Thursday, September 14, 2006

Not a sparrow falls to earth

Nidra Poller's backgrounder to the Mohammed Al-Dura defamation trial, in which the state-run France2 network has sued three persons for daring to question the authenticity of a television program which may have sparked an intifada in 2000, raises several issues, to which I will add another. The first is whether the sequence which showed a child and his father being under fire for 45 minutes by Israeli soldiers was authentic. It seemed outrageous to suggest it at the time, but now, with the availability of outtakes which clearly show large parts of the sequence were staged; outtakes viewed and condemned by the French mainstream media journalists who were given access to them, their producers now make a minimalist claim. That the 45 minutes were really 27 minutes: and the twenty seven minutes were "were reduced to roughly 24 minutes of staged scenes, and 3 minutes of doubtful material, including 1 minute of the al-Dura scene". Yet in what Poller calls, the "phlogiston theory" of television journalism, France2 claims that while nearly all of it is fake, no one can prove that the 1 minute al-Dura scene isn't. Yes, it is all dross. But there is a nugget of gold! Moreover it doesn't matter because even if it were all dross; the scenes depicted by France2, one defender argued "corresponded to the general situation" in Israeli occupied territory. The "fake but true" defense has a long and distinguished history.

The second issue Poller raises is whether the media, especially in France, has not granted itself a license to fiction. Where "the burden of proof is not in the image, not in the witness, but in the purpose served: do they illustrate the cruel inhumanity of Israelis? Yes? Then they are valid ... A new kind of journalistic “ethics” has shifted the burden of proof from the originating source of the report to the challenger, placing the latter in the impossible position of proving that something did not occur."

The third issue, of course, is whether France can live with such a lie. Whether anyone cares for the truth. Whether liberties are not themselves stifled, or reduced to triviality, by the dark blanket of falsehood.

My own fourth question is rather simple. Who killed Mohammed Al-Dura? Who is responsible for the death of that child? Frankly I would say that I don't know. But it has occurred to me, as it did when I saw the Associated Press photograph of a poor election worker being executed on Baghdad's Haifa Street just as an ace journalist happened by, that the primary suspects must be those with the most to gain. It is a terrible suggestion, but it alarms me for reasons far less lofty than the very good ones already suggested by Nidra Poller. The murder of a child is a thing lightly forgotten in today's world. Who shall yet be his witness? And if he were murdered, possibly for footage, who shall be his avenger? Poller informs us that "the trial will take place in the august halls of the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris on the 14th of September 2006". And our test, both as men and as a civilization, is whether we the living shall be his witness or pass him by on that day and cast his little body upon the bonfire of our narratives.

There will be those argue that whoever pulled the trigger, it was the Israeli occupation that killed Mohammed Al-Dura. But if indirect causation is admissible, why stop there? Why not argue that the Holocaust which drove the establishment of Israel drove the occupation which killed Al-Dura? But such assignments of guilt as are the province of poets and historians are beyond any court. Our human problem is more prosaic: who actually killed Mohammed Al-Dura? But for those looking for a larger answer, try this: the camera killed the little boy. A man and a boy cringing in a crossfire at no great distance from two groups of armed men was the obvious target of neither: no side's marksmanship could be that bad. But they became the center of a second drama within the first. Anyone present would sense the obvious question and the camera kept on Al-Dura -- hoping? Is that too much of a word to use? -- for the "shot". It was a sentence waiting for the punctuation. And it came when eventually someone, or some ricochet, or some unaimed shot provided the clinching scene. I have often wondered whether 60 men would take the trouble to kill an unknown election worker on Haifa street without the assurance of front page coverage. If looks could kill? Oh, but they can.


Blogger skipsailing said...

This is really troubling. I recall one of those bizarre movies that Fellini made: Satyricon. in this film a slave suffers a traumatic amputation as part of a "show" and it is considered "entertainment" by the jaded audience. the slave was, after all a slave and thus no remorse is called for. When the value of life is measured in terms of ultimate utility the moral underpinnings of civilization are at risk.

Mahommad A Doura had no utility beyond the small return engendered by his death. Just plain wrong.

This is further troubling because the people who, apparently, perpetrated this hoax did so to advance a specific agenda and consequences be damned.

Lux et veritas? Hardly.

9/14/2006 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

wretchard quoted:

A new kind of journalistic “ethics” has shifted the burden of proof from the originating source of the report to the challenger, placing the latter in the impossible position of proving that something did not occur."

By putting on these charades, the media outlets say to their own consumers, "You are stupid." But they are calling forth the deluge.
A passage from the sixth Dune book comes to mind here:

"Words you want, is it? How are these? Trust. Belief. Truth. Honesty."

"Those are good words, Shoel."

"But they miss the mark. Don't depend on them."

"Then what do you depend on?"

"My own internal reactions. I read myself, not the person in front of me. I always know a lie because I want to turn my back on the liar."

9/14/2006 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Final Historian said...

I think it is actually "Fake but accurate" Wretchard.

9/14/2006 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Sirius sir, or instead of children dying of neglect and malnourishment, how about some French elderly dying of heat stroke while their caregivers take the month off to frolic on the Riviera? With 14,802 cases in 2003 I'm sure there's some stock footage somewhere and it even fits the same time period.

9/14/2006 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

The press in Europe, and this includes with extra emphasis the BBC, operates via intimidation. They revel in an opportunity to ram an absurdity like this down their critics' throats. The more absurd the better, from this point of view.

At the same time they are threatened in the rare instances when a case comes to trial, because their reputation just might one day prove brittle and shatter.

The whole affair shows that France hasn't moved far beyond the Dreyfus case when it comes to official denials (something many French people are very much aware of, and totally cynical about).

9/14/2006 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

Of course the media's interest happens to coincide with the terrorists, namely some bit of soap opera to hold the regular audience that it sells to advertisers.

Soap opera women edit the world's news. Nothing that doesn't hold their interest can be published or discussed.

A tiny child is always a good choice. But then even wretchard uses it in the end.

The part about a witness is right. The reason for capital punishment is not retribution or deterrance but a sign of the place that society accords the voice of the victim, a voice that is missing.

It needn't be a chil

9/14/2006 05:06:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

"Fake but accurate" cannot long endure, thank God!

Would that this were true. It certainly isn't. This French lawsuit is hardly visible in the Israeli press. Is it visible at all in the US press?

It was clear during the Qana affair during the Leb war that Reuters didn't care about the details (aka facts). So what if a photo was staged or photoshopped? Israel was targeting civilians, right? That's what they were going to show.

After the war NYT correspondent Steven Erlanger said that the war was treated by the press as a human interest story. They didn't care about the facts. Only how it made people feel.

There were apparently several photographers present at Netzarim junction on the day of the al Dura affair. How is it that the death of a child that took over half an hour wasn't filmed by more than one? In the scene of his death, which is blurry and rather short, the kid lifts his head and looks around. I think the kid is still alive.

What I really don't understand is why the Israelis don't find him and put him on TV. Doesn't Mossad do anything these days?

9/14/2006 08:31:00 PM  
Blogger neo-neocon said...

Actually, Richard, if you read the al-Durah informatiom at the websites of Richard Landes, witness against France2 in the trial, you will find that the most likely answer to your question, "Who killed Mohammed al Durah?" is "No one. He never died."

That may seem preposterous. But please take a look here and here and especially here, and you may come to the conclusion that most likely the whole thing was not only staged as a photo-op, but faked as well.

9/15/2006 12:29:00 AM  
Blogger neo-neocon said...

I've written on the parallels to the Dreyfus case. Hopefully, it won't take twelve years for justice to be done in this instance.

9/15/2006 12:33:00 AM  
Blogger Boghie said...


Another question must be asked - in the light of the Plame-Neptune planetary wobble.

Is this a form of Western Terror?

A terror that subsumes terror. A guiding light.

Would Islamic Terror be as malevolent and as prevalent and as encompassing without the unseen hand? A hand holding to dreams that can’t be attained through democratic process.

An Unaccepted ideal?
An Underappreciated social structure?

A Western Terror need not be directly violent to force change on the great unwashed. When Islamic or Irish or Bolivian terrorists require the camera, and the camera comes, who is the terrorist?

9/16/2006 09:06:00 AM  

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