While the war between Israel and Hezbollah raged in Lebanon and Israel last summer, it became clear that media coverage had itself started to play an important role in determining the ultimate outcome of that war. It seemed clear that news coverage would affect the course of the conflict. And it quickly transpired that Hezbollah would become the beneficiary of the media’s manipulation.
A close examination of the media’s role during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon comes now from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, in an analysis of the war published in a paper whose subtitle should give pause to journalists covering international conflict: “The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict.” Bernard Kalb, of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, methodically traces the transformation of the media “from objective observer to fiery advocate.” Kalb painstakingly details how Hezbollah exercised absolute control over how journalists portrayed its side of the conflict, while Israel became “victimized by its own openness.”
The lessons from the Harvard paper go well beyond historic analysis. Kalb’s thoroughly and persuasively documented case points to the challenges to journalists in future “asymmetrical” conflicts in which a radical militia provides access only to journalists agreeing to the strictest of rules.
Journalists did Hezbollah’s work, offering little resistance to the Islamic militia’s effort to portray itself as an idealistic and heroic army of the people, facing an aggressive and ruthless enemy. With Hezbollah’s unchallenged control of journalists’ access within its territory, it managed to almost completely eliminate from the narrative crucial facts, such as the fact that it deliberately fired its weapons from deep within civilian population centers, counting on Israeli forces to have no choice but defend themselves by targeting rocket launchers where they stood. Hezbollah’s strong support from Syria and Iran — including the provision of deadly weapons — faded in the coverage, as the conflict increasingly became portrayed as pitting one powerful army against a band of heroic defenders of a civilian population.
Gradually lost in the coverage was the fact that the war began when Hezbollah infiltrated Israel, kidnapping two of its soldiers (still held to this day) and killing eight Israelis. Despite the undisputed fact that Hezbollah triggered the war, Israel was painted as the aggressor, as images of the war overtook the context."
The media (The AP, Reuters, CNN and so on) really are the enemy.