Friday, August 18, 2006

The Snake, The Mouse, The Media and Hizballah 

Daled Amos had a post itemizing numerous points illustrating the media's predilection for ignoring Israel's point-of-view in its coverage of the war between Hizballah and the Jewish State. A few examples:

YNet News compares the CNN coverage of casualties in Israel and Lebanon and notes a:

Highly unbalanced report mostly ignores plight of Israeli civilians, portrays Israelis as soldiers and politicians in suits, while coverage from Lebanon features in-depth interviews with Lebanese civilians and images of children and ruins; no mention of large number of Israelis displaced from their homes in north [...]
BBC continued to produce one-sided reporting, going so far as to prominently feature anti-war protests in Israel on their website while ignoring Lebanese dissent against Hezbollah. [...]

Reuters is infested with faked and staged photos and has admitted to appeasing terrorists. [...]
I'm going to assume as you read this that you are also already well-versed in the ever-expanding fake photo scandal and all its many facets.

There are a lot of people who want us to ignore this -- people in the media, people who use the media, and a host of others who already know which truth the media should sell to its audience and who therefore resist anything that jeopardizes the sale. To them, each act of bias, enhancement, or exaggeration is not really a lie, since it merely accentuates what their world-view already requires to be true anyway.

And what's the harm in accentuating the truth?

Especially if it helps people identify with suffering. They tell us the media isn't inventing Lebanese suffering, only enhancing it a bit -- and if this has the side-effect of helping convince otherwise detached viewers of the favored narrative, so much the better. If Israel's suffering is disproportionately ignored, it is only because it is quantitatively less than Lebanese suffering, so ignoring it is relatively reasonable -- and it doesn't matter to the basic truth of the story which is about the suffering caused by Israel, not the suffering experienced by Israel.

But this does make a difference. Let me illustrate with a story from a family vacation two summers ago.

We were staying up north, right near Nahariya, and needed an activity for the kids to let off some steam for an hour or two. We stopped off and saw a place where the kids could see and touch some animals. It was called a "farm" but was really more of an indoor exhibit designed to teach about the creatures and give kids a chance to interaact with a few of them.

Just when we were ready to leave, two of the keepers put on a macabre demonstration for all the kids present: they used a special stick to hold down a mouse in the middle of the floor, and allowed a snake to capture it, squeeze it into submission, then slowly and laboriously unhinge its jaws and consume the little mouse.

Would you expect this to bother little kids? Would you expect little kids -- who have been raised on cartoons in which the little mouse is invariably the plucky underdog who ends up the hero -- to protest this treatment of little Mickey? Wouldn't you expect kids to identify with a cute, furry little creature and not want to see it eaten by a snake?

I know that's what I expected.

But the kids were fascinated, and more interested in hearing about how the snake was accomplishing its task than in saving what was left of the mouse from the snake's jaws. They wanted to know why the mouse was still being held with a little stick while the snake consumed it -- (so the mouse wouldn't hurt the snake with a stray paw while struggling).

But there was a good reason for their surprising response to what seems like a clearcut case of Nasty Snake Eats Cute Little Mouse. The kids ignored the mouse and wanted to know more about the snake because they were at a snake farm, not a mouse farm. We'd spent the previous hour or so in this snake farm -- I know it was approximately an hour because that was how long it took my wife to gas up the car before finally showing up -- seeing a wide variety of snakes, touching them, learning their names, hearing about what they eat, how long they live, when they sleep and more. In short, the kids were watching the death and consumption of the little mouse from the point-of-view of the snake's narrative, and adapted accordingly.

I have no doubt that, all else being equal -- even without having to resort to a mouse farm -- the kids would have been outraged to see any cute little mammal being squeezed to death and choked down a snake's gullet. I'm sure they would have begged to intervene. But such is the power of the narrative to alter the audience's sympathies, to get them to cheer for the mobster or the murderer, or at least to view his acts dispassionately, with an interest in understanding the character's actions rather than condeming them

Hizballah is perfectly aware of this. So his Hamas. In an all-else-being-equal world, do you really believe so many people would be cheering on those who utilize suicide bombings against enemy civilians, and endanger the lives of their own by firing from behind them? Do you really believe the world would be rushing to condemn a democracy that is fighting off such attacks while seeking an accomodation with its enemies that simply permits it to securely exist? But Hizballah and Hamas and their sympathizers have succeeded in flipping the media narrative that controls what many of us view as the truth.

The world's objective media has been used to present a narrative that reverses the seemingly natural interpretation, and leaves people viewing this conflict as if it were an episode of the Sopranos in which we focus on the narrative of the mobster and his family and peers, innocent and otherwise alike.

Some people challenge whether this bias, and the ongoing fakery that enhances it, is significant. They say that the reality was already bad, and ask why photographers risk getting caught photoshopping their pictures, or strategically placing children's toys on the ground before taking their pictures? I hope we won't give up and stop answering them, so that we don't just sweep the issue of media bias under the carpet, as if it is interesting but inconsequential. It makes a big difference.

Unless you want to live in a world where the mouse is eaten while a curious world merely stands by -- or even cheers the snake -- you won't let them get away with it.


Dave Bender has a fantastic image illustrating this particular narrative concept.

If you really, really liked this -- or even really, really hated it -- there's lots more: