What’s been most striking about the media coverage of the war between Israel and Hizbullah is the sheer familiarity of it all. It took many of the usual suspects about a week or so to get their preset narrative – both sides are blameworthy, Israel’s response is disproportional, an immediate cease-fire is the only answer, and can’t we all just get along? – up and running, but that’s exactly what happened as soon as Lebanese civilian casualties began to mount and inconveniences like background and context could be shunted off beyond camera range.
“We have all been here before,” sang Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in the title track of their classic 1970 album “Déjà Vu,” and one couldn’t help but think of those lyrics in recent days as Reuters admitted that at least a couple of its widely circulated photographs had been doctored to make Israeli aerial attacks on Lebanon appear that much more severe and sinister; questions were raised about what actually happened at Kana, site of civilian carnage and media moralizing, even as the actual number of fatalities was halved within days of the initial frenzied reporting; and CNN reporter Nic Robertson admitted that Hizbullah exercised a tight grip on the words and images Western correspondents were sending the folks back home.
Some other notes and observations: The notion that the war wasn’t going well for Israel took a while to take hold among the pro-Israel punditry, although the New York Post’s Ralph Peters was sounding a pessimistic note from almost the first day, questioning Israel’s strategy of depending on air power rather than a massive ground invasion. But by last week Peters was far from alone in wondering what had happened to Israel’s vaunted intelligence and military capabilities and the competence of its political leaders.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer was arguably the most scathing, writing: “The U.S. has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win….It has counted on Israel’s ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership…. His search for victory on the cheap has jeopardized not just the Lebanon operation, but America’s confidence in Israel as well. That confidence – and the relationship it reinforces – is as important to Israel’s survival as its own army. The tremulous Olmert seems not to have a clue.”
Liberal and left-wing blogs and websites were increasingly critical of Israel as the fighting raged on, and even when the occasional pro-Israel article found its way onto Salon (Samuel G. Freedman’s “Why Israelis Believe They’re Right”) or The Huffington Post (Bill Maher’s “I Love Being on the Side of My President”), they drew a barrage of anti-Israel comments from the denizens of Southpaw Cyberspace.
Right-wing websites and blogs, as has been the case for years now with conservative mainstream media outlets, were almost uniformly in Israel’s corner.
One of the uglier pieces of writing about Israel to appear in the mainstream media was a remarkably vitriolic – and historically illiterate – screed in New York magazine written by that publication’s editor, Kurt Andersen.
In the article, titled “Truly Inconvenient Truths,” Andersen made the obligatory gesture of establishing his pro-Israel bona fides by calling the Jewish state “a good and miraculous nation that deserves the support of civilized people” – before lowering the boom with this: “the great unfortunate fact about its creation – being carved by the U.N. out of Arab land in 1947 – cannot be ignored or wished away”; and this, in response to a statement by Sen. Hillary Clinton that America would not stand by if terrorists launched rockets into the country from Mexico or Canada: “maybe the most salient analogy, however, is not fantasy attacks on America in 2006 but our Indian Wars of 1876 – and is there any Hillaryesque Democrat who would cheer retroactively about our Christian nation and its Army of the West defending white settlers by exterminating Native Americans?”
Fresh from effectively charging Israel with genocide, Andersen wondered, “How long and ferocious should the incursion by our ally into Lebanon and Gaza be? The deaths of how many innocents and the destruction of how many Lebanese homes and businesses and bridges and roads should we condone?”
An article like this, from the quintessentially liberal editor of the quintessentially liberal magazine in the quintessentially liberal (and Jewish) American metropolis, reveals more than most Jews may care to know about the place Israel has come to occupy in the contemporary liberal imagination.