July 20, 2006

Bush's USA: The View From Afar

This report from Al Jazeera, Watching American TV in Beirut, is really quite astonishing. It captures the pure bewilderment with which many Arabs watch ignorant and misleadingly biased US TV news reporting on the current conflict.
War in Lebanon has once again become breaking news on television screens across the world, but a growing body of distorted reporting is being disseminated just as rapidly as the country is being destroyed.

In recent days, many American news programmes have demonstrated an exceptionally weak knowledge of Lebanese politics, skewed further by a lack of access to areas that have been attacked in the country and their victims.

Take Monday's coverage of the conflict on NBC's popular Today Show with anchorwoman Nathalie Morales, who in introducing a report on Hezbollah, rhetorically asks: "So just who is Israel at war with in this latest chapter of an ancient conflict?"

Not only does the reporter assume that Israel's war targets only Hezbollah (and not the Lebanese civilians, government, private businesses and the military, which have all been attacked) but even contradicts earlier reports on her own network indicating Hezbollah's founding to be in the early 1980s; hardly considered "ancient" times.

Equally misleading were reports on the Today Show defining Hezbollah solely as the mastermind of the 1982 attacks on US marines and possessor of long-range missiles.

Absent in the reporting was any reference to Hezbollah's role in defeating the 22-year Israeli occupation of the country and its support among up to a million Lebanese, with many benefiting from an intricate network of social services and political representation.

Of course, failing to report such details contributes to the view that Hezbollah acts as merely a renegade organisation rather than a movement that encompasses roughly a quarter of the country's population.

On the other hand, when it comes to reporting the situation in Israel, anchors on sister network MSNBC seem to boast an intimate knowledge of the population, even a bit of psychoanalytical skill.

During his show Hardball with Chris Mathews, the host describes the Israeli town of Haifa as being similar to a city in California, "very modern, very debonair".

Anchorwoman Rita Cosby, who freely dubs Hezbollah as "rag-tag" terrorists, would later describe an attack on "Holy Nazareth" as an assault on "the home town of Jesus", and erroneously as his birthplace - of course no reference to the multitude of biblical cities in Lebanon.

On Hardball, Mathews asks a reporter on the scene how Israelis are coping with "vacation plans" considering the war situation. Mathews concludes that a resilient character among the Israeli people, will "keep that country around for a very long time".

Later in the show there is analysis with field reporters and political pundits, many blatantly supportive of Israel's fight against "terror acts" and the "worldwide Islamic threat" - still no mention of the widespread devastation and human loss in Lebanon.

Mathew’s questions include: "How do you get Hezbollah to stop? Will Israel get the job done? How broad a goal is Israel setting?" And finally: "What’s a bigger threat to the United States? Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah?"

Lebanese have no warning of or proper shelter from air raids Mathews makes reference to the plight of the Lebanese only once during his show, when a reporter raises the possibility of a "bloody mess" for Israel.


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