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Press Review September 20, 2001
 
Far Gone in 30 Seconds. CNN Sentences Palestine To Death
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 4 of 5
 
After showing the pictures of the Palestinian children, CNN commentators (in particular the unbelievably loathsome Jill Dougherty) would invariably begin asking their interview subjects what our military response was likely to be, how extreme it needed to be, and whether we had failed to be vigilant enough in the past in dealing with the terrorist threat. The station's obvious agenda was to rally its viewers around the very crudest response to the news: violence, and celebration of violence, needed to be met with more and more violence and a political clampdown.

The most dramatic result of the station's manipulation of the Palestine images came during an interview with former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. During part of the interview the station maintained a split-screen effect which showed the porcine ex-bureaucrat in one small box, while images from the day's shocking events rolled on in a sort of endless montage in the other. The celebrating Palestine children were shown during one sequence. Soon afterward, Eagleburger dropped a bombshell comment. He was not referring specifically to the celebrating children, but his -- and the station's -- implication was clear:

"There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this," he said, "and that is you have to kill some of them, even if they are not immediately directly involved in this thing."

Only in the United States, a country which sentences minor criminals to death, would such journalism even be thinkable.

And that wasn't even the worst part.

Television has almost no probative value. Unlike reading, which requires people to assemble images and associations in their minds, television trains people to become completely passive consumers of information. You're not supposed to look beyond the picture. Therefore you get this amazing phenomenon of an image without explanation. People are seen doing and saying things that appear to make no sense at all. The result can be more inflammatory than an outright lie -- and that's what happened in this case.

During the entire first day of coverage, CNN never once broached the question of what might have aroused Arab anger toward the United States. The station speculated endlessly that Osama bin Laden was the culprit, but it never once bothered to ask what might have been bin Laden's motive. The same held true for the shots of the celebrating Palestinians. No reason was offered. Instead, the station simply asked for Americans to rely on their own preconceived notions of Islam to form the motive for their behavior. The groundwork for that appeal has been steadily laid over the course of the last three decades -- since about the time of the formation of O.P.E.C., incidentally.

In general, American coverage of Islam tends to focus on two or three key themes that are offered as explanation for Arab hostility to America. The first is the poverty of Islamic countries; Muslims are inevitably portrayed as murderously envious of American affluence. The ency is almost always blind and irrational. To quote the New York Times analysis from September 16, Muslim extremists profess a "hatred for the values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage." The second is religious fanaticism, as expressed in the endless "America seen as Great Satan" pieces. Muslims do not fear death because they believe in an afterlife; Muslims are all inspired to jihad by commandment from above; Muslims are willing to kill anyone, guilty or innocent, to recapture the homelands and rid the world of infidel, i.e. American values.

The third theme is anti-Semitism. Muslims are shown throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers for no apparent reason. The "rock-throwing towelhead" photo was one of the great cliches of 20th-century journalism. The reason they were throwing rocks, we were always told, is that they're crazed anti-Semites. And we know who else was an anti-Semite.

But Palestinians have a very simple reason to hate Americans. Americans are supporting the occupation of their country by Israel. Israeli armed forces, the same people who are bulldozing neighborhoods and shooting into crowds, use American weapons -- even American missiles. The United States is basically a colonial aggressor to most Palestinians, some 360,000 of which are living as refugees in Lebanon.


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