A pattern of journalistic activity whereby the media is deceived into promoting lethal narratives as facts and true stories to the public.
Twitter Hashtag: #DURAJOURNALISM
Lethal narratives have probably been around since the beginnings of warfare. They are designed to accuse the enemy of the most heinous crimes in order to justify the most violent responses. Lethal narratives attribute malevolent intention to the executor of these evil deeds – child killing, civilian massacring, deliberate killing sprees. They are weapons of war designed to demonize an enemy one wants to exterminate (and often an enemy one systematically project).
DuraJournalists, for a variety of reasons, tend to inject lethal narratives into the public sphere as “news,” as what, they, in their considered judgment “actually happened.” Earlier war-mongering journalists may have served their governments if not their people; but more rarely have journalists served the enemies of the very civil society that makes their profession possible. Indeed, that same society, in turn, depends heavily on the accuracy of their reporting in order to make sound judgments. So the failure has serious consequences.
In the Arab-Israeli conflict, this problem takes on a specific importance because so much of the Arab depiction of the Jews, as we see elsewhere in their public culture, partakes of the worst excesses of European anti-semitism, including the Holocaust. A responsible press, committed to “peace journalism” would consider it their job to filter out of the public sphere such belligerent, hate-mongering narratives, especially when they’re false. In the face of accusations of murderous intention, of massacre, of wanton violence, one would expect journalists to demand strong proofs before declaring this “news.” CNN’s Mike Hanna looked at Talal’s footage and passed on the option of telling his lethal narrative.
Given the importance and distortion involved in Palestinian lethal narratives – a candidate for the definition of hate-speech if there ever were one – one might expect journalists from progressive cultures that openly promote peaceful relations between neighbors to have some knowledge of the Palestinian propensity for lethal narratives. Journalists who claim to live on Baker street (investigative) should in principle, be able to identify these lethal narratives and present them to us (their readers and viewers) as the weapons of war that they are. Journalists covering such an asymmetric conflict would presumably have developed an ability to peel the accompanying lethal narrative off the evidence available to them. One might even hope that they could distinguish between those narratives made up out of whole cloth (al Durah), with those which take advantage of real loss of life to make unfounded accusations (Gaza Beach).
DuraJournalism: We use the term DuraJournalists to designate those journalists who take a credulous stance towards lethal narratives, passing them on to us, their readers and listeners, as “news,” or at least, as perfectly believable claims about the news. DuraJournalists instrumentalize the evidence, and when faced with anomalous details, ignore or dismiss them. Rather than look for clues, DuraJournalists clean up the mess. They live on rekaB Street.
Since all wars have their lethal narratives, and all war-makers want to enlist journalists in spreading theirs, examples towards DuraJournalism can be found throughout the history of the press in war. Indeed, democracies founded on peaceful relations, need a press that can accurately identify both false evidence and lethal narratives as part of their professional effort to provide us with the most accurate and relevant information they can.
DuraJournalism did not begin with the al Durah affair, but it derives its name from that incident because, after that icon shocked the world – as “true” – the DuraJournalists seized hegemonic control of the conflict’s depiction. Al Durah provided the till-then missing proof of the constant Palestinian refrain about Israelis heartlessly killing Palestinian children.
After that, for the next twelve years and counting, this school of journalism dominated the scene, either winning converts or silencing dissent. In the process, wittingly or unwittingly, journalists of this school, unimpeded by their colleagues, systematically pumped the information systems of the West with a steady diet of hate literature. Shorn by DuraJournalists of their dishonest, belligerent genesis, these lethal narratives became all the more powerful on the global stage, because outsiders presumed this honestly and accurately informed them on the what was happening. To Palestinians, Muhammad is the “martyr of the world,” because, thanks to France2 and everyone else who followed Enderlin’s lead, “the whole world saw it”.
Al Durah, offers a classic example of the working of a lethal narrative and the malevolent intent it attributes to the Israelis. As a picture of a boy caught in a cross-fire, it has the power to provoke empathy, indeed deep compassion, but not to mobilize hatred. The picture of a boy tragically dead in an unnecessary war has difficulty competing with, much less replacing, an image that symbolizes a million children murdered by the Nazis. Only a picture of a deliberate, cold-blooded child murder could do that. And Enderlin opened the door wide to that narrative with his carefully weighed “the target of fire coming from the Israeli position.” The rest of the pack followed suit immediately: The Israelis on purpose.
Major Characteristics of DuraJournalism:
Epistemological: 1) believe whatever the Palestinians claim until proven wrong; 2) doubt whatever the Israelis say until proven right; and 3) if that becomes the case, move on to the next as-yet-unproven lethal narrative. The pattern is sharply visible over time, from the Lebanon reporting of Israel’s intervention in Lebanese civil war in 1982 and the accusations that IDF poisoned schoolgirls in Jenin in 1983 to the Intifada of 1987-?). But after al Durah, from Jenin in 2002, to the Amud Anan in 2012, lethal journalists took (have taken) over, dominating tone and content of mainstream media Middle East coverage.
David-Goliath framing: the dogmatic frame of DuraJournalism is the Palestinian David vs. the Israeli Goliath. If necessary, DuraJournalists will re-label anomalous details to fit the procrustean morality tale. Thus Tuvia Grossman, nearly beaten to death by rioting Palestinians and saved by an Israeli border policeman becomes a Palestinian beaten by that same border guard. Since, in this framing narrative, the Palestinians are the underdogs and therefore by (questionable) definition, innocent, the story begins with Israel’s retaliation which must, by definition, be disproportionate. Pallywood footage is created to meet the demands of this framing narrative: it provides the B-roll.
Subordinating the evidence to the narrative frame: edit stories and films in ways that exclude inconvenient, anomalous, or unhelpful evidence. Editors compile Pallywood footage for B-roll by cutting out the elements that reveal the staging, and stringing together the believable sight-bytes. Charles Enderlin cut the final 10 seconds of the minimal footage that Talal sent him (59 seconds), in order to eliminate the child’s deliberate movements coming after he, Charles, had declared him dead. Even more disturbingly (were that possible), a NYT senior reporter (or his editor) cuts a genocidal sermon broadcast on PATV out of the article about incitement that specifically needs to mention it. To this day, NYT readers are critically under-informed on the genocidal discourse that daily fills Palestinian media.In such a fashion, DuraJournalists manage to deny real hate speech, even as they are the distribution point for one of the most potent forms of that hate-speech: their lethal narratives, their blood libels.
Pack journalism: Enderlin started a landslide. Even CNN, initially skeptical, came over to the tale. Dozens of major journalists have access to the unedited footage of this spectacular story, and not one chose to present to the public the final scene that Charles cut. And when it came to coverage, pack journalism dominated the ‘00s. Reports that Hamas was refusing to allow aid into Gaza from Egypt during Operation Cast Lead (2008), did not inspire journalists to go to the Egyptian border and get the story. They sat on a hillside in Israel, complaining that the Israelis were keeping them from the action, even as they ran a steady stream of lethal narratives supplied by Palestinian “reporters” using Western equipment, about how supplies were running low and a humanitarian disaster imminent.
Denied Intimidation: One of the major advantages that the “weak” or “insurgency” side of an anti-democratic asymmetric war has over the stronger, democratic enemies in dealing with journalists, is their willingness to use violence. Killings and kidnappings of journalists in such cognitive wars occur, if not repeatedly, often enough to make the message clear. Daniel Pearl’s execution as a Jew but also as a journalist, served notice on a whole generation of journalists. Denial is an essential part of the process of intimidation: it lies at the heart of any system of omerta. Journalists can’t report that they’ve been intimidated without calling into question the reliability of their reporting. And yet the evidence for such intimidation, although periodic (like the aftermath of the Ramallah lynching), is powerful in its implications. The brief outbreaks of violence should alert the attentive observer to the long-term, threat-influenced obedience. Then one can begin to understand the remarkable overlap between the actual coverage of the conflict by mainstream journalists and what one might expect from them were they pervasively intimidated by the Palestinians. (This includes the journalists’ efforts, whenever asked about the subject, to change the subject to Israeli intimidation). The response to Alan Johnston’s kidnapping – “why would they kidnap him, he was their best friend” – speaks eloquently to the point.
Access Journalism: The most fundamental leverage exercised over journalists is access, and in some senses, that’ s a universal phenomenon: the White House plays it; everyone does. But in cases where intimidation is pervasive (Saddam’s Iraq, Arafat’s West Bank, Haniyah’s Gaza), access means having a handler who accompanies and translates and directs you gently (or not) toward what you can and can’t photograph. Access, then, is never “free” and “unsupervised.” And, correspondingly, loss of access is not merely that people won’t speak to you, but that your presence was no longer permitted, and hence, dangerous to the journalist’s personal health. After the previously very pro-Palestinian photographer, Mark Seager, wrote about his experience at Ramallah the day of the savage lynching – “I’ll have nightmares all my life” – he was told by his Palestinian friends that he had better leave.
Advocacy journalism: The pronounced ideological sympathy of many journalists for the “weak side” of many conflicts is widespread, and often, as in Darfur, for example, justified. In other situations where the morality tale is less clear (Syria), difficulties accumulate for any honest reporter. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, the support for the Palestinian “underdog” not only ignores progressive values, but clings to the “Palestinian David-Israeli Goliath” framework with dogmatic insistence. It is perfectly reasonable that some journalists might look at this conflict and sympathize more with the Palestinians. But the pack mentality, the reluctance to publicize negative material about the Palestinians (genocidal preachers), the epistemological priority given to the Palestinian victim narrative, all attest to positions that reflect more than the sober assessment of the evidence. One can even wonder if the advocacy were a way for the journalist to handle the cognitive dissonance of his or her intimidation: “I’m not scared, I’m brave, and I stand up for the little guy.”
Cover up mistakes: In the case of an error, do everything possible to avoid admitting so, thus preserving the journalist’s and the media outlet’s reputation. Every news provider wants to be known as the most trusted name in news. France2, in the case of the Karsenty affair, where they have spent huge sums of money attacking a civilian who has criticized them, rather than answer his challenge, takes this instinct for cover-up to some of the most absurd lengths.