The Brainwashing Media

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Napoleon won
the battle of Waterloo. The German Wehrmacht won World War II. The
United States won in Vietnam, and the Soviets in Afghanistan. The
Zealots won against the Romans, and Ehud Olmert won the Second Lebanon
War.

You didn’t
know that? Well, during the last few days the Israeli media has
paraded a long series of experts, who did not leave any room for
doubt: the war has brought us huge achievements, Hizbullah was routed,
Olmert is the great victor.

The TV talk-show
hosts and anchormen put their microphones at the service of professors,
publicity experts, "security personnel" and "strategists"
(a title not denoting generals, but advisers of politicians). All
of them agreed on the outcome: an honest-to-goodness victory.

Yesterday I
switched on the TV and saw a person radiating self-assurance and
explaining how our victory in Lebanon opens the way for the inevitable
war with Iran. The analysis, composed almost entirely of clichés,
was worthy of a high-school pupil. I was shocked to learn that the
man was a former chief of the Mossad. Anyway, we won this war and
we are going to win the next one.

So there is
no need at all for a commission of inquiry. What is there to inquire
into? All we need is a few committees to clear up the minor slips
that occurred here and there.

Resignations
are absolutely out. Why, what happened? Victors do not resign! Did
Napoleon resign after Waterloo? Did Presidents Johnson and Nixon
resign after what happened in Vietnam? Did the Zealots resign after
the destruction of the Temple?

Joking aside,
the parade of Olmert’s stooges on TV, on the radio and in the newspapers
tells us something. Not about the achievements of Olmert as a statesman
and strategist, but about the integrity of the media.

When the war
broke out, the media people fell into line and marched in step as
a propaganda battalion. All the media, without exception, became
organs of the war effort, fawning on Olmert, Peretz and Halutz,
waxing enthusiastic at the sight of the devastation in Lebanon and
singing the praises of the "steadfastness of the civilian population"
in the north of Israel. The public was exposed to an incessant rain
of victory reports, going on (literally) from early in the morning
to late at night.

The government
and army spokespersons, together with Olmert’s spin team, decided
what to publish and when, and, more importantly, what to suppress.

That found
its expression in the "word laundry." Instead of accurate
words came misleading expressions: when heavy battles were raging
in Lebanon, the media spoke about "exchanges of fire."
The cowardly Hassan Nasrallah was "hiding" in his bunker,
while our brave Chief-of-Staff was directing operations from his
underground command post (nicknamed "the hole").

The chicken-hearted
"terrorists" of Hizbullah were hiding behind women and
children and operating from within villages, quite unlike our Ministry
of Defense and General Staff which are located in the heart of the
most densely populated area in Israel. Our soldiers were not captured
in a military action, but "abducted" like the victims
of gangsters, while our army "arrests" the leaders of
Hamas. Hizbullah, as is well known, is "financed" by Iran
and Syria, quite unlike Israel, which "receives generous support"
from our great friend and ally, the United States.

There was,
of course, a difference of night and day between Hizbullah and us.
How can one compare? After all, Hizbullah launched rockets at us
with the express intent of killing civilians, and did indeed kill
some thirty of them. While our military, "the most moral army
in the world," took great care not to hurt civilians, and therefore
only about 800 Lebanese civilians, half of them children, lost their
lives in the bombardments which were all directed at purely military
targets.

No general
could compare with the military correspondents and commentators,
who appeared daily on TV, striking impressive military poses, who
reported on the fighting and demanded a deeper advance into Lebanon.
Only very observant viewers noticed that they did not accompany
the fighters at all and did not share the dangers and pains of battle,
something that is essential for honest reporting in war. During
the entire war I saw only two correspondent’s reports that really
reflected the spirit of the soldiers – one by Itay Angel and the
other by Nahum Barnea.

The deaths
of soldiers were generally announced only after midnight, when most
people were asleep. During the day the media spoke only about soldiers
being "hurt." The official pretext was that the army had
first to inform the families. That’s true – but only for announcing
the names of the fallen soldiers. It does not apply at all to the
number of the dead. (The public quickly caught on and realized that
"hurt" meant "killed.")

Of course,
among the almost one thousand people invited to the TV studios during
the war to air their views, there were next to no voices criticizing
the war itself. Two or three, who were invited for alibi purposes,
were shown up as ridiculous weirdos. Two or three Arab citizens
were also invited, but the talk-masters fell on them like hounds
on their prey.

For weeks,
the media suppressed the fact that hundreds of thousands of Israelis
had abandoned the bombarded North, leaving only the poorest behind.
That would have shaken the legend of the "steadfastness of
the rear."

All the media
(except the internet sites) completely suppressed the news about
the demonstrations against the war that took place almost daily
and that grew rapidly from dozens to hundreds, and from hundreds
to thousands. (Channel 1 alone devoted several seconds to the small
demonstration of Meretz and Peace Now that took place just before
the end of the war. Both had supported the war enthusiastically
almost to the finish.)

I don’t say
these things as a professor for communications or a disgruntled
politician. I am a media-person from head to foot. Since the age
of 17 I have been a working journalist, reporter, columnist and
editor, and I know very well how media with integrity should behave.
(The only prize I ever got in my own country was awarded by the
Journalists’ Association for my "life work in journalism.")

I do not think,
by the way, that the behavior of our media was worse than that of
their American colleagues at the start of the Iraq war, or the British
media during the ridiculous Falklands/Malvinas war. But the scandals
of others are no consolation for our own.

Against the
background of this pervasive brainwashing, one has to salute the
few – who can be counted on the fingers of both hands – who did
not join the general chorus and did indeed voice criticism in the
written media, as much as they were allowed to. The names are well-known,
and I shall not list them here, for fear of overlooking somebody
and committing an unforgivable sin. They can hold their head high.
The trouble is that their comments appeared only in the op-ed pages,
which have a limited impact, and were completely absent from the
news pages and news programs, which shape public opinion on a daily
basis.

When the media
people now passionately debate the need for all kinds of inquiry
commissions and examination committees, perhaps they should set
a personal example and establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate
the actions of the media themselves at the time of supreme test.

In Goethe’s
Faust, the devil presents himself as the "force that
always strives for the bad and always produces the good." I
do not wish, God forbid, to compare the media to the devil, but
the result is the same: by its enthusiastic support for the war,
the media deepened the feeling of failure that came afterwards and
which may in the end have a beneficial impact.

The media called
Hizbullah a "terror organization," evoking the image of
a small group of "terrorists" with negligible capabilities.
When it became clear that this is an efficient and well-trained
military force with brave and determined fighters, effective missiles
and other weapons, that could hold out against our huge military
machine for 33 days without breaking, the disappointment was even
more bitter.

After the media
had glorified our military commanders as supermen and treated every
one of their boasts with adulation, almost as if they were divine
revelations, the disappointment was even greater when severe failures
in strategy, tactics, intelligence and logistics showed up in all
levels of the senior command.

That contributed
to the profound change in public opinion that set in at the end
of the war. As elevated as the self-confidence had been, so deep
was the sense of failure. The Gods had failed. The intoxication
of war was replaced by the hangover of the morning after.

And who is
that running in front of the mob clamoring for revenge, all the
way to the Place de la Guillotine? The media, of course.

I don’t know
of a single talk-show host, anchorman, commentator, reporter or
editor, who has confessed his guilt and begged for forgiveness for
his part in the brainwashing. Everything that was said, written
or photographed has been wiped off the slate. It just never happened.

Now, when the
damage cannot be repaired anymore, the media are pushing to the
head of those who demand the truth and clamor for punishment for
all the scandalous decisions that were taken by the government and
the general staff: prolonging the war unnecessarily after the first
six days, abandoning the rear, neglecting the reserves, not sending
the land army into Lebanon on day X and sending them into Lebanon
on day Y, not accepting G8′s call for a cease-fire, and so on.

But, just a
moment –

During the
last few days, the wheel may be turning again. What? We did not
lose the war after all? Wait, wait, we did win? Nasrallah has apologized?
(By strict orders from above, the full interview of Nasrallah was
not broadcast at all, but the one passage in which he admitted to
a mistake was broadcast over and over again.)

The sensitive
nose of the media people has detected a change of the wind. Some
of them have already altered course. If there is a new wave in public
opinion, one should ride it, no?

We call this
the "Altalena Effect."

For those who
don’t know, or who have already forgotten: Altalena was a small
ship that arrived off the coast of Israel in the middle of the 1948
war, carrying a group of Irgun men and quantities of weapons, it
was not clear for whom. David Ben-Gurion was afraid of a putsch
and ordered the shelling of the ship, off the coast of Tel-Aviv.
Some of the men were killed, Menachem Begin, who had gone aboard,
was pushed into the water and saved. The ship sank, the Irgun was
dispersed and its members joined the new Israeli army.

29 years later
Begin came to power. All the careerists joined him in haste. And
then it appeared, retroactively, that practically everybody had
been on board the Altalena. The little ship expanded into a huge
aircraft carrier – until the Likud lost power and Altalena shrunk
back to the size of a fishing boat.

The Second
Lebanon War was a mighty Altalena. All the media crowded onto its
deck. But the day after the war was over, we learned that this was
an optical illusion: absolutely nobody had been there, except Captain
Olmert, First Officer Peretz and Helmsman Halutz. However, that
can change any minute now, if the trusting public can be convinced
that we won the war after all.

As has been
said before: in Israel nothing changes, except the past.

September
4, 2006

Uri
Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 he has advocated
the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974,
Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership.
In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after
crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in
the Israeli Parliament (Knesset), and is the founder of Gush Shalom
(Peace Bloc). Visit his
Website
.

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