Marvin Kalb describes the newsmedia actions during the Israel-Hezbollah war (pdf). Information Warfare – or propaganda – is used to demoralize the opposition by spreading false narratives.
this paper describes the trajectory of the media from objective observer to fiery advocate, becoming in fact a weapon of modern warfare. The paper also shows how an open society, Israel, is victimized by its own openness and how a closed sect, Hezbollah, can retain almost total control of the daily message of journalism and propaganda.
Propoganda is a major part of any insurgent strategy. There are two battlefronts – the military battlefield and the political battlefield. Propaganda can destroy political will even if the insurgents are defeated.
The Newsmedia acts as an intelligence source for the enemy. Western societies are open, so journalists can freely report on troop movements, political decisions, etc. Enemy Insurgents watch the news and may react militarily or politically to exploit enemy weaknesses. This enables insurgents to engage in message control.
Terrorist and insurgent organizations created the “myth of the guerrilla.” Guerrillas almost never win wars, but propaganda values perception over empirical reality. Terrorism, for instance, is a theatrical show. It accomplishes nothing of military value, but it gives the false impression that the military cannot defeat terrorists so long as a single car bomb explodes.
The newsmedia is complicit in this propaganda. Insurgents and terrorists manipulate the newsmedia to spread their message. Journalists describe social science through anecdotes – which have no scientific values. It is easy to manipulate journalists by presenting an alternate set of anecdotes to report. Here, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and other organizations can twist reality and deceive others into supporting them.
The newsmedia also amplifies the political power of terrorist and insurgents. A small terrorist bomb in a market would be witnessed by a few hundred people at most. But if it is put on the nightly news, millions see it. This amplifies the power of each terrorist attack. Likewise, they widely report on civilian casualties if the victim state retaliates and spread false accusations of war crimes.
“If we are to collect lessons from this war, one of them would have to be that a closed society can control the image and the message that it wishes to convey to the rest of the world far more effectively than can an open society, especially one engaged in an existential struggle for survival. An open society becomes the victim of its own openness. During the war, no Hezbollah secrets were disclosed, but in Israel secrets were leaked, rumors spread like wildfire, leaders felt obliged to issue hortatory appeals often based on incomplete knowledge, and journalists were driven by the fire of competition to publish and broadcast unsubstantiated information. A closed society conveys the impression of order and discipline; an open society, buffeted by the crosswinds of reality and rumor, criticism and revelation, conveys the impression of disorder, chaos and uncertainty, but this impression can be misleading.
It was hardly an accident that Hezbollah, in this circumstance, projected a very special narrative for the world beyond its ken—a narrative that depicted a selfless movement touched by God and blessed by a religious fervor and determination to resist the enemy, the infidel, and ultimately achieve a “divine victory,” no matter the cost in life and treasure. The narrative contained no mention of Hezbollah’s dependence upon Iran and Syria for a steady flow of arms and financial resources.”
I still believe that free discourse enables us to improve our ability to win these wars. Hezbollah’s censorship is so severe that their leaders believe their own lies.
However, I am not longer convinced that professional journalists participate in free discourse. There is a difference between questioning the government’s policies and unquestioningly spreading enemy propaganda.
“Disproportionality” became the war’s mantra; even if Israel did not start the war, so the argument went, it responded to Hezbollah’s opening raid with a disproportionate display of military strength, wrecking Lebanon’s economy, destroying its infrastructure, inflaming political passions and killing civilians with reckless abandon.
This one is easy to explain. In international law, an act of war may be met with war. Hezbollah declared war on Israel, Israel retaliated. This is proportional to the offense.
Wars are asymmetrical. One side gains advantage and defeats their enemy. This has nothing to do with “proportionality.” Hezbollah declared war, intending to fight a limited, small war. Israel responded with a larger war. This is irrelevant, as Hezbollah is still the aggressor.
Journalists reversed the logic of aggression. They twisted reality so that Hezbollah was the victim of Israeli aggression.
Worse yet, nearly every news channel and paper did not report Hezbollah as the aggressor in the first place. They pretended the war started mutually as if this was objective. Israel fought “disproportionately” and Hezbollah was the underdog. Except this false message is Hezbollah propaganda.
The cameramen didn’t need Hezbollah’s permission to film the devastation, but if in the wreckage they saw young men with guns, they were warned not to take pictures of these Hezbollah fighters, else their cameras would be confiscated and they might run into trouble returning to Beirut—an indirect warning, which most reporters took seriously… Throughout the conflict, the rarest picture of all was that of a Hezbollah guerrilla. It was as if the war on the Hezbollah side was being fought by ghosts.
Guerrillas can pretend that any dead guerrilla is a “civilian.” It is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions for combatants to disguise themselves as civilians, since this leads to additional civilian deaths in battle. In theory, these war criminals are responsible for additional civilian deaths. In practice, guerrillas can blame the civilized state for killing innocent civilians – even if these “civilians” are guerrilla combatants. Just strip away the AK-47s before the cameras arrive.
There are other actions that are inexcusable. Journalists in Lebanon followed Hezbollah men to tour sites damaged by Israeli attacks. This was obviously staged propaganda, but journalists reported it anyway. On the other hand, journalists did not proportionately report on Hezbollah rocket and terror attacks against Israeli civilians.
There is another major problem with journalism: Stringers. The newsmedia hires local journalists to do the reporting and photography in war zones like Lebanon and Iraq. A number of these stringers were Hezbollah supporters and operatives. Reuters, AP, CNN and others literally hired enemy propaganda agents. News journalists directly spread enemy propaganda while attacking anything the US or Israeli governments say. This is the post-modern concept of objectivity. Hezbollah censorship of reporting on Lebanon side was unnoted or accepted as normal.
Stringers created photoshopped pictures, staged photos, and fake stories. The “Green Helmet Guy” was a Hezbollah actor pretending to be a Red Crescent worker. He toured the region staging gory photographs and dramatic recoveries of dead bodies.
The only benefit of this propanda war was that journalists were caught red-handed by internet bloggers.
“Ravi Nessman, the senior Jerusalem correspondent of the Associated Press, thought the influence of the bloggers, especially in the United States, was “unprecedented.” When the bloggers [in the U.S.] discovered that photographs had been doctored, “the credibility of the bloggers…skyrocketed and our credibility plummeted.” Nessman added, “After that everything that we did was suspect. And that makes it very difficult to cover a war, to have honest people who are trying, who are not doctoring photographs, who are not taking one side or the other, but who are trying to present the truth of what is going on there, and have everything we say be examined, which is fair, but basically be questioned as a lie, and starting with that premise that the media is lying.”
It’s shocking really. If journalists spread enemy propaganda and lies, which are now clearly documented, then the American people assume that journalists spread enemy propaganda and lies.
Only Fox News in the US consistently reported that Hezbollah was the aggressive party and that Israel fought the war in self-defense. Fox News likewise downplayed Hezbollah propaganda. Perhaps this is significant.
Other US newsmedia stations and papers reported the war more accurately than the international media. However, they spread significant falsehoods about the cause and effects of the war. Many spread Hezbollah propaganda.
The international media was atrocious. The Arab and European newsmedia was hostile to Israel, of course.