Accuracy in Media

In an unusual moment of candor, Dan Rather has admitted what many of us already knew-the media treat terrorist organizations like Hezbollah as equivalent to democratic governments. So enough of the bloviating by various liberal and Arab-American commentators that the media exhibited a pro-Israel bias during the war in Lebanon.

Rather’s admission came on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News Channel show. It was about three weeks into the war in Lebanon, and O’Reilly said to Rather that there is a problem “with American reportage. Some networks give moral equivalency to Hezbollah in the reporting of this war.” Rather declared, “I agree that that’s a problem.”

O’Reilly seemed somewhat stunned by the admission, and this exchange ensued:

O’Reilly: “Do you agree it happens?”

Rather: “I agree it happens, and I agree it’s a problem, that, it’s a problem that those of us in journalism have been reluctant to address-I do not exclude myself from this criticism-reluctant to address that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.

O’Reilly: “Right.”

Rather: “It’s committed to the destruction of Israel. It isn’t committed to trying to just gain territory. It’s committed to its destruction.”

Perhaps Rather thought that his liberal cohorts wouldn’t be watching, or he was hoping to entice a more conservative audience to watch his new show this fall on Mark Cuban’s High-Definition TV.

Whatever the case, Rather was rather accurate. Too often the media took the word of Hezbollah spokesmen regarding claims of civilian casualties or talked of Israel’s “disproportionate response” after Hezbollah had crossed the border into Israel, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed eight in the ensuing confrontation, and fired missiles directly and deliberately at Israeli civilians.

The fact is that Hezbollah started the war and Israel, a democracy, defended itself. The anti-Israel bias took the form of  doctoring or staging photos designed to exaggerate the effects of Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah strongholds and make it seem that the Jewish state was deliberately targeting civilians.

The coverage was at its worst when dealing with the nature and leadership of Hezbollah. While initially most news organizations seemed somewhat comfortable making references to its terrorist nature, the media image of Hezbollah began to change when it became apparent that it was going to survive and play a role in the rebuilding of Lebanon. Suddenly we started seeing stories about Hezbollah providing healthcare and social services, while standing up to Israel and defending Lebanon’s territorial integrity.

One of the more egregious examples of the moral equivalence problem was in a CNN Presents story called “Inside Hezbollah.”  The story did acknowledge Hezbollah’s terrorist background, and that, according to U.S. and Israeli estimates, “Hezbollah is responsible for more than 200 terror attacks, attacks that have killed more than 800 people since 1980.” But CNN went on to say, “That’s why the U.S. calls Hezbollah a terror group, but in Lebanon, to many it is much more than just that.”

The hour special, repeated numerous times, was hosted by Anderson Cooper. It relied on a so-called expert on Hezbollah, Mark Perry. “They’re quite a deeply community-oriented organization that is primarily a social organization first,” said Perry, “and a militant organization second.” At one point, CNN acknowledged that Perry’s group “encourages dialogue with Hezbollah.”

But Perry has a much deeper relationship with Arab and Muslim radicals. He was very close to the former head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, himself an active terrorist for close to four decades. In a dialogue that Perry participated in on a blog site, he said, “I think it safe to say that I was [Arafat’s] closest American friend?In all of that period I worked very hard with him on learning about the American media, American public opinion, and how to shape and present a coherent message. It was a frustrating but fascinating experience.” 

This was the CNN “expert.” Was he also helping Hezbollah to “shape and present a coherent message?” And did CNN fall for it?

Then there was the description of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Anderson Cooper said, “The Hezbollah leader may well be relishing this moment, one he’s long prepared for. At the age of 10, as the story goes, Nasrallah played cleric, wrapping his head in his grandmother’s black scarf, telling others to pray behind him. By the age of 15, he’d entered a Shia seminary in Iraq. Now, 46, the black head scarf is his signature, and he’s much more than just a cleric.”

Washington Post reporter Robin Wright then added, “He is both the charismatic, Islamic populist, and the wily guerilla tactician. Kind of a cross between Ayatollah Khomeinei, Iran’s revolutionary leader, and Che Guevara, the Latin-American revolutionary.”

This is comparable to calling former Mafia boss John Gotti a public servant because he distributed turkeys to neighborhood families at Thanksgiving.

Cooper, Wright & Company came across as gullible fools. They practiced the kind of moral equivalence that the terrorists counted on. In this case, we suggest that CNN consult one of its icons, Dan Rather, for some guidance on how to cover a terrorist group.

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