Monday, September 11, 2006

Challenge to the princes

The Augean Stables tells the story of how French bloggers are now on trial for questioning France2's account of the murder of Muhammad al Durah, who the network portrayed as having been murdered by IDF soldiers. At the time the charges were filed there was widespread French public approval of the action. But new information which emerged since has shifted the ground.

Since then, however, a great deal has changed. Fallow’s piece in the Atlantic Monthly (June 2003), multiple articles on the internet, and Nidra Poller s piece in Commentary, have shifted opinion among those who are informed. Only people who have not seen the evidence still argue for scenario 1 (Israelis on purpose), even if most remain shy of scenario 5 (staged). In addition the material available at Second Draft has made it possible for anyone to view the evidence for him or herself, and Pallywood has become not only a widespread term, but a spur to rapid skepticism at Palestinian and now Lebanese efforts to produce new icons of sympathy and hatred.

But the shift goes still further: even among French media elites the word is out. In November of 2005 the scandal almost broke when two independent journalists – Daniel LeConte of Arte and Denis Jeanbar of L’Express — saw the Palestinian cameraman Talal abu Rahma’s rushes (what he recorded during the previous half hour). The embarrassment was palpable. Apparently, Jeanbar and Leconte were as astonished as was I, and also commented on the pervasive staging. They got the same answer from Enderlin’s boss that I got from Enderlin: "Oh, they do that all the time." "You may know that," responded Jeanbar, "but your viewers don’t."


The Augean Stables notes that whatever the charge sheet says, the media is a defendant too. "In the final analysis, these are not arcane French legal matters at stake, but tests of the French ability to meet 21st century challenges." In fact, a constitutional challenge. Without anyone noticing, in the years between World War 2 and the present the Press has acquired the power to be the arbiter of a great many events: the success or failure of public enterprises, the guilt or innocence of the accused and even the power to declare defeat or victory in war. Vietnam was the first clear exercise of that power. It is a vast power jealously guarded to this day. The trials are less about who killed Muhammad al Durah than about what institutions have the quasi-official power to pronounce upon it.


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