It hasn’t been that long – April 11, 2003, to be exact – since Eason Jordan made his surprising admission on the pages of the New York Times that CNN had coddled Saddam for access to his dictatorship (The News We Kept to Ourselves). But there have been many media unveilings since then, including one at Davos that resulted in a version of “Here GOES Mr. Jordan” for that same gentleman. The CNN exec became too much of a hot potato for the company when he accused US soldiers of targeting journalists without a shred of evidence. And then there was, on a less publicized level, the contretemps surrounding the photography Pulitzer awarded to the AP. How did those shutter bugs miraculously turn up at the Scene of the Terror with such regularity?
And now – thanks to LGF – we have the inevitably named Reutersgate. The slapdash quality of the Photoshop by Adnan Hajj allows us a fortuitous window into the world of Lebanon reporting and news photography. The ubiquitous Mr. Hajj was apparently also present at Qana where the number of fatalities dropped from sixty to twenty-eight when the slightest scrutiny was given to the initial reports. Other photos of his from other venues are currently under blogospheric investigation for their propagandistic distortions. How was it that Reuters came to employ such a person? And why wasn’t he better edited? Was it an accident? Let’s examine:
On the surface, this could look like an over-eager employee anxious to have his work “sell” during wartime. If it bleeds, it ledes, they say, so why not a few more phony smoke clouds? But having spent a fair amount of time in the presence of media in communist regimes (China, Soviet Union, Cuba) I am skeptical of this excuse. In totalitarian states, very little happens exclusively for the money. Yes, money follows good behavior, but the good (obedient) behavior comes first. Many reports from Hezbollahland, from the almost grudging Nic Robertson at CNN to the more intrepid Michael Totten, have shown us a rigid mind control system that would make the KGB envious. It’s hard to believe Mr. Hajj was not under the full control of that system, whether willingly or not is unclear (possibly even to the photographer himself).
What is clear is that to Reuters (AP, CNN, etc.) cooperation with such people was the only way in to a closed society. Of course what results from that is distortions in the reporting of news we can only begin to imagine. No doubt, in their more honest moments, these press institutions and their personnel acknowledge this to themselves. But then they push on. In Reuters own report of today’s embarrassment (that doesn’t acknowledge Little Green Footballs, of course, and speaks only of vague “blogs”) they admit their difficulties with Mr. Hajj (he’s been fired), but continue to deny any problems with the Qana reporting:
He was among several photographers from the main international news agencies whose images of a dead child being held up by a rescuer in the village of Qana, south Lebanon, after an Israeli air strike on July 30 have been challenged by blogs critical of the mainstream media’s coverage of the Middle East conflict.
Reuters and other news organisations reviewed those images and have all rejected allegations that the photographs were staged.
Of course, they have to reject those allegations at this point, because to accept them now would begin an amazing unraveling of the mainstream media, that may be about to happen anyway. The basic media silence around the announced decline in actual deaths at Qana is essentially an admission that something was misreported, someone was conned. How easily and how much are as yet unclear.
But to return to the mindset that allows, indeed effectively encourages, such photography, it is worth noting that in order to justify this kind of behavior… hiring the heavily biased… to yourself, you have to pretend you are doing it for a “greater good.” In this case that would not seem to be easy since Hezbollah is well known to be a religious fascist organization with sub-Medieval values rooted in misogyny, homophobia and the utter defeat of the Enlightenment. So how then do you find this “greater good” outside the financial viability of your institution? What mind games do you have to do to yourself? What contortions? And yet somehow they manage. Their own essential self-loathing (for this is what you find all over Reuters, the Guardian and the BBC) allows them to project out their self-disgust onto America and Israel, as if those nations, not Hezbollah, were the cause of the terror organization’s activities, as if the 15,000 missiles hidden in Lebanon were some Mossad trick and the rise of the nuclear mullahs was simply a “normal” reaction to American imperialism. As if.
Today, for the moment, these media are feeling on the defensive. May they stay that way until they reform.