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.
-- Just hours after the United Nations mandated ceasefire in Lebanon, Hezbollah "aid workers" were photographed and videotaped disbursing U.S. currency to Lebanese civilians made homeless by Israeli attacks. Though questions were immediately raised about the likelihood that the bills were Iranian counterfeits, no news organization has reported, confirmed or denied the charge.
-- The same day that FOX News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig were freed from 13 days of captivity in Gaza, Reuters reported that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fired a missile at a press vehicle, wounding two cameramen -- one from Reuters and the other from Iranian World TV. Yet, as the Jerusalem Post points out, "photographs taken of the vehicle after the purported missile attack give no indication that the car was hit by anything. There is a gash on the roof. The hood is bent out of shape. But nothing seems to have been burned. Cars hit by missiles do not look like they have just been in a nasty accident. Cars hit by missiles are destroyed." This observation escaped notice by the rest of the so-called mainstream media.
-- The 33-day Israeli military operation against Hezbollah in Lebanon is rife with examples of how disinformation has become mainstream news. One of the most egregious examples was the claim, widely circulated in the Western media, that IDF aircraft intentionally targeted a Red Cross convoy of clearly marked ambulances in Qana on July 23. Though photographs taken at the time clearly show that no such attack occurred, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch used published accounts of the attack as evidence of Israeli "war crimes." Bloggers -- like Powerline and Zombietime -- who reported this disinformation were dismissed as "right-wing extremists."
In his comments at Fallon Air Station and subsequent remarks before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno, Nev., Rumsfeld said, "What bothers me the most is how clever the enemy is. They are actively manipulating the media in this country. The enemy lies constantly -- almost totally without consequence. They portray our cause as a war on Islam when in fact the overwhelming majority of victims of their terrorism have been thousands and thousands of innocent Muslims -- men, women and children."
All true -- and all widely ignored by the so-called mainstream media. The Israelis may feel the effects of this propaganda war more intently -- because they are closer to the problem -- at least for now. But Rumsfeld's assessment is a dire warning to all of us: "The enemy is so much better at communicating. I wish we were better at countering that because the constant drumbeat of things they say -- all of which are not true -- is harmful. It's cumulative. It weakens people's will and lessens their determination, and raises questions in their minds as to whether the cost is worth it."
But that, of course, would require that the masters of the mainstream media acknowledge that preserving Western civilization is "worth the cost."
Oliver North is Founder and Honorary Chairman of the Freedom Alliance, a Townhall.com Gold Partner.