Covering the coverage

I’ve been sufficiently busy that I haven’t been able to follow the news coverage of what’s going on in the Middle East as closely as I’m accustomed to doing but I must say that I’m concerned and disturbed by the nature and quality of the coverage I’m seeing on the broadcast network news programs.  Everyone seems to be sending senior correspondents who stand against the background of smoking or damaged buildings delivering what seems, essentially, the same message:  they don’t really know what’s going on.

On the morning’s NBC Today program, for example, Lester Holt stood, microphone in hand, interviewing women and children who’d fled from their homes in south Lebanon.  There were a number of things I found interesting about the report.  For one thing, there were no men in the picture and I don’t recall anyone explaining that.  I don’t know if that was because the men didn’t allow their pictures to be taken, there were no men there, or other reasons.

I also didn’t hear any explanation of the context of the interviews themselves.  Were the western newsmen just wandering on their own recognizance?  I doubt it.  Did they have Lebanese government “minders”?  Hezbollah “minders”?  Both?  What?

These things make a difference.  It’s one thing if a woman fled her home because they were simply minding their own business and the Israeli shelling began; it’s another entirely if her husband, a Hezbollah fighter, was firing rockets from their backyard and we simply have no way of determining which was the case.

I’ve heard reports that western journalists were being very closely shepherded by Hezbollah media directors who were telling where and when to shoot what.  If this is actually the case it’s very important that we know it; it’s equally important if it’s not the case.  That’s what I mean when I write about the context of reporting.

Western journalists shouldn’t be in the business of making propaganda films for either side in this conflict.  If they need to trade limitations on their coverage for access or their safety, I think they should merely report that and say that they were unable to get enough information to provide fair and balanced coverage.  That doesn’t provide particularly compelling television reporting, I suppose.

I recognize that there is such a thing as “the fog of war” but I’m worried that there’s a distinction between that and active production of propaganda one way or another.

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