Few reporters dared pursue the story of how Hezbollah concealed weapons among civilians. As a result, few news consumers knew what UK Foreign Office Minister Kim Howell told a parliamentary committee after his return from Lebanon: that Hezbollah had extensively hidden caches of arms in schools and mosques, and rockets in apartment blocks.
“What I saw out there begs many questions about the way we try to define what constitutes a war crime,” Howell said. “Every time the Israelis responded [to a missile attack] and smashed a building down, every picture of a burnt child and every picture of a building that had housed people [where] there was now pancake on the ground was propaganda for Hezbollah.”
Perhaps the most chilling recent example of how terrorists manage the media was the kidnapping in Gaza of Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig. Both men were abused, threatened and forced -- at the point of a gun -- to convert to Islam.
The message sent to reporters in the Middle East was clear: One day you may find yourself wearing handcuffs and a hood while men with guns and butcher knives read your dispatches. What do you want them to find?
To what must have been the kidnappers' delight, Centanni and Wiig, after their release, seemed to accept the notion that journalists in such places as Gaza are obligated to act as public relations representatives for their hosts. The media, Centanni said, should not be discouraged from "telling the story of the Palestinian people. ...Come and tell the story. It's a wonderful story.”
Can you imagine a reporter in Israel saying it was his job to tell the "wonderful story" of the Israeli people? And were a reporter covering the White House to say it was his job to tell the "wonderful story" of George W. Bush, he would be fired on the spot – deservedly so.
No one can blame journalists for trying to stay safe while doing risky jobs in dangerous neighborhoods. But is it really too much to expect some examination by the media of the altered reality in which they now operate? A little self-criticism when reporters egregiously fail to report a story without fear or favor might be useful, too.
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