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The Consequences of Media Failure: Demopaths Setting the Global Agenda

An examination of just how badly CNN failed to accurately cover the flotilla incident — repeating nonsense when better information was available — and the ramifications.

by
Richard Landes

Bio

June 8, 2010 - 10:28 am

The latest explosion of anti-Israel rage, driven by the Muslim world and echoed by both the MSM and the international diplomatic community, raises important questions. How is it that in a world where North Korea and South Korea may go to war, Iran may get nuclear weapons, and jihadis are killing fellow (non-) Muslims by the dozens in mosques and hospitals, Israel’s killing of nine streetfighting jihadis sets the international agenda?

Amidst the many elements contributing to the sight of a world gone mad, I’d like to focus here on the role of the media.

For some time now, critical observers have warned about the “halo effect” that “human rights” NGOs have benefited from even as they were taken over by radical political activists who had strong links to jihadi organizations and individuals. This halo effect works in two directions: it extends to the “allies” of these hijacked NGOs (“peace activists”) and also to the MSM which tends to convey the “testimony” of the NGOs as reliable news. All of this comes to a grotesque climax in the flotilla affair.

Let’s begin with an interview CNN’s Rosemary Church conducted with a “peace activist,” Osama Qashoo.

As a flotilla of boats heads towards Gaza to break the blockade, CNN has anchor Rosemary Church perform an interview with a participant from one of the boats, “Free Gaza” activist Osama Qashoo. The report has so many flaws, it’s hard to list and analyze them all. (For the entire interview, click here.)

Let’s focus on the main flaws.

The Nature of the Flotilla

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Eight hundred “peace activists” and 10,000 tons of supplies. We’ll return to the “peaceful” nature of the activists, but even on the matter of the supplies, she merely parrots the statistics proffered by the organizers. A little research suggests that they’ve been exaggerated by at least a factor of two, and now that the Israelis have unloaded it, I’m guessing closer to a factor of five or ten. As for the organizations involved, the monikers — humanitarian, human rights — are clearly what the groups themselves have to say about themselves, not what CNN, after researching and passing judgment, discovered.

Take, for example, the IHH. This is a group that even the Islamist government of Turkey found too radical for its taste, with ties to al-Qaeda and other organizations that target civilians (of all faiths) as a major tactic in their jihad. Second, it’s an unindicted co-conspirator to groups found guilty of helping plan terror attacks in the U.S. It’s fairly easy to find information on the web that makes it clear how inappropriate “humanitarian group” is for this organization.

Mind you, it’s not out of character for CNN anchors to characterize various organizations negatively for their audience if they don’t like them. Jim Clancy repeatedly refers to AIPAC as the “right-wing, pro-Israel lobby.”

Having misstated the context dramatically, Church then interviews Qashoo. This occupies over six minutes of an eight-minute piece. Not only does Church let Osama carry on at length, she only challenges him with canned Israeli responses.

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Apparently the claim that Israelis are acting like Nazis and Gaza is a concentration camp is not a problem for Rosemary.

Mind you, it’s not like Rosemary is a wallflower, incapable of interrupting people and giving them a hard time. Here she is with Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisin during the Lebanon war of 2006.

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Not only will she interrupt, she’ll do so with a ludicrous claim that Israel could just shoot the thousands of rockets coming from Lebanon out of the sky — no need to endanger Lebanese civilians even if Hizbullah uses them as human shields. Eisin is in such profound “apologetic” mode that it doesn’t even occur to her to say something like: “Excuse me? What did you say? Where are you getting your information?”

So rather than challenge his comparison of Israel to the Nazis and Gaza to a concentration camp, Rosemary reads him Mark Regev’s comment that Gaza is not in a state of humanitarian crisis and asks for his response — which essentially is a repeat of his previous remarks, with emphasis on “love for the whole world.”

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By this point in time, the footage of the fellows on Qashoo’s boat singing a jihadi song — promising the Jews that Muhammad’s army was coming back to do to them what he did to the Jews of Khaybar (i.e., massacre the men and sell the women and children into slavery) — was released.

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And if she, or anyone else at CNN, had done their homework and looked carefully, they would have seen Osama himself waving his fist with the rest of the peace-loving group.

In other words, Qashoo is a particularly unambiguous case of a demopath: someone who presents himself and his companions as pacifists and lovers of humanity even as he chants jihadi songs about wiping out whole populations. Even to Church he shows his hand, by claiming that nothing will stop them, and that they will treat the Israelis as pirates if they try. Demopathy is perhaps jihad’s greatest weapon, precisely because we are so receptive to claims of good will and peaceful intent. Identifying demopaths is one of the most pressing needs of the 21st century, and one of the reasons for that importance is that behind the demopathic façade that invokes human rights and respect for the Muslim minority lies another reality.

This song the fellows on the Mavi Marmara were singing is not just an oddity of that group. It’s a chant of global jihad, sung right under the noses of progressive protesters in the U.S., in the streets of Europe, and around the world. Perhaps the most notable occasion was in London in February 2006, when crowds promising the Europeans a holocaust chanted it in front of the Danish Embassy. These folks made no bones about their intention: their signs promised to bring Europe its very own, well-deserved holocaust. The poetic fancy of the ditty, translated into the European idiom, was visible on a number of signs:

“EUROPE YOU’LL COME CRAWLING WHEN THE MUJAHADIN COME ROARING.”

If Church, or anyone at that billion-dollar operation, had done even the slightest amount of research, she could have embarrassed Osama with some well-chosen questions. Of course it doesn’t help that the current administration doesn’t even want to discuss these matters.

Church, therefore, along with many others, cannot identify a demopath lying to her face, and certainly cannot flush one out with well-informed, hard questions. Indeed, rather than pursue Qashoo’s threat to treat the Israelis as pirates as a clue to his intentions, she actually eggs him on: “Well, Osama, Israel does want to stop you.”

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His response offers a powerful lesson in projection: demopaths regularly accuse their enemies of their methods. He is the one who is lying straight to her face, and she lets him. So instead of marshaling serious statistics that indicate what even pro-Palestinians will admit in private — Gaza is not a starvation zone, no serious observer claims anything near as low as 1/10 of the needs met — or bringing up the problem of Hamas using whatever cement comes out of the tunnels to build prisons and shopping centers for its party members, she confronts him with nothing.

The sum total of the interview is to leave the impression (unless the viewer becomes slightly uneasy at the manic quality of Qashoo’s riff) that the people on this boat are what they say they are.

The very next day, however, news of the Israeli attempt to take control of the “love boat” on which Qashoo sailed and the resulting dead “peace activists” hit the world like a bombshell. And in a profound sense, the outrage derived from the perception that Israel had launched an assault on innocent “peace activists.” Here’s some comments from protesters in Times Square.

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These folks view reality through the lens of their media. They haven’t been to Gaza. They count on what their professional journalists report, and what demopathic activists in the mode of Qashoo tell them.

Thus when Israel produced videos of their soldiers being ambushed with clubs, metal bars, and knives, most people saw brave activists being assaulted and defending themselves. It was hard for people who had been prepared to see jihadis as the Middle Eastern version of civil rights protesters to believe that they were watching an ambush.

And who would have expected to see Qashoo in the midst of the fighters?

It seemed easier to imagine reckless Israeli soldiers assaulting brave and pacific protesters. The idea of Israeli commandos landing with toy guns and holstered hand guns with a maximum of about 10 rounds of fire seemed so absurd as to be incredible.

And when subsequent evidence appears corroborating the Israeli position, Reuters does its best to mask the evidence.

And the end result? Turkey, a country that still refuses to acknowledge its role in the first genocide of the 20th century, that treats its minorities — Kurds, Greek Cypriots — with a heavy hand that makes Israel’s treatment of Gazans look perfectly humane, that considers the death of these nine jihadis as a “dark stain on human history” … Turkey gets to set the international agenda.

This is not the first time that MSM error has done immeasurable damage to Western democratic concerns. The question is how much longer can we afford this kind of folly.

Latma published the following spoof, which explains this more eloquently than any serious analysis.

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Otherwise, why would there be more indignation about this than, say, the killing of 12 people in a hospital in Pakistan by jihadi militants, itself a follow-up to the killing of 80 people in a mosque the previous week? Does it not interest the world that the main suspects here were members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group involved in everything from the murder of Daniel Pearl to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto? That they have links with al-Qaeda, like the IHH?

And the media continued their “coverage” of IHH. When the Israelis made accusations of links between al Qaeda and IHH, rather than do any research, Jim Clancy just asked his clearly uninformed Istanbul correspondent Ivan Watson what he thought.

Watson replied: “This is a bit of a stretch. This organization IHH was founded in 1995. It’s an Islamist group that tries to help Muslim organizations. Turkey is country that has suffered from al Qaeda attacks, and I really doubt that if there were links to al Qaeda, the Turkish authorities would allow it to operate in public.”

Why do research when you are allowed to guess? Why consider that the Turkish government has become a player in the jihadi game when you can blame their hostility to Israel on the Israelis’ actions in Gaza the previous year? Why get the story straight when everyone else is also getting it wrong?

The consequences of this kind of sloppy, unthinking, and prejudicial journalism are devastating.

Richard Landes is a Professor at Boston University in history. He has just come out with two books: Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience and The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred-Year Retrospective on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He blogs at The Augean Stables.
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