June 25, 2007

The Nut Job Media Circus

By Michael J. Totten

Rage Boy.jpg
The now-infamous Rage Boy

If there is any more absurd a group of “activists” in the world than Rage Boy and his Islamist pals throwing tantrums over Salman Rushdie’s novels and knighthood, Korans allegedly flushed down the can, and pencil drawings in Danish and other newspapers, I don’t know about them. I have deliberately avoided writing or even posting about such people because they really ought to be starved of media oxygen.

Christopher Hitchens is absolutely correct when he writes the following:
I have actually seen some of these demonstrations, most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn't be if there was a big, surging mob involved.
My Israeli friend Lisa Goldman is a great journalist for lots of reasons, and one of them is because she writes about what it’s really like in the West Bank and Gaza and steps back from the camera, so to speak.
On Friday afternoon in Manar Square, for example, I ran into Ohad Hemo, an acquaintance who covers Palestinian affairs for Israel’s Channel 1 news. By then there was finally some media-worthy action. A few dozen Fatah-aligned fighters had shown up in the square, most traveling on the back of pick up trucks. They wore combat-style uniforms, although some wore street shoes instead of army boots. Their faces were covered in ski masks and they brandished weapons in what the Times called a “a show of force by Fatah.” That sounds very dramatic, of course, but the reality was not very impressive: again, I felt as though I were watching a parody of machismo that seemed a bit silly, if not comic.

lionguy.jpg

Other than stare into the camera and pose, the fighters didn’t do anything at all. It was all pure theatre: I listened and watched as the various foreign television reporters positioned themselves in front of the masked gunmen and spoke seriously to the cameras about the rising tension in Ramallah, trying their best to make it sound as if they were in the middle of a war zone. But if their cameramen had panned out for a wider shot they would have shown crowds of mostly young men hanging around, eating snacks, buying cold drinks from vendors, and taking photos with their mobile phones. There was no sense of fear or menace at all. I even saw one photojournalist, who works for an American newspaper, giggling a bit as she aimed her camera at a masked fighter who was posing as if he were having his portrait painted, his eyes stonily focused on the horizon.

Hardly any reporters ever bother to write paragraphs like these, preferring instead to wallow in the sensational because they need a “story.”

I can think of no better evidence of journalism malpractice than the fact that the popularity, strength, and sheer malevolence of the region’s bad actors are both exaggerated and downplayed by the same media organizations.

There is no shortage of lunatics in the Middle East who blow up civilians with car bombs, kidnap journalists, hurl political opponents off skyscrapers, shoot rockets at foreign cities, and do everything in their power to exterminate racial and religious minorities. These people are very often portrayed as less extreme and dangerous than they really are.

Meanwhile, average Middle Eastern people are indirectly shown to be more extreme than they really are by the gross and apparently deliberate magnification of stunts by the most extreme elements of their societies. Almost every photo I’ve ever seen taken in the West Bank shows a nut job with a hood over his face and a rocket launcher or gun in his hand. But I didn’t see a single person who looked anything like that when I went to the West Bank myself.

There’s a flip side to this story.

I was downtown Beirut when Hezbollah first occupied it with their sit-in and rally last December, and I took the following photos of Martyr’s Square.

Razor Wire Martyrs Square 3.JPG

Razor Wire Martyrs Square 2.jpg

Razor Wire Martyrs Square.JPG

Martyr’s Square is by far the largest open area in the city. It’s where Lebanon’s famous March 14 rally against Syrian occupation took place. Hezbollah claims they filled Martyr’s Square and the rest of downtown with demonstrators. They claim their rally was much larger than the anti-Syrian rally on March 14 the year before.

It’s a lie, as those pictures show. The Lebanese Army barricaded the entire area and forced Hezbollah into much smaller parking lots for their rally and photo ops.

The previous year Lebanon’s Syrian-installed President Emile Lahoud remarked that the March 14 rally against his patrons was tiny. March 14 responded by saying Zoom Out so the world could see how many people actually showed up to protest downtown.

Here’s the zoomed out picture.

March 14 2005 Beirut.jpg

That crowd was genuinely enormous. That’s Martyr’s Square, the area Hezbollah wasn’t allowed to even set foot in. Almost a third of the country’s population showed up that day.

When you zoom out the cameras on Hezbollah, Rage Boy, and the masked men of Fatah, they look pathetic and small by comparison. Zoom out on the liberals of Lebanon and you’ll see an ocean of people.

According to an old saying, cameras don’t lie. But sometimes they do. They conceal as well as reveal.

Reality is largely irrelevant in my profession, I'm sorry to say.

UPDATE: Reader Ned Jacobson points out that the cover for Stephanie Gutmann’s The Other War is another example of what we’re talking about here.

The Other War.jpg

I swear to you I have never done -- and will never do -- what those journalism school graduates shown on that cover did.

UPDATE: Apparently the cover of that book is photoshopped.

(Big sigh)

I don't photoshop my pictures, either, to make any kind of point whatsoever.

UPDATE: The author says the picture is not photoshopped. See the comments where she weighs in.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 25, 2007 07:56 PM
Comments

The best picture exemplifing your current discussion is on the cover of a book called The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy by Stephanie Gutman

Posted by: ned jacobson at June 25, 2007 09:37 PM

I dont often repond to your postings but on this occasion I must. Thank you for confirming what I have always believed...our conflicts are largely contrived in order to get the STORY!

Ayesh Lubnan!

Posted by: shunkleash at June 25, 2007 10:34 PM

Jeepers. That's the best contrast between what I was led to believe and what is real that I've ever seen.

Posted by: Paul MacPhail at June 25, 2007 11:05 PM

Like sheep...

I like the rage boy; he expands his face to fill the screen. he would have covered all of march 14th demo with his grimace.

Posted by: Jeha at June 25, 2007 11:25 PM

Perhaps.

Recently I saw a reportage about Gaza sewage problem. Looks like "ocean of people" there can't even build proper shit containment system.

How can I expect that they will be able to stop armed people with guns? So - zoom or no zoom - I am afraid it just doesn't make a difference.

Posted by: Ilya at June 25, 2007 11:28 PM

You know I'm going to use this in arguments from now on. I'm just saying...

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at June 25, 2007 11:32 PM

Patrick: You know I'm going to use this in arguments from now on. I'm just saying...

All fine and good, but you've seen me work. You know I don't act like those journalism school graduates on the book cover.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 25, 2007 11:44 PM

Somewhere (everywhere?), Goebbels is smiling....

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 26, 2007 12:02 AM

I wouldn't disagree with the article at all.

However, I wonder what those journalists were reporting? Clearly not the kid. It's a two part comp.

Posted by: derek at June 26, 2007 12:15 AM

Back in 1988, whilst spending a year in Israel as a student, I was participating in a demonstration for Peace (ok, I was 18, so I can be forgiven) outside the Israeli Knesset organized by socialist Zionist youth groups. I remember a team of foriegn press photographers showing up in response to our call for media coverage and asking if there was going to be any burning of tires, etc. When we laughed and said "of course not" they just got back in their cars and drove off.

Posted by: jonorose at June 26, 2007 02:16 AM

Heh. This is precisely why I dropped from Journalism school. The profession of such titans as Orwell or Fallaci is now, by and large, on the ethical level of being the guy who rapes virgins before execution in Iranian prisons (to prevent them from going to paradise).

Posted by: The Raccoon at June 26, 2007 02:19 AM

Michal,
You are right when saying that March 14th demonstrators were more than Hezbollah, but it was not 1.5 million versus rage boy, it was more like 1.5 millions version 1 million... don't you agree ?

Trying to portray it as a sea of people versus a bunch of fanatics is just as dishonest. In Lebanon's case, it is a ocean of liberals versus a smaller ocean but an ocean nevertheless of "Hizballah RageBoys" or whatever you want to call them.

Posted by: Anonymous Leb at June 26, 2007 02:29 AM

I wonder if anyone has marketed an Islamic Rage boy bobble-head doll.

Posted by: Gary at June 26, 2007 05:44 AM

Meanwhile, average Middle Eastern people are indirectly shown to be more extreme than they really are

On the other hand, how is middle-eastern media protraying us?

Posted by: ZZZZ at June 26, 2007 05:51 AM

Michael,

Good points on the whole, and a great picture, but why do you think those photographers are "journalism school graduates"? I assume most of them are Europeans, and as far as I know Journalism School is mostly an American idea. And most photographers either don't go to grad school or get masters in fine arts degrees. It sounds like your issue is with the whole idea of corporate journalism, which has always been more about sensationalism than information, whether it's the Daily Mirror, the NYT or Fox News. At the end of the day they want to keep their readers/viewers "entertained."

Posted by: vanya at June 26, 2007 06:25 AM

Thanks to you and Lisa for the analysis!

You say:

Hezbollah claims they filled Martyr’s Square and the rest of downtown with demonstrators. They claim their rally was much larger than the anti-Syrian rally on March 14 the year before.

It’s a lie, as those pictures show. The Lebanese Army barricaded the entire area and forced Hezbollah into much smaller parking lots for their rally and photo ops.

Hezbollah wasn't the only group to claim that. The 'anti-war' crowd claims it all the time, and it's a total lie. I'm glad you posted those pictures, I should do the same for my photos of empty areas surrounding Hezbollah's Dec. 10th rally. The crowd just wasn't big enough to fill them.

Rage Boy does deserve more press, but he needs to be on the cover of the Weekly World News, as in "Rage boy trapped in Refrigerator, Eats own foot" He's the perfect summer replacement for the Bat Boy

Posted by: mary at June 26, 2007 06:58 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 06/25/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at June 26, 2007 07:29 AM

Ignore the previous comment, Link Corrected

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 06/26/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at June 26, 2007 07:57 AM

To answer ZZZZ question, "How is the middle eastern media portraying us?" one only needs to go to the MERMI website for a sobering view of the situation

Posted by: ned jacobson at June 26, 2007 08:26 AM

The crowd will always reject Jesus for the zealot. It is the way of the world. Interestingly enough, Christian doctrine predicts the cycle of violence broken by a militant Jesus coming in "clouds of glory" as the "Lord of hosts" who defeats the worldly power, sits in judgement of human imperfection (i.e. sin), and establishes a millenium of peace where "swords become plowshares". And then there is that whole antichrist thing.....personally, I look for a Gaius Julius Caesar type weilding computer targeted directed energy weapons (the USA has them now in rough form)but only after events that leave 9/11 pale by comparison. God or antichrist? Rage Boy's survival is the litmus test.

Posted by: John S at June 26, 2007 09:03 AM

The cover for "The Other War" isn't photoshopped?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 26, 2007 09:57 AM

Hah! That's hysterical. Double-Plus-Ungood is absoluely right. It is photoshopped. Some of the journalists aren't even pointing their cameras at the stonethrower. The point is still valid but, well, that's a little embarassing.

Posted by: MarkC at June 26, 2007 10:24 AM

Anonymous Leb: You are right when saying that March 14th demonstrators were more than Hezbollah, but it was not 1.5 million versus rage boy, it was more like 1.5 millions version 1 million... don't you agree ?

Yes, I didn't mean to imply Hezbollah had a rally of a dozen people. I was there and wrote about it at the time, with photos of the large (but smaller than March 14) crowd.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 26, 2007 10:53 AM

Huh, photoshopped, okay. I'll add an update.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 26, 2007 10:56 AM

Sadly true, Michael.

Think of how the history of the ME would be different if the media did not stage it for us.

CBS 60 Minutes a couple of years ago had on a fake Islamabad protest, and so many viewers complained (like me) that the following week Amanpour did a story on...fake Islamabad protests. Pan over and see the crowd of a dozen protesting for the lens, and see the sidewalks lined with good people hooting and laughing at the protesters and saying "we love America."

The so-called Arab street is entirely a fictional invention of our media.

They know exactly what they are doing. They are simply on the other side.

Posted by: Patricia at June 26, 2007 11:09 AM

during the Olympics 1936 Berlin also looked as if nothing dramatically bad would happen ....
even though I think one Suicide Bomber is already drama enough
a little more than two years after the Olympics, in November 1938 the synagogues burned and the road to the gigantic murdering spree was finally out in the open
Could it have been prevented by a bit of overblown reporting from the nuttier fringes? Would that have exposed the charade of the reigning characters?

Posted by: barbarashm at June 26, 2007 11:29 AM

You have shown why I find the most reliable sources of information (and most of the time the best pictures) from independent journalists. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: mantis at June 26, 2007 11:36 AM

Are you sure it's photoshopped? I wouldn't be so hasty.

Posted by: See-Dubya at June 26, 2007 11:46 AM

I, too thought it may be photoshopped. Which adds oodles of delicious layers to the whole debate. Is the author showing in one fell swoop how reality can be shaped by the media, both by the content of the picture and that it was manufactured to show that reality (a hat tip to the famous puffs of smoke in lebanon). Hoisting them by their own petard as it were. OR doees it lessen her argument as she is using the same 'fake but accurate' standard to make her point.
I think I like it better if it is a photoshop. Layers (why do I suddenly want a parfait)

Posted by: Ross at June 26, 2007 12:03 PM

Journalism is all about skillful lying. In that sense, J School and Law School are very similar.

Posted by: double-double-goody-goody at June 26, 2007 12:15 PM

I don't photoshop my pictures, either, to make any kind of point whatsoever.

To be fair, that is a book cover, not photojournalism.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 26, 2007 12:19 PM

What do you expect from Gutmann? She's a Columbia School of Journalism grad ;-).

Posted by: vanya at June 26, 2007 12:22 PM

Is Rage-Boy's haircut (short and western on top, with an unkempt mullah beard) the middle eastern equivalent of the mullet?

Posted by: dan at June 26, 2007 12:26 PM

From the book's Amazon page:

From the Author
Since this book came many people have asked--or assumed--that the cover photo was doctored or, as they say these days, "photoshopped." I have every reason to believe that it was not: The photo, which I first saw in 2000, was reprinted from a Israeli Defense Force in-house publication titled "BaMachane"--Hebrew for "in the [Army] base." It was snapped by Oded Balilty who was then an IDF soldier. As taking photos was part of his job, I assume he was not paid anything extra for the photo and therefore would have had little motivation to "sex it up" to sell it. Balilty, who now works for the Associated Press, is a very reputable. In fact his work was recently included in a Time magazine feature honoring the "best photos of 2005." Also, a very reliable, veteran journalist recently saw my book cover and spontaneously (i.e. without questions from me) commented that he "remembered that day" and remembered the scene as it appears. Lastly there is no reason to "create" a scene like this; swarming photographers grabbing for the same shot are all over the West Bank or anywhere else where "news" is made. I picked the shot for my cover because it illustrates one of the points of my book. By shooting a common scene (a Palestinian rock-thrower) from a different angle, Balilty illustrates how important it is for news consumers to try to see around the "angles" forced on them by a herd-like press corps.

Posted by: DaveS at June 26, 2007 12:37 PM

Crap... I forgot to properly close my bold tag after "From the Author". Sorry. I wasn't trying to be emphatic.

Posted by: DaveS at June 26, 2007 12:39 PM

If it's not photoshopped then it's an impressive picture, and surprising that some of those other photographers would not take the same shot.

But why was an IDF soldier taking pictures from behind the stone thrower? Wouldn't the IDF be on the receiving end of that?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 26, 2007 12:46 PM

Me: But why was an IDF soldier taking pictures from behind the stone thrower?

Ah. On reading up on the photographer, it appears that his role in the IDF was photojournalist, so he was probably part of the herd.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 26, 2007 01:09 PM

"If it's not photoshopped then it's an impressive picture, and surprising that some of those other photographers would not take the same shot."

Not surprising at all....

Posted by: Mark E at June 26, 2007 01:38 PM

To repeat: I got the shot from an editor at BaMahane (an inhouse magazine of the IDF). Not the kind of publication interested in playing up the "boys with stones versus monsters in tanks" angle and probably more interested in making an ironic comment about the hordes of journalists the poor IDF guys had to work around everyday during the second intifada. The shot was taken by an on-duty IDF soldier (it was his job, or one of them, to record stuff) who had no financial motivation to "sex up" his shot so he could sell it. The guy was on salary. Not a freelancer paid per shot. In fact, he didn't, poor guy, get anything for our right to use the shot on my cover 'cause the photo was owned by the IDF. (As SOME consolation, however, he, Oded Balility, did win a 2007 Pulitzer for best breaking news photograph.)

I know the shot looks funny on my cover -- there's a kind of ghost thing happening around Stone Thrower Kid which can suggest a cut and paste. I think that has something to do with the reproduction. The shot did not look at all suspicious in the original digital file. (You can also see the photo in a 2001 Weekly Standard, illustrating an article, by me, titled "Lights, Camera, Intifada.")

Why are some photogs focusing in an other direction? I assume they didn't have a great angle on Stone Thrower Kid (like maybe all they were getting was his back), so they were using their telephotos to go for something in the background -- other guys with stones, a tank, or anything else that looked cool and combat zone-ish.

Besides the lack of financial motivation what would be the news-value motivation of going to the trouble of photoshopping a shot of a Palestinian rock thrower getting the Cannes star treatment? As a number of people have pointed out, journalists move around in a herd, and they tend to pounce what they perceive as a good shot like cats who've missed a meal. In any given day during the second intifada you could have taken a shot of herding journalists many times 'cause journalists often outnumbered real participants.

As far as Columbia Journalism school. Hey, I was trying to INTEGRATE CJS. They need more "other voices" and, I tried, whenever possible to contribute one.

Posted by: stephanie at June 26, 2007 01:43 PM

Maybe the photogs stick together ("herds") for protection.

Posted by: Erix at June 26, 2007 02:12 PM

well, actually i didn't mean that they move around herds but they certainly coalesce into blobs resembling herds because there's so much group think about what constitutes a news event.

Posted by: stephanie at June 26, 2007 03:21 PM

Hi Stephanie! I bought and read your book! I enjoyed it. Keep up the good work.

Zak

Posted by: Zak at June 26, 2007 05:24 PM

I own this book. I suspect the issue with the front cover is a video-compression artifact, not a photoshop job - I don't know how you can get that "ghosting" in a photoshop job. Some of the tiled pavement is also oddly blurred. I can't see why blurring this area would be needed in a photoshop job. Video-compression routines, however, sometimes have problems handling textured patterns like this.

Posted by: Solomon2 at June 26, 2007 06:11 PM

The whole scene reminds me of why a wonk like me occasionally prefers to attend congressional hearings in person rather than be satisfied by C-SPAN: because only by attending in person can I witness reporters in action and classify their biases. I urge everyone to try it sometime. I'll bet that the first time you see some famous anchor with her mouth screwed up in hatred it will come as quite a shock. You may never view the news media as unemotionally impartial in making its judgments ever again.

Posted by: Solomon2 at June 26, 2007 06:17 PM

On the other hand, how is middle-eastern media protraying us?

Poorly.

What I don't understand is why we're not holding middle-eastern governments accountable for what their state-controlled medias say about us.

Posted by: rosignol at June 26, 2007 06:21 PM

Yeah, can we trust what we see with our own eyes anymore? This article was published in 2002, but it is still a worthwhile read today:

Lying With Pixels

Posted by: Renée C. at June 26, 2007 07:12 PM

Oh, and btw, don't despair over the quality of MSM these days. Around July 2nd you'll have a new choice for 'fair and balanced' news coverage. [/sarc]

Iran to Launch English Speaking Satellite TV

Posted by: Renée C. at June 26, 2007 07:17 PM

The BBC employs its very own HAMAS member:

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1182409649992&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Very fair. Very unbiased. Right.

Posted by: Zvi at June 26, 2007 07:42 PM

Forgive me for lowering the discussion...I can't help thinking that Rage Boy is missing something.

Like a fishhook.

Make a great picture, too. In fact, I think maybe it was photoshopped out.

Posted by: nichevo at June 26, 2007 10:10 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sqa54AKV9o&mode=related&search=

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4M8lOXImwmI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFdQAmcWr-Y

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bw9D0WSqRqM
(notice the same mosque MJT took a photo of and claimed no-one set foot in that area - its in most of the clips im posting)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSqJED578OU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GenpZQiyCg0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rah7eq11IZA

Whenever you see two screens, if you can borrow someone who reads arabic, you will find that the screen on the left is showing the protest in Riyad Solh square, and the protest shown on the the right screen is in Martyr Square - March 14 only filled up Martyr square, and army estimates were at 700,000, not a million. The opposition estimates were at 1.5 million. One more point is the March 14 2007 - the protest was so minor it went unnoticed - if it were another "1 million protest" MJT would have been all happy and horny and probably posted it 10 times on the blog.

MJT, the very fact you are denying the 1.5 million people who attended the protest any meaningful respect or even existance is very sickening. Politics shouldn't interfere in facts and democracy. You support March 14, do so - but without tampering with the facts. The photos you took were weeks after the protests - and until this day there are hundreds of camps in downtown beirut. If there was no-one, why would the downtown shops still be closed etc?

BTW, all these clips are from the THIRD day of the protest, not the first, or the tenth (which was even larger than all the previous dates).

Posted by: rico at June 27, 2007 02:34 AM

Michael---Loved the pictures from Martyr's Sq, I was just down there yesterday and its now a mini-tent city walled and barbed wired off from the rest of downtown.

Posted by: Phillip at June 27, 2007 03:50 AM

Geeez, there are so many distortions -- small and large. A small but important one is the fact that so often in films or tv shows you can hear Arabic speakers say the word "Yahud" for "Jew" and in the subtitles it is translated as "Israeli."

You can see this in the very subtly propagandistic HBO film "Death in Gaza." I don't know if the filmmaker herself was in on this or if she was just a victim of her translator, but obviously it makes a subtle difference. If the Hamas kiddies or whoever are talking about "Israelis" its a political issue, right? Kinda dignified like -- all about borders and UN resolutions and stuff. But if it's Jews they're talking trash about...well, that would be the big liberal bugaboo RASCIST, and we can't hear our pure opressed victim culture heros talking like that....

Speaking of "Death in Gaza" and the issue of "framing" shots, here is a very minor incident of it involving the "Death in Gaza" cameraman James Miller (who was later killed by IDF fire thus becoming the "death in Gaza", the film ends up being about.):

One day in 2002 my fixer and I were parked in a line of cars waiting to proceed on the road to the town of Nablus. It had been a long wait (I think that was the day the IDF checkpoint guards had found a bomb in a Jerusalem-bound produce truck and had taken it away to do a controlled explosion. There are generally not enough people to handle bomb disposal and normal traffic processing, so traffic tends to come to a stop.)

Anyhow, to pass the time I wandered up to the front of the line and was not terribly surprised to see that the MSM had already descended on this juicy bit of action and were already scurrying around doing their mikes and notebooks thing. I was a bit surprised to see, however, that, standing near a couple of Arab women in traditional costume and an Red Crescent Medi Van, was none other than a veritable celebrity journalist (she's so famous her name escapes me at this moment), a face I knew from TV, the gal who did that documentary about women in Afghanistan.

I made a beeline for her and said something to the effect of "Hey, it's you! How the heck are ya and what brings you to this neck of the woods?! (In my floppy green sun hat, flowered yellow skirt, purple tee, slung with point and shoot camera, I do not think she recognized me for the ahem serious, Columbia-trained journalist that I in fact was....) In a distracted way she explained that she had various grants to do documentaries about human rights and she'd last been in Afghanistan. Her next stop had been "here", she said with an expansive gesture to do "this." I was chewing on the fact she thought it was a natural progression from the condition of Taliban-era women in Afghanistan to "this" (a gesture that seemed to take in Israel as well as the territories), when I heard a irritated shot of "hey!" or "you!" or something emphatic and looked up to see James Miller gesturing at me frantically to move. I stepped a few away from the Red Crescent van and the traditonally dressed Arab women. That apparently wasn't far enough, so, in this imperious way he had, he impatiently waved at me again. He wanted me out of the shot. I guess the gist is, if he was going to photograph a stalled checkpoint or a narrative about Arab Women Wilting In The Hot Sun whilst Arrogant IDF Soldiers Took Their Time about letting them pass, he wasn't going to sully the shot with a loudly dressed American tourist who was wilting in the sun at the same time.

This is a very small and some would say benign example of framing but I still found it irritating (and not just because Miller didn't bother to say "Would you mind moving?" or "could you please move".) I thought documentaries are supposed to DOCUMENT, to be about warts-and-all reality and the unpicteresque reality is that there are often Americans or other types of Westerners in these lines and there are usually reporters crawling over everything as well. That is, in turn, a reflection of a really important reality: namely that Palestinians are in no way abandoned or left to fend for themselves. The place is crawling with aid workers, Frenchmen and Swedes acting as "observers", UN types with clipboards, pudgy, sandal-wearing Middlewestern Presbyterians from the Christian Peacemaker Teams, International Solidarity Movement wackos, freelance photo journalists out to get their Pulitzer shot, romantic Arabist ladies who want to write poetry about the beautiful, anguished men of Al Aqsa Marytrs Brigade and so on and so forth.....The area, as most aid workers will tell you (particularly those really pissed-off guys who work in Africa) gets far more attention and money than it needs or even deserves.

Posted by: stephanie at June 27, 2007 08:06 AM

March 14 only filled up Martyr square, and army estimates were at 700,000, not a million. The opposition estimates were at 1.5 million. One more point is the March 14 2007 - the protest was so minor it went unnoticed ..BTW, all these clips are from the THIRD day of the protest, not the first, or the tenth (which was even larger than all the previous dates).

Do you think these bizarre claims add to your crdibility? How many people would you guess were at the Dec. 10th, 2006 rally?

One Western Hezbollah supporter guessed that it was 2.5 million. Would you agree?

Or was it 4 million? Eleventy million?

I was at the Dec. 10th rally and I've posted the photos here. You can see that the Dec. 10 rally was smaller. The spaces surrounding the rally were empty. Much of the (smaller) area was surrounded by razor wire as Michael said, and the barriers kept the smaller crowd confined to a smaller space.

Posted by: mary at June 27, 2007 08:46 AM

to see other glaring examples of photo bias, please log on to honestreporting.com and click on the research and results. scroll down to photo bias and enjoy

Posted by: ned jacobson at June 27, 2007 09:52 AM

rico: The photos you took were weeks after the protests

Fuck you. I will not be accused of lying on my own Web site by a terrorist propagandist.

You are banned. All future posts will be deleted.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 27, 2007 11:08 AM

Great story. This story needs to be told more often. See also www.seconddraft.org.

Posted by: Outsider at June 27, 2007 02:53 PM

Thank you for your comments, Stephanie. I haven't read your book, but the point of the cover seems to be that much of the "news" is manufactured in the region--and that would be in agreement with Michael's point.

Or am I missing something?

Anyway, great cover.

Posted by: Patricia at June 27, 2007 04:53 PM

Patricia: Yes, we are all saying the same thing using different anecdotes. And you are absolutely correct when you said "Think of how the history of the ME would be different if the media did not stage it for us."

I don't think the second intifada would have happened if Clinton hadn't already been in the neighborhood being tailed by the world's press contingent. He put Arafat under a media spotlight; Arafat couldn't deliver and was, for the first time in a long time, in the dog house as far as world opinion, so, with the help of the press already in the area, he launched a media assisted war against Israel. He used the news coverage of the second intifada to fuel and accelerate the conflict. Think of the effect of Al-Dura, which might of course have been completely staged. Much of the "news" out of the territories is STIMULATED by the presence of cameras. There are now countless anecdotes of riots (like the one on September 30th, 2000, a.ka. Al Dura day) that didn't start until the press was fully in place.

So why this collusion? Why aren't the press hoards in Kashmir or Chechnyna or the Sudan? The worst most cynical part of this is that IT IS EASIEST to get the kind of sexy war story they want (an up/down, good/bad, weak/strong narrative and nice, eye-catching blood filled pix) while placing your people in Israel. The foreign press's bureaus are located on pleasant, tree-lined streets in modern, progressive cities of Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv. And the Israeli government is there to assist the press: with briefings, regular daily email bulletins, translations, parties, seminars. They even intervene when reporter's equipment gets hung up in customs; they help to find apartments, nannies....They even (I do not lie) provide the foreign press with Christmas trees during the Christmas season...(I can supply the email from the government press office to prove this!)

Posted by: stephanie at June 27, 2007 08:01 PM

Zak, thank you!

Solomon 2, thank you for your comments about "video compression". I have no idea what that is but it sounds like it could be the problem. That poor little photo file (which could have started it's life on...could it be?...film for all I know) has been stretched and bent and transfered from one format to another and put on disks and passed through customs inspections...so no wonder it's a little bent out of shape. And maybe it was never meant to be reproduced at the size it's at for the book cover. It was taken in 2000 after all; who knows how many megapixels they had to work with back then!

Posted by: stephanie at June 27, 2007 08:07 PM

Solomon 2, thank you for your comments about "video compression". I have no idea what that is but it sounds like it could be the problem.

Video compression is a kind of data compression. The basic idea is to reduce the amount of redundant information in a given file so that the storage media can be used more efficiently.

Back when flash storage was measured in megabytes, this was important, now, not so much... but most cameras still use it because the image formats used then are ubiquitous and easy to work with (.jpg, usually), even if the compression sometimes does undesirable things to the image.

Posted by: rosignol at June 27, 2007 08:30 PM

I read Gutmann's book and was impressed with it. It didn't even occur to me that the cover photo could be doctored, and not only because I'm not technically skilled enough to spot such things.

Just use logic...

1. Given the subject matter of her book and its emphasis on journalistic integrity, it's unlikely that she'd choose a cover photo embodying the same kind of distortion she spends hundreds of pages denouncing.

2. If she were tempted to fudge a photo or use a photo of dubious quality (something I very much doubt), she certainly wouldn't do it in such a conspicuous place as the front cover. If there had been some small photos buried inside, well...I don't know. Still, highly unlikely, I'd say. But on the front cover?!

3. Given that Gutmann's book is highly critical of many of her colleagues, there would've been open season against her if her colleagues could've made a case about the cover photo. What a wonderful irony--for them--if they could've shown her to be dishonest in her own presentation.

4. It would have been incredibly stupid to fake a photo that has dozens of people in it who could testify that the scene was faked? It would have been doubly stupid in this case, as these dozens of people were journalists, people who belonged to the very group Gutmann severely criticizes. People who'd know how to publicize their own version of events. I'd be embarrassed as hell if my face were discernible in that photo. If that photo had been faked, I'd make sure the world knew it.

So....Photoshopping a cover for a book critical of journalistic distortion? Faking a photo that included dozens of journalists who could've denounced the photo as a fake? And who would've had every incentive to do so?

No. Sorry, I'm not buying it. How could anyone even accept the possibility of such a thing? I think that this photoshopping rumor is based on wishful thinking. Someone sees a cloudy spot around the boy and jumps to a desired conclusion.

To me this shows that Gutmann's book hit a nerve. We're seeing some denial here.

Posted by: Joanne at June 28, 2007 12:47 AM

I'll give you another reason for your logic argument. I had always assumed people who said the photo was 'shopped had assumed my publishing company (Encounter) inadvertently bought a 'shopped photo. It never occurred to me that people might think I 'shopped the photo myself.

But here's why that couldn't happen. 1. The average writer can't even figure out how to do that "layering" business with his or her home Photoshop software if he or she even owns a remotely current version of the software. 2. Since the average writer couldn't do the evil deed herself she'd have to pay one of these artistes about $100 an hour to do it and the average writer has no money. Any expenses for the book (the one's she doesn't want to consult with her publisher about) are going to come directly out of her paltry advance and she's probably happy to keep on top of her New York City electric bills with her paltry advance.

Posted by: stephanie at June 28, 2007 06:59 AM

People seem to forget that Photoshopping is an actual craft. With some study I suppose most intelligent people can do a sloppy, obvious manuever like putting, say, President Clinton's head on Godzilla's body for a laff, but it takes real, years-of-practice skill to, say, retouch someone's portrait so it doesn't scream "Airbrushing!" (and,yes, I know airbrushing is an archaic term but people still use it to describe photos that look faked. There's a reason computer graphics technicians get paid lots of money.

Posted by: stephanie at June 28, 2007 07:17 AM

stephanie: im curious as to your fellow photojournalists response to this book...did you get the "you'll never eat lunch in this town" again response or anything more introspective. you may email me if you like

Posted by: ned jacobson at June 28, 2007 07:39 AM

Good point, Stephanie. I didn't know enough to even think of that.

Yes, Ned, that's a good question. What was the response among journalists to Stephanie's book? I'm sure there are journalists in Israel/Palestine whom she admires. But let's face it, she gave a definite picture of the press corps there as a whole, and it wasn't pretty. I think she was very brave to write that book.

On another subject, I'm commenting again here because just today the front page of the New York Times (below the fold) has another photo of masked Palestinian fighters in a nice pose, this time Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Here again you see a photo that's been neatly cropped.

Here is the link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/28/world/middleeast/28mideast.html?_r=1&oref=login

In case you cannot access it. Here is my description:

You see three masked Islamic Jihad fighters standing against a wall that's perpendicular to the viewer of the photo. [In the website version, the one in the back is mostly cut out]. These fighters are looking straight ahead, i.e. to our left. They're looking at...nothing.

That's where the photo is cropped, right in front of them. Just behind them, around a corner to our right, a little Palestinian boy is just standing there and facing the viewer. Shades of Al-Dura? I wonder what the scene would have amounted to if the camera had panned out. Perhaps just a few soldiers, uh, posing against a wall with a boy posed next to them for effect.

The caption of the photo says "Members of the Islamic Jihad Movement prepared to fight Israelis in Gaza. At least 13 Palestinians were killed yesterday."

The scene in the photo may have had nothing to do with the Israeli raid. It may have been taken before or after or just somewhere else, as these men "prepared" for combat. My guess is that the editors had no other image to go with the article, so they worked this one in with a caption carefully worded to imply a link between the photo and the raid.

The article itself is strange. Ian Fisher and Taghreed El-Khodary share the byline. What's weird is the painstakingly careful language. Start with the headline. It's "Israelis Kill 11 Militants Inside Gaza; 2 Civilians Die." So, guess what? Those masked guys aren't terrorists or soldiers or even fighters. They're militants. My God! You'd think they spent their time organizing sit-ins, distributing leaflets and marching in demonstrations.

In the body of the article, they talk about the two civilians, one of them a 10-year-old boy. The boy died from shrapnel. Whose? The article doesn't say. But the text is neatly crafted to imply that Israel was the guilty party. The article doesn't say outright that the Israelis killed the two civilians (the other was an adult male), but that's what you come away thinking. No chance that they died in a crossfire, mind you. Especially not from Palestinians bullets.

At one point, the article says: "The new raids underscored that Israel intended to maintain military pressure on Gaza." The only hint as to WHY the Israelis might want to pressure Gaza is located way down in the article, where there's a reference to "four homemade rockets fired from Gaza into Israel on Wednesday. They hit an industrial area in the southern town of Sderot but did not wound anyone."

That's it. Just four quaint homemade rockets that hurt no one. Isn't Israel horrible?

No mention of the ongoing attacks going on since Hamas' election, never mind the takeover a few weeks ago. No mention of a woman killed and others wounded, including children in a direct hit at a school.

Oh, and throughout the article, the Jihad and Hamas terrorists continue to be referred to as "militants."

The article gives you only the Palestinian perspective, devoting a lot of attention to how the raids have affected the Hamas-Fatah rivalry. You never hear about the Israeli motivations at all, except for a dry statement from an Israeli army spokesman who said Israel's aim was to destroy the terrorist infrastructure and locate weapons and fighters. In the article, the words "terrorist infrastructure" are put in quotes, as if the New York Times wanted to disassociate itself from that spokesman’s characterization.

An article like this is particularly insidious because most people will read right over the biased presentation. They’ll read right over the omissions, unsupported “facts,” the tenuous linkages and the loaded language.

Sigh...

Posted by: Joanne at June 28, 2007 06:31 PM

I'd love to see a Rage Boy action figure for sale.

Posted by: John W. at June 29, 2007 11:29 AM

Why don't we all take a read of Plato's Parable of the Cave in The Republic, Book 7, and zoom in on the shadow play that the manipulated denizens confused with reality?

(This has been around for oh 2,400 years or so . . . in one of the best known books in history.)

GEM of TKI

Posted by: Kairosfocus at June 30, 2007 05:35 AM

Panning out would ruin so many news photos. As MJT points out in the beginning of this long thread, the Rage Boy shot is taken as a close-up. That's because you can imbue any piddly-ass demonstration with great cosmic significance if you wade into the center of a knot of people and crouch down to make them appear larger. Suddenly you (the photographer) are in an epicenter of rage, while we, poor news consumers, are lost in the photo as well; we have no way of evaluating the breadth of the rage. Is it an important demonstration, the beginning of a world awakening, or a small bunch of exhibitionists such as one can find in any major city on virtually any day of the week?

This, the fudging of size, was the central distortion in the coverage of the so-called Jenin "massacre" in 2002 -- when the IDF moved into the Jenin refugee camp to battle the jihadists who had been using it as a base from which to stage a really terrible (a suicide bombing inside Israel nearly everyday in March 2002) campaign of terrorism.

All photos by the foreign press enclosed us in destruction -- rubble, collapsed buildings, twisted pipes, broken baby strollers. The accompanying copy told of a Jenin that had been "destroyed." The combination of copy and image suggested a scorched earth campaign by the Israeli military which naturally would have included the killing of any humans in the path of their tanks and armored Caterpillar tractors -- thus the use of the word "massacre" in press and human rights organization statements.

No one was able to cut through this noise to point out that the IDF assault had been on one small section of the city of Jenin -- the refugee camp. (Also that civilians had been given time to evacuate, that the insurgents left inside had been given much time to prepare for the IDF, that they had done so by mining and trip-bombing most of the camp area, and that much of the destruction was caused by Palestinian bombs.)

Much too late in the process (as was the history of the Israeli PR operation) Israel's government press office was able to get an arial photo taken from a helicopter of the town of Jenin into circulation. It showed a town of Jenin lying below relatively untouched while a small portion, the refugee camp area, or about one fifth of the town, was indeed fairly pulverized.

If photographers really wanted to give us useful information about demonstrations they would go up, on a rooftop, to a fourth story windown, up a lamp post even to show us the size of the crowd. But both photographer and writer have an interest in making what ever they've been sent to cover as important as possible. Freelance photographers live by selling dramatic shots; writers live by getting into print (even staff writers on major newspapers must continually demonstrate their usefulness by "getting into the paper" as often as possible.) Newspaper editors and publishers get committed to story lines ("to following a story") sometimes even before a story's begun, and those stories are thus committed to following a certain dramatic arc. A newspaper editor who has sent his reporter out on a story does not want to hear "not much happened today; I think this thing may be dying down" when she comes back. As an editor I know once put it, "Why are we covering this then?" It was not a real question but more of a warning: On the order of, "We are covering it so you better find some news."

Posted by: stephanie at June 30, 2007 07:35 AM

I don't have any first hand experience with the middle east, but I do know Photoshop, I use it almost every working hour of my day. To say the motion blur ghosting on the cover is a result of Photoshop is utterly stupid. It's a digital motion blur artifact of the photo, a result of the fact that the kid throwing the stone was moving slightly faster than the shutter speed.

Photoshop is not a 'craft', it's easy to use, probably the most simple of the software packages I use, and absolutely nobody even moderately competent would leave an obvious imperfection like that in a faked picture when it’s so childishly easy to remove.

Of course the flipside of this is some morons don’t even have that basic skill, the cloned additional smoke in the sky on that infamous Lebanese war photo, for example, but I chalk that up to Arabs bringing the same amount of technical skill to computer forgery they do to waging war and building modern economies. If an Israeli faked that photo on photoshop, hell, if a 12-year-old child faked that photo on photoshop, you would not see such obvious ghosting. It’s motion blur, we’ve all seen it in a million photographs, it occurs around fast-moving objects like, in this case, his leg and arm.

Seriously, this infuriates me. I’m not saying the photo couldn’t be faked, I’m saying the things people are pointing out as evidence are the most simple and common of photographic phenomena. Some people are acting like they never saw motion blur for Christ sake.

Final disclaimer: the photo in question is VERY low res. It’s hard to be sure of anything without seeing the a high res original.

Posted by: Amos at July 1, 2007 05:43 PM

Thank you for your comments about the photo, but if Photoshop is not a craft why do I find it so impossible to do the things I want to do with it? I think you may be underestimating your skill or talent for it.

Posted by: stephanie at July 11, 2007 08:26 PM
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