August 07, 2007

Compare and contrast

By Noah Pollak

Yesterday I noted in the Corner a story written by Nicholas Blanford, a Christian Science Monitor reporter, that recounts his misadventure trying to report on Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Blanford, not to put too fine a point on it, is more or less a Hezbollah apologist, and has been for a long time. And an ugly one at that: In his piece he blames Hezbollah's police-state treatment of journalists on, of course, Israel -- or more precisely, on the fact that Israel is probably trying to spy on Hezbollah, and Hezbollah fears Israel might use journalists to do so.

Contrast Blanford with another journalist, Charles Levinson, who is also an experienced Middle East reporter. Levinson has a must-read account of his recent attempts to report from Lebanon, and instead of writing a piece of conciliatory garbage, he calls Hezbollah's behavior what it is: fascistic thuggery. Kudos to Levinson. His post took guts to write. And his blog, Conflict Blotter, is excellent.

Posted by Noah Pollak at August 7, 2007 07:10 AM
Comments

I don't really see him blaming anyone. He's just reporting this trip and the experiences.

Posted by: tsedek at August 7, 2007 09:13 AM

Are you serious? Have you read Blanford's work? First of all, he's stand-up guy and a hard-working reporter. Second of all, if he's to be accused of being an apologist for anyone, it's Hariri and the March 14 coalition.

He makes one true comment about how Hezbollah's reaction to the shenanigans of two Israeli "journalists" has made it even harder for foreign journalists to work in Lebanon, and that translates into blaming Israel for you.

Have you even read his book on Hariri or his coverage of Lebanon? From your post, I sincerely doubt it.

Posted by: hp at August 7, 2007 09:54 AM

hp,
I have not read his book, but I have read his coverage of Lebanon -- a great deal of it, actually. Some of it is good; a lot of it is tendentious garbage. And that's not just my opinion -- I know a number of Lebanese who feel the same way.

And why do you call reporting from Lebanon "shenanigans"? And why do you put "journalists" in sneer-quotes? Do you think the two are not actually journalists?

Posted by: Noah Pollak at August 7, 2007 10:31 AM

Reporting pap stories under false pretenses that offer absolutely nothing new or of substance while simultaneously putting Lebanese people in trouble seems to fit my conception of shenanigans pretty well. But I'll go with stunt if you prefer. The quotes for journalist are because I'd prefer not call someone a journalist who doesn't seem to have any journalistic ethics or know anything about the place she's ostensibly reporting on.

The fact that you can find "a number of Lebanese" who don't like Blanford's coverage is neither here nor there. Pick any political topic, and I'll show you "a number of Lebanese" on both side of the issue.

In any case, read his book, and I think you'll see why accusing him of being a Hezbollah apologist is pretty laughable.

Posted by: hp at August 7, 2007 01:15 PM

First of all, one need not read someone's book to call him a Hezbollah apologist, if a great deal of his journalism is guilty of that offense. The book is irrelevant, even though I have every confidence it's a seminal work on the modern Middle East. I'll get to it once I'm done reading all the good books on my pile.

You write: I'd prefer not call someone a journalist who doesn't seem to have any journalistic ethics

Pray tell, what journalistic ethics are you talking about? Is your conception of journalistic ethics one in which people who hold Israeli citizenship should be forbidden from entering Lebanon? Or in your view do journalistic ethics require not doing anything that perturbs Hezbollah?

Posted by: Noah Pollak at August 7, 2007 01:53 PM

Noah,

if you're going to criticise someone it's best to do it on the basis of facts rather than resort to tendentious hyperbole.

There is one major error in his writing on Qana - the figure of 60 dead. But then, just about every journalist at the time was throwing around dramatically erroneous figures. This isn't to excuse sloppy, lazy journalism.

But is he really a 'useful idiot'? A 'hezbollah apologist'?

Probably no more than you could be described as Israel's useful idiot or or a Zionist apologist.

Although I must admit I find your tone 'presposterously melodramatic'.

Posted by: Derek at August 8, 2007 12:35 AM

Derek, I strongly suggest you read more of his work. I stand by my assessment.

There is one major error in his writing on Qana - the figure of 60 dead. But then, just about every journalist at the time was throwing around dramatically erroneous figures.

The entire piece on Qana was disgraceful -- a totally overwraught and cheap attempt to make incendiary a situation that was obviously unclear. Claiming, as he did, that "at least 60" were killed in the "Israeli onslaught" is not an error. An error is a mistake, something done inadvertenly. It happened because he believed, without question and without corroboration, what certain people who are known propagandists told him. The other journalists who made the same "error" are no less guilty.

Posted by: Noah Pollak at August 8, 2007 01:19 AM

First of all, his coverage is not apologetic, and a quick read of the article you don't link to will clear that question up for anyone who wants to see for him or herself.

Second, nice straw men there! Journalistic ethics means not interviewing people under false pretenses thereby putting them or their livelihoods in danger. That seems like a pretty simple idea to me. The fact of the matter is that Israelis are not allowed to enter Lebanon and vice versa (excepting Jews and/or former militia allies). This is unfortunate (and silly to my mind), but it is how things are for the time being. Knowing this, and knowing that people would likely get into trouble for talking to you, how is it ethical to not only do it anyway, but also to lie about it to your interviewees? Don't you think that those people should have been given an informed choice about whether or not they wanted to talk to an Israeli who was illegally in the country?

And all this for a couple of banal (and factually inaccurate!) reports that bring nothing new to the conversation except for putting these two girls in the international spotlight.

This seems like such an obvious breach of ethics that it hardly even needs to be spelled out. But instead, you'd prefer to argue against a ridiculous point that no one is actually making (i.e. "journalistic ethics require not doing anything that perturbs Hezbollah").

If you're going to argue, at least do so in good faith.

Posted by: hp at August 8, 2007 01:28 AM

certain people who are known propagandists told him.

Whom exactly are you referring to here? The original body count came from the Red Cross and was corroborated by the Lebanese government, before they found out that an additional 22 people had, in fact, escaped from the basement.

The original figure was based on the number of people in the building and the known number of those who had gotten out (the latter of which was later increased). It was picked up by Reuters, AP, the BBC and, yes, Blanford. I fail to see how this makes Blanford, who incidentally has a very good reputation here in Beirut among his colleagues, a tendentious Hezbollah apologist.

Posted by: hp at August 8, 2007 02:05 AM

Nice back and fourth here. Regarding being an apologist for Hezbollah I don't know anything about these two guys but CNN's coverage of them during the conflict last summer was as softballish as it gets.

Posted by: Mark Eichenlaub at August 9, 2007 12:12 PM

Wrong argument. Who cares about reporters apologizing for Hezbollah when we should criticize the IDF for 'cutting and running'.

Of course, they could tell when they were getting their clocks cleaned and could live with the Katushkas better than the US could live with the knowledge of leaving a senseless fight.

Hell there are probably Iranian assets getting inot Iraq which should be going to Hezbollah instead!

If only the IDF had not cut and run!

Posted by: ilsm at August 9, 2007 05:22 PM

I know Nicholas very well, and I know the man he was arrested with. He is not a Hezbollah apologist. Let me state on record that IMHO Mr. Blanford is ten times the reporter you will ever be Noah. And what he writes on Lebanon - a country he has lived in for nearly 12 years (indeed he is married to a Lebanese) - is infinately better informed and considered than the "Ooooh.... aren't I a daring GI Joe" high school student travelogue you penned when Tony Badran's stooges took you on a tour of South Lebanon and then advised you not to talk to any Shia - so you didn't. Your foolish little stunt has made the work of decent journalists in Lebanon that much harder, it's that simple.

Posted by: Microraptor at August 12, 2007 01:21 AM

I mean Toni Nissi, not Badran...

Posted by: Microraptor at August 12, 2007 04:50 AM

"Microraptor,"
I have no doubt that your assertion is true, as I am not, and have never claimed to be, a reporter. Although my judgement about Blanford, regardless of you protestations, is shared by several people in Lebanon whose names you would recognize. I'm willing to put my name to my judgments. You, "Microraptor," apparently are not.

Your foolish little stunt has made the work of decent journalists in Lebanon that much harder, it's that simple.

Again it's striking that your response to Hezbollah's thuggery is to blame people who did nothing more than move freely about the country, rather than blame the people who are behaving like fascists. Yes, that makes you, too, an apologist for Hezbollah.

Thought experiment: If you came to Israel and the result of your visit meant that the Shin Bet began harassing and intimidating journalists, who would you blame? The Shin Bet, for being thugs, or the journalists, for having the chutzpah to step foot in the country? I know where I stand on the issue, and it is not with people who act like fascists and try to intimidate journalists.

And now that you've informed me that my visit to Lebanon contributed to Hezbollah's paranoia, all I can say is that you've made my day.

Posted by: Noah Pollak at August 12, 2007 11:32 AM

Your visit to Lebanon did not contribute to much of anything, certainly not a better understanding of the country.

Posted by: Sinjeb at August 12, 2007 01:12 PM

Noah, if I went to Israel and broke the law and then went and wrote it up in a boastful little blog posting - which, as I recall, actually starts with you describing peole's reactions to your shwoing off that you sneaked into Lebanon - and my behaviour led to restrictions on other journalists including yourself, I expect you would think me irresponsible, not Shin Bet.

In fact, if I came to Israel on my British passport, then wrote up a damning report about your country on an Iranian blog, laughing at how the chumps at Ben Gurion airport didn't realise I also had Iranian citizenship and this led to all Brits and American journalists having a hard time, you'd say that I was an asshole and that Shin Bet were doing a good job stopping potentially hostile intelligence gathering.

Whether or not Israelis or Isreali journalists ought to be allowed to travel in Lebanon is moot. But the fact is that they are not, and you broke the law then revelled in it.

Secondly, most of the posters here use pseudonyms, so don't pull that one on me. You do not use a pseudonym because this blog is part of your journalistic endevours, so you use a byline for publicity.

Indeed, seeking publicity seemed to be the main motovation behind your most excellent Lebanon adventure.

Posted by: Microraptor at August 14, 2007 07:17 AM

Noah, if I went to Israel and broke the law and then went and wrote it up in a boastful little blog posting

But I didn't break the law by going to Lebanon. I'm not an Israeli citizen. I'm an American citizen.

which, as I recall, actually starts with you describing peole's reactions to your shwoing off that you sneaked into Lebanon

Nothing of the sort appears in my piece, which by the way was a 5,000 word essay, not a blog post.

Whether or not Israelis or Isreali journalists ought to be allowed to travel in Lebanon is moot. But the fact is that they are not, and you broke the law then revelled in it.

You have a very active imagination. Where did you read -- or hear -- that I broke the law? Can you show me where I "revelled in" breaking a law that I did not, in fact, break? I hold the citizenship of one country and only one country, the United States. It is perfectly legal for me to travel to Lebanon, and I plan on doing so again.

You're not doing so well when it comes to having your facts straight.

Posted by: Noah Pollak at August 14, 2007 07:38 AM

Actually, Noah, since you have obviously been to Israel, and seem to live there, it is, in fact, illegal for you to come to Lebanon. As is the case in Syria, anyone who has travelled to Israel is not allowed entry. In practice, this is not enforced very rigorously, but you nonetheless still broke Lebanese law by entering the country.

Posted by: Sinjeb at August 14, 2007 03:42 PM

Actually, Noah, since you have obviously been to Israel, and seem to live there, it is, in fact, illegal for you to come to Lebanon.

Sinjeb, you're simply wrong. According to the U.S. State Department's consular information sheet, the following are the entry and exit requirements for U.S. citizens visiting Lebanon:

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Passports and visas are required. American citizens coming to Lebanon for tourism can purchase a short-term visa at the border. Travelers holding passports that contain visas or entry/exit stamps for Israel will likely be refused entry into Lebanon. Travelers whose passports contain Israeli stamps or visas and who also hold an "Arab nationality" may be subject to arrest and imprisonment. Travelers who have overstayed their entry visa validity in Lebanon have to adjust their status with the Central Department of Surete General (Department of Passport and Immigration) prior to their departure.

There are dozens upon dozens of journalists who are based in Israel, but travel regularly to Lebanon -- all perfectly legally.

Does anyone else want to post their fantasies or superstitions on this comment thread? This is actually becoming a lot of fun.

Posted by: Noah Pollak at August 14, 2007 04:26 PM

Noah: Does anyone else want to post their fantasies or superstitions on this comment thread?

I think the Israeli "reporters" who visited Lebanon were, in fact, Hizballah terrorists in disguise.

The whole thing was supposed to discredit the Israeli media by showing how unethical its journalists can be.

Posted by: Edgar at August 14, 2007 04:57 PM

Noah, this is pure sofistry on your part. Maybe you hold an American passport not an Israeli one, but Azure is an Israeli publication, and looking at the article you wrote, it would appear that you live in Israel.

You wrote the sentance : "....After landing in Beirut and making my way past a thankfully uninquisitive customs agent..." which would imply that you knew you were at the very least, in the country on spurious pretences, at worst, you knew that you ought not be there.

I am not actually on here to slag you off. I couldn't really care less about you or the verbose, plodding opinion pieces you write, which masuqerade as journalism. It's OK - but no great shakes in my humble opinion.

I simply don't like the unwarranted attack you made on Nicholas Blanford, who I consider to be a very good, brave and respectable journalist, who also seems to know more about Lebanon than you do.

Your notion that anyone who doesn't share your particular bias vis-a-vis the Levant must therefore be a "Hezbollah apologist" is absurd. Next you'll be accusing us of anti-Semitism.

Posted by: Microraptor at August 15, 2007 04:30 PM

Noah, this is pure sofistry on your part. Maybe you hold an American passport not an Israeli one, but Azure is an Israeli publication, and looking at the article you wrote, it would appear that you live in Israel.

"Maybe" I hold an American passport and not an Israel one? Dude, there is no doubt whatsoever about what kind of passport I hold. And you're accusing me of sophistry!

Microraptor, I've enjoyed this petty little debate. Every one of your stupid charges against me has proved to be untrue, and now you're attempting to salvage your dignity by offering up a "fake but accurate" argument. Sorry Ace, but I didn't break the law and you know it. You have no case. You say I was in Lebanon "on spurious pretenses" -- I was there to both see the country as a tourist and to write an article about what was happening there four months after the war. Those are "spurious" reasons for going to Lebanon? How ridiculous.

You remind me of the old lawyer's joke: "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table."

Have fun pounding the table.

Posted by: Noah Pollak at August 16, 2007 12:24 AM

Pound... Pound.... Pound!!!

Ah well, it WAS fun while it lasted...

Cheers,

db

Posted by: Microraptor at August 16, 2007 10:23 AM

Noah,

I was in the Shalem Center's Junior Fellowship program from 2001-2, so I remember walking the rubble-strewn street in Jerusalem, and I think I can sense where one conclusion from your Azure article ("...from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,, it looked as if the war had ended ambiguously. Not in Bint Jbeil") came from. There is something about the apocalyptic psyche of Israel's propaganda enemies that elides the fact that Hezbollah was constrained solely by its capacity to inflict destruction, while the IDF's was limited in theory as well as practice. The frustration that the Kirya cannot be made to look like the Dahiya is great, greater still the unavowed and unavowable (at least in the English-speaking West) frustration of impotent genocidal desire, the centrality of the idea that Tel Aviv somehow cease to exist subsumed by rhetoric directed against Israeli "genocide." Several authors of the Beirut Decentrist movement used almost Tanakhic rhetoric, describing the men of the civil war who punished their city for playing the harlot, and the uncanny marriage of transgression and punishment, of destruction as conclusiveness, strikes me as wishful thinking. Of course Beirut would be rebuilt and go on to play the harlot for other masters, and of course Bint Jbeil will rise again for the next war, G-d forbid an apocalyptic one.

I think your meditation is going to be found unacceptable in the discourse of the modern (academic) West, where discourse that accepts destroying those who come to kill you is passe, requiring me to post under a pseudonym. I cannot quite put my finger on the tension that runs between the self-inflicted ruin of Beirut and Bint Jbeil without seeming to endorse a pro-IDF position that is frankly seen as tendentious in the West, namely that Hezbollah inevitably made the Dahiya and Bint Jbeil (in its image) into that which it sought for Tel Aviv, while Ain Abel was spared because the IDF has no metaphysical necessity of apocalypse.

I may be reading too much into a minor aside, but you are a primary example of a deviation from the norm, because authors of the 80s and 90s like Amos Kenan, Binyamin Tammuz, etc. usually apply apocalyptic imagery of that sort to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, so for an Israeli journal to consider the destruction of an Arab town harks back to '82 or even the War of Attrition. Even in Hebrew prose--and I wonder if Arabic-language dystopias address it as well--the sudden realization of the fantasy of non-being haunts Israelis, but only Arab-Persian-Islamist discourse (as evidenced by your plane trip) erases Tel Aviv in wishful fantasy while attempting to acquire the means to do it in reality...

Posted by: Eurosabra at August 16, 2007 09:33 PM
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