Jerusalem -- Here in the City of David, Israeli residents are deeply concerned that they are losing the battle for public opinion to the masters of terror. They are not alone. Earlier this week, at Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nev., Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a group of U.S. Navy and Marine aviators that he is deeply troubled by the effectiveness of terror groups which "manipulate the media" and influence Western public opinion. Rumsfeld went so far as to admit that it "keeps me up at night." It should -- for our adversaries in the global war on terror have become masters of manipulating U.S. and European public opinion.
Since my arrival in Israel, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Iranian puppet who speaks for Hezbollah, has provided a remarkable example of the problem. In a press conference set to coincide with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's visit to the region, Nasrallah "apologized" to the people of Lebanon, telling them -- and the world -- that the terror organization he heads would never have kidnapped two Israeli soldiers "if they had known that the Zionists were going to respond so viciously." This outrageous confession to violations of international law and multiple U.N. resolutions was applauded by "Middle East analysts" in Paris, Brussels and Washington, D.C. as a "hopeful sign of penitence" and a desire to be "reasonable." Those lauding Nasrallah in the so-called "mainstream media" missed the point that the two kidnapped soldiers are still held by Hezbollah.
Successful propagation of terrorist cant, distortion and disinformation ultimately depends on the willingness and ability of news organizations to recognize propaganda for what it is -- and say so. Yet, in these days of 24-hour, "action-oriented news," it appears that few conventional news organizations are up to the task of adequately determining what is and is not real. A few examples from recent history:
-- Last December, just days before the Iraqi elections, Western news agencies were provided with videotape and photographs purporting to show that Ramadi, capital of Al Anbar province, was under the control of Sunni militants who were going to keep people from going to the polls. Questions about the veracity of the claim were immediately raised by U.S. and Iraqi authorities -- but the images were published and aired without critique or disclaimer throughout the United States and Europe.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.