August 29, 2006

The Editorial Nature of Press Photos--Reuters, Gaza, Missiles, & Intent

What are we to make of the photos of a vehicle hit by an Israeli missiles and why does it matter if some of the specifics of the attack are wrong when the Israelis admit to firing on the vehicle?

It may seem trivial, but in war the editorial nature of pictures can win allies or make enemies out of friends. This is why pictures matter, and why the context in which they are taken must always be known in order for an accurate assessment of events to be made.

Okay, so Allah has this lengthy post about what possibly could have caused the mysterious damage to the Reuters van allegedly hit by an Israeli "missile" in Gaza. And Ace second's the motion here.

The gist of the argument (as I read it) is as Ace puts it The Israelis admit firing on the vehicle.

But I'm not sure that what I, or the others (eg, here, here, here & here), are saying is that the Israelis didn't fire on the vehicle. What we are saying is that what is being reported in the press is not what actually happened. We are not saying (I don't think) that nothing happened, only that the incident probably did not go down as described by Palestinian stringers employed by Reuters.

For instance, Reuters says:

The missile struck the 'P' of the bright red 'PRESS' sign on the roof of the armor-plated Reuters car as Gaza cameraman Fadel Shana hurried to film an Israeli raid.
But does that look like a missile entry point to you?

It certainly doesn't to me. I'm no expert, so I asked the people over at Military Photos to examine it. Some of the answers were similar to Ace's--dismissive because the Israelis claimed the hit. Others were dismissive because it is an international forum and that implies a great deal of antisemitism, but here is some of what was said.

Just from the photo's posted, to me, it does not look like rust or burnt flaking paint on the roof of the car, it looks like dirt to me. My guess is that it was hit by a rather large rock or bolder or building material that impacted / punctured the roof and left a crap load of dirt / debris everywhere.
Which pretty much meshes with my own theory of the roof damage The damage seems much more consistent with a cinder block falling on the truck, than with a missile.

One might argue that, in the end, it doesn't matter whether a block or brick fell on the roof since it was probably the missile itself which caused the block to fall, perhaps off a nearby building. In other words, so the press got it wrong on the specifics, but it was still Israel that caused the damage.

But that misses the larger point being made about the incident in the press--the editorial point.

Claiming a missile came through the roof of the car at the "p" in "press" drives home the point that the Israelis must have known they were firing at a press vehicle--it was clearly marked.

And that is exactly how Reuters--and the AP--spins the photos. The photos are presented in the context of competing claims. The Israelis claim they didn't know it was a press vehicle, but:

The car was labeled on all sides as a press vehicle.
And the picture is worth a thousand words, isn't it?

The missile hitting the car at the "P" is all that is needed to back claims made by Palestinians and their allies in the press that the Israelis are targetting journalists. Simply looking at the photo, as many un-savvy un-bloggerish consumers of the media would do, might lead to the conclusion that the Israelis must be lying. That there is no way they could not have known the vehicle was the press.

Forget that it was hit at night and that targetting cameras would probably not pick up the markings on the vehicle--most readers simply do not not pay that much attention to detail.

The picture tells the only story most will ever read.

But if that hole was made only incidentally to the missile strike--if it was caused by falling debris--than it changes the entire editorial context of the photo.

There are important implications to this story. Ones which, I hope by now, we are all familiar with.

The story is being used as part of a concerted propaganda effort against Israel. True or not, that is how it is being used.

Here is a Palestinian press release (emphasis mine):

CPJ Condemns Targeting 2 Cameramen by Israeli Forces in Gaza...

The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel called the attack an "outrageous targeting" and demanded a full investigation.

Other allegations of deliberate targeting of journalists covering fighting in Gaza and south Lebanon have been made against the Israeli army over the past two months.

See how this all works?

As Caroline Glick puts it in her JPOST column today about the incident:

Yet it is unclear why anyone should believe either Shana or Reuters. Shana told Reuters that as he was driving to the battle scene, "I suddenly saw fire and the doors of the jeep flew open." He claims to have been wounded by shrapnel in his hand and leg. These are minor injuries for someone whose vehicle was just hit by a missile.

It is not a coincidence that I saw the pictures of the Reuters' vehicle on Powerline and not in the media coverage of the purported attack. Both the global media and the international NGO community abjectly refuse to investigate themselves. As democratic governments and their militaries have proven incapable of dealing with the phenomenon (in part because they seek to curry favor with the media and the international NGO community), the blogosphere has taken upon itself the role of media watchdog...

As each day passes, the governments, formal and informal legal apparatuses, and media of free societies show themselves to be less and less capable of contending with the information operations conducted against their societies by subversive forces seeking their destruction.

Indeed. The only witnesses to the missile attack were a Palestinian Reuters stringer, a Palestinian who works at an "Arab website" (the two victims), and 3 "witnesses". Given the history of Reuters stringers, experience with Arab websites, and especially given that the witnesses may be the very "militants" that the IDF was really after, we should be more than caustious but, in fact, suspicious about any claims made.

No, it's not that nothing happened, it's just that it probably didn't go down the way the Palestinians--and Reuters--claim it did.

Last, let me reiterate a point that Confederate Yankee makes. Even if we are wrong on this one--that the incident happened exactly as described by Reuters--it really doesn't matter. After all, should the blogosphere stop questioning the mainstream press simply because we might be wrong, then our purpose is over. Done. Nothing left for us to do.

Because if we don't question the press then who will?

UPDATE: Shrapnel vs. a missile, does it matter? Absolutely. Via SeeDub, who now owns Junkyard blog, this:

Shrapnel from two missiles struck two cars including a Reuters’ vehicle.

Palestinian security sources and eyewitnesses said that several Israeli army tanks and armoured vehicles rolled into eastern Gaza City, backed by Israeli helicopters and reconnaissance drones.

The eyewitnesses said that the two camera operators were in a Reuters jeep heading to the area to cover the Israeli Army incursion into eastern Gaza City. They said that an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at people gathering in the Sheja’eya neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City as the Reuters’ car drove past nearby.

Shrapnel hit the car, wounding Faddel Shana’a of Reuters and Sabah Hemeida, who works for Dubai Television.

And I would respond to Allah's question to me this way: YES! DO NOT TRUST ANYTHING THE PALIS, THE HEZBOS, STRINGERS WITH LOCAL LOYALTIES, OR MEDIA WHICH COOPERATE WITH THEM SAY, DO, OR PHOTOGRAPHIC. NOTHING.

That's not quite fair. The real question was about calling shenanigans on photos of vehicles that aren't all the way destroyed. And to answer that reasonable and fair question, I would agree with Allah. You can't call shenanigans on everything.

I do, however, call shenanigans here. Now. In this instance. Not because it was a vehicle, but because it was a media vehicle. Not because nothing happened, but because the photos (IMO) are being used to make propaganda points.

Here's another interesting question. Is there a way to avoid what Ace calls the meme-mentality, yet still be able to raise questions? There must be some happy medium between calling everything shenanigans and saying nothing out of fear of being labeled paranoid.

As always, I could be wrong.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 02:17 PM | Comments |