Back at the beginning of March 2007, HonestReporting's Backspin blog drew attention to a research paper published by Harvard University, which examined media coverage of the 2006 Lebanon War. The conclusion: Hezbollah succeeded at using the media as a weapon against Israel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mainstream media, having allowed themselves to be cynically manipulated by the Hezbollah propaganda machine, failed to report the findings of the Harvard study.
While the initial lack of publicity was disappointing, a number of blogs have recently revisited the study, generating a surge in internet-led interest. This prompted the Jerusalem Post to report:
"An open society, Israel, is victimized by its own openness," Marvin Kalb and Dr. Carol Saivetz of the Shorenstein Center of Harvard University concluded in their research paper, "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict." "A closed sect, Hizbullah, can retain almost total control of the daily message of journalism and propaganda," manipulating its image to the world, the February 28 paper found.
"In strictly military terms, Israel did not lose to Hizbullah in this war, but it clearly did not win. In the war of information, news and propaganda, the battlefield central to Hizbullah's strategy, Israel lost this war," Kalb and Saivetz concluded.
Hizbullah was able to exploit skillfully the technological innovations wrought by the internet and the demands of the 24/7 news cycle, and constructed the narrative story line for the "first really 'live' war in history" where "the camera and the computer" were "weapons of war," they argued.
For Hizbullah, the Second Lebanon War was a "crucial battle in a broader, ongoing war, linking religious fundamentalism to Arab nationalism." Its chosen field of battle was the media and its strategic aim was to win the hearts and minds of the Arab world.
Citing US and Australian military experts, Kalb and Saivetz stated Hizbullah believed the "historic struggle between Western modernity and Islamic fundamentalism will ultimately be resolved" on the "information battlefield." Hizbullah's media strategy was crafted to achieve this end, they said.
In the Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah limited access to Western reporters, "orchestrated" events and manipulated journalists with threats of expulsion if they violated its reporting rules. And the press largely complied with the restrictions that were "reminiscent of the Soviet era," Kalb and Saivetz found.
In one example cited by the paper, on a tour of a Shi'ite neighborhood of Beirut damaged by IAF air strikes, Hizbullah warned reporters not to "wander off on their own or speak to residents" and to photograph only approved sights. If the press violated these rules, "cameras would be confiscated, film or tape destroyed, and offending reporters would never be allowed access to Hizbullah officials or Hizbullah-controlled areas."
"At one point, apparently on cue, a Hizbullah minder signaled for ambulances to rev up their engines, set off their sirens and drive noisily down the street. The scene was orchestrated, designed to provide a photo op, and reporters went along for the ride."
"So far as we know" Kalb and Saivetz stated, all of the reporters on the tour only CNN's Anderson Cooper reported on the "attempt to create and control a story." The rest of the press "followed the Hizbullah script."
Read the full JPost article here. The full Harvard publication (in pdf format) can be found on HonestReporting's Media Bias Research page.
HonestReporting addressed many of the mainstream media's failings during the Lebanon War, including doctored photography, the reporting of staged incidents as fact, and biased or inaccurate journalism. This comprehensive Harvard publication should be read by all media organizations that value high journalistic standards.
We hope that this report will finally get the attention that it deserves and ask our subscribers to help multiply its reach. Please not only take the time to read the Harvard report, but also forward it to your local or national news outlets so that the media may learn the valuable lessons that it contains. Contact details for many media outlets can be found here.
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