remarkable, but also manifestly untrue; the contention that the U.S. media are heavily biased in favor of Israel is familiar among American, European, and Israeli commentators who are neither Arab nor pro-Arab and who are in many cases extremely critical of the Arab states and the PLO. Bolling also does not indicate what efforts were made to obtain views that depart from the framework of the seminars, but the selection is probably a fair sample of intellectual opinion in the United States.
Forty-eight pages of documents follow, keeping closely to the same framework. The initial essay, by Roger Morris, defends the media for highly professional reporting of the events of the war (a largely accurate judgment, in my personal view) and for "providing balanced comment" (which is another matter). To illustrate this proper balance, he cites a New York Times editorial of early August, which says: "Blame the P.L.O. for the torment of West Beirut and blame Israel no less." Recall that these words were written during the days when Israeli artillery and aircraft were killing thousands of people, overwhelmingly civilians, destroying hospitals and demolishing residential areas in the defenseless city, holding the population hostage under harsh siege and terror to coerce them to demand the evacuation of the PLO. Morris also observes that the journalists "showed genuine empathy for the suffering city, and dismay at the destruction wrought by the encircling army, however understandable its presence might have been" (my emphasis). Again, proper balance.
Throughout the documents, the media are bitterly assailed as anti-Israel, or defended for maintaining a high standard of objectivity under difficult conditions. Of the forty-eight pages, approximately thirty-two are devoted to denunciation of the media for their unfairness to Israel, twelve to responses to these charges, and the remainder to a media analysis by Middle East scholar Eric Hooglund, published by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, arguing that the coverage of the Israeli invasion "reveals a consistent pro-Israeli bias." Hooglund's analysis elicited no reaction.44 At one point, Roger Morris observes, quite accurately, that the media "continued to credit the Israeli justification for the invasion -- right up to the gates of Beirut"; and indeed beyond. Milton Viorst writes that "until recently, Israel hardly knew critical reporting." This exhausts the recognition that an alternative perspective on the performance of the media might be considered.
Of the total in the colloquy and discussion, then, over 60 percent is devoted to charges against the media for unfairness to Israel, about one-third to defense of the media against these charges, and 5 percent to (unanswered) charges of a pro-Israel bias. The balance is slightly better than the 100 percent devoted to charges of anti-U.S. bias and defense against these charges in the Central America section, but once again, we find strong confirmation of the propaganda model.
The specific issues discussed are no less instructive. Several contributions refer to the charge -- one of the staples in the barrage of media criticism -- that the press and TV were irresponsible in reporting figures on casualties and refugees in southern Lebanon. An Anti-Defamation League study charges that "no network reported" the Red Cross conclusion that the original figure of 600,000 refugees was an exaggeration, and that the correct figure was 300,000. Two sentences later, the ADL study cites the report of the revised 300,000 figure by John Chancellor of NBC; the example provides a fair indication of the quality of this critique, and the utter contempt of the ADL for its audience, as for elementary rationality and fact.45 Norman Podhoretz repeats the claim circulated by Israeli hasbara that the total population of the area was just over 500,000, so that the refugee figures are plainly absurd. Edward Alexander writes that the refugee figures are "a patent absurdity," since "the entire population" of the area "is under 500,000." Within a year, the Israeli army had revised the population figures that had received wide publicity from Israeli propagandists in the United States, estimating the population at close to a million46; but these facts are nowhere mentioned.
Alexander is also contemptuous of reporters who cite the International Committee of the Red Cross, because it works "with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (which happens to be headed by Yasser Arafat's brother)." He does not, however, conclude that we must also reject reports from any organization that works with Israelis, not to speak of Israeli sources. Suppose that someone were to make such a proposal, with a similar sneer. The cries of anti-Semitism would be deafening. But these remarks, published in the Washington Post and reprinted here, passed without notice, a reflection of the easy acceptance of virulent anti-Arab racism.47
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43 See, inter alia, my Fateful Triangle and the references of chapter 3, note 23.
44 In my Pirates & Emperors, chapter 2, note 26, I stated erroneously that the ADC document was not included. Much of the same material appears, with the same error, in my chapter in Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, eds., Blaming the Victims (Verso, 1988).
45 This citation is excluded from the excerpt that appears in Reporters under Fire. For a detailed analysis of the ADL report, see Fateful Triangle, 284f.
46 Reuven Padhatzur, Ha'aretz, Nov. 14, 1983; Ya'acov Friedler, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 24, 1984; Drew Middleton, NYT, Feb. 26, 1984.
47 See appendix V, section 4, for some further comment.