On Sunday July 20, 2014, CNN interviewed former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren about his forthcoming editorial concerning the role of the media in promoting Hamas’ narrative in the ongoing war.
Subsequently, a CNN panel concluded that they were just reporting the news, and if there was any doubt as to the fairness of their coverage, they were quick to congratulate themselves.
The CNN panel ignored that terrorists drive their own narrative by creating the very spectacles and drama over which the media--especially electronic media--salivate. As a tactic, terrorism has never defeated a government, but it nearly always manages to capture the media.
Terrorism has always been about theater, and the media provide the stage, the lighting, the audience and the publicity. In the modern era, the quintessential terror dramatist was Abane Ramdane, one of the leaders of the Algerian uprising against the French.
Contributor Abraham Miller believes that CNN coverage of the war in Gaza is typical of most 24-hour news channels - they are focusing on the aspects that Hamas wants them to focus on. Photo Credit: CNN screengrab
Ramdane realized that the killing of French troops in desert outposts was meaningless because no one heard about it. If a legionnaire died in the desert, did an event occur?
To Ramdane, the answer was a resounding, no. Terrorism requires an audience. Ramdane convinced his fellow militants that it was better to kill one Frenchman in Algiers where the event would be splashed across the pages of Western newspapers than a hundred in the desert.
[sharequote align="center"]War is not about dying for your country, it is about making the other guy die for his.[/sharequote]
George Habash, former head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was inspired by Ramdane. Habash is the father of modern airline hijacking. One of his greatest media spectacles was blowing up three jets at Jordan’s Dawson field. The media could not get enough of the exploding planes, with fuel in their tanks, producing fireballs in rich color. It was the kind of succulent event about which news producers dream.
Terrorists have never overthrown a government. Their tactics are designed to conceal their obvious military weakness by substituting drama for results and pushing the media toward the narrative they want to disseminate. Their tactics are designed for spectacle, and the media, especially the modern electronic media, with hours to fill want dramatic spectacles.
A picture taken from the southern Israeli-Gaza border shows rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, on July 19, 2014. Israel's operation against Hamas saw one of its bloodiest days with 46 Palestinians killed in Gaza and two Israeli soldiers dying in a clash with militants who infiltrated the Jewish state. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ JACK GUEZ/
CNN and other journalists covering the current conflict in Gaza focus on the spectacle of civilian casualties. Most of those are in Gaza. To the media, that is where they should focus their reporting. And the reporting is an endless zooming in on innocent victims seasoned with statements about Israel’s “disproportionate use of force,” usually descending into the ludicrous notion that there has to be some narrowing of the casualty gap to justify Israel’s response.
These reports would be analogous to the media documenting American inner-city shootings without a word about poverty, racism, or the social context of the ghetto. As inner-city shootings require context, so too do the casualties in Gaza.
At the simplest level, a reporter might point out that while there are miles of tunnels in Gaza reaching into Israel, there is not one bomb shelter. Hamas made a choice to build tunnels from which to attack Israel instead of building shelters to protect Gaza’s civilian population from the inevitable war the tunnels and their launching of rockets and missiles would bring.
National Public Radio on the morning of July 21, 2014 went on nearly interminably about the beautiful Palestinian children, displaced by the Israeli bombardment, finding shelter on the grounds of the Shifa hospital. Not a word was mentioned about Israeli children living in bomb shelters or suffering from post traumatic stress disorder from living for years under the cloud of Hamas’ rockets and missiles.
Palestinian children, wounded in an Israeli strike on a compound housing a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, lay on the floor of an emergency room at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, Thursday, July 24, 2014. Israeli tank shells hit the compound, killing more than a dozen people and wounding dozens more who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra says the dead and injured in the school compound were among hundreds of people seeking shelter from heavy fighting in the area. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
But most of all, Palestinian children living on hospital grounds are safe because Israel does not intentionally bomb civilian targets. Would Israeli children in similar circumstances be safe if Hamas had Israel’s military capability? Of course not!
That is the point NPR reporter Emily Harris fails to mention. Just as she fails to mention that civilian casualties are high not only because Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on the planet but also because Hamas puts rocket and missile launchers in civilian areas seeking the spectacle of civilian casualties for dramatic effect. Her narrow focus on that effect is part of the symbiotic relationship between both terrorists and the media needing spectacle.
With all the anecdotal stories on the suffering of women and children, you would never know that 80 percent of the casualties in Gaza are males and most are between the ages of 18-29, which means they were probably combatants.
One day, I suspect, the media will even get the doctrine of proportional response right, just as in 2012, they were eventually able to explain the difference between a rocket and a missile.
Israeli soldiers hold positions near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 21, 2014, after militants from Gaza infiltrated southern Israel through two tunnels. More than 10 militants from Gaza who accessed Israel were shot dead the Israeli army's official spokesman said. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ
War is always about disproportionate casualties.
The doctrine of proportional response is not about getting more of your people killed or even about killing civilians. The killing of civilians, unless intentional and not part of the elimination of a military target, is not a war crime. Proportional response is about the value of the target justifying the unintended collateral civilian casualties.
What is justified under the doctrine is a complex matter debated endlessly by scholars. It most certainly is not the “common sense” explanation that the bobbing heads on television have been providing us for the last several weeks.
Their explanation is analogous to saying that America suffered several thousand casualties at Pearl Harbor. World War II against the Japanese, consequently, should have ended when the Americans inflicted the same number of casualties on them.
Gen. George Patton understood war. As he put it, war is not about dying for your country, it is about making the other guy die for his.
If you want to win, you make that happen in far greater numbers than you experience. That is what defeats an enemy, and that seems to be an idea that eludes much of the media that are fixated on good visuals and notions of international law that are clearly beyond their competence to accurately report.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati. He also served on the faculty of the University of California, Davis and the University of Illinois, Urbana.
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