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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Sunday cartoon « Previous | |Next »
March 14, 2004

This cartoon captures an ethical ambiguity:


Of course, you can have the mirror opposite. Someone who thinks that everything the Palestinian and Iraqi bombers do is ethically okay and everything that the Israeli's and US do is wrong.

We have a kind of closed group think here that has lost its connection to a critical public reason. The Press is a good example of this. It has been very critical of the claims made by the US, Uk and Australia to justify the war in Iraq--- after the end of the war. Prior to the war the press was notable for its negligence of its watchdog role.

Michael Massing in this piece in the Review section of the Australian Financial Review asks:

"Watching and reading all this, one is tempted to ask, where were you all before the war? Why didn't we learn more about these deceptions and concealments in the months when the administration was pressing its case for regime change - when, in short, it might have made a difference?

Some maintain that the many analysts who've spoken out since the end of the war were mute before it. But that's not true. Beginning in the middle of 2002, the US "intelligence community" was rent by bitter disputes over how Bush officials were using the data on Iraq. Many US journalists knew about this, yet few chose to write about it."

Massing's article is a thorough working through of why few journalists choose to write critically about the justifications for invading Iraq. Massing concludes:

"The contrast between the press's feistiness since the end of the war and its meekness before it highlights one of the most entrenched and disturbing features of American journalism: its pack mentality. Editors and reporters don't like to diverge too sharply from what everyone else is writing. When a president is popular and a consensus prevails, journalists shrink from challenging him. Even now, papers like the Times and the Post seem loath to give prominent play to stories that make the administration look too bad. Thus, stories about the increasing numbers of dead and wounded in Iraq - both US and Iraqi - are usually consigned to page 10 or 12, where they won't cause readers too much discomfort."

The pack mentality is very prevalent amongst the Australian media. Many are lapdogs. The closed horizon of the lapdogs is particularly noticeable in the reporting on the Palestinian/Israel conflict.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:44 AM | | Comments (9)


All true, but the ultimate question remains unasked. If there is a pack mentality, why? If it didn't exist so starkly in the past, why not? If now they run one way, then turn on a coin and head in the opposite direction, then why?

Packs have leaders. There's an arse sniffing hierarchy. You can see the untersturmfuhrers around the winger blogs, the colonels in the columns and the admirals in the board room... all reporting to the First Lord, let's say Murdoch, who, as we know, threw his lot in with the warmongers with indecent haste and an amoral sort of glee.

If his minions are backtracking furiously, it's because he's turned the tiller himself.

I'm not gainsaying the pack, but I don't think we ought to look for reasons for their behaviour in group psychology. It's far simpler than that; they were weak, they were fearful, they were taking orders they refused to buck.

In even an imperfect world, these buggers should be publicly eating shit and wiping the omelettes off their faces. In stocks for us to throw ordure on their cowardly persons. But to read them you'd think they were right all along!

Why is this? Back to Murdoch and the unhealthy concentration of our media...

yep your account fits the Iraqi war scenario. I'm not sure that it fits other cases through eg. the way it has been seduced by Mark Latham. That's hardly a case of taking orders from the boss.

From my experience many are ignorant and do not understand public policy issues (eg., MedicarePlus) at anything more than a superficial level. Nor do they want to dig deeper to see how or why the doctors control medicine.

Nor are they incapable of engaging in a critical way with an argumentin a public debate. See the responses of one Tim Blair in this post. When the going gets a bit tough he turns to abuse.

My concern is not with the group pyschology of the Canberra pack--it is the deskilling and poverty of journalism in the coporate media.

But to be fair, when they do publish a critical article eg. one on Telstra, the gorilla threatens them. You need a strong bureau editor to stand firm against the threats. From what I can gather there are few of those around these days.

Leunig and Gary, as usual, miss the point, entirely. They create a morally insupportable faux-equivalence between terrorists who deliberately attack civilians, and military strikes that deliberately strike military targets with civilians inadvertantly being killed.

More importantly, Leunig/Sauer place the onus on those civilian deaths on the wrong party. Palestinian terrorist groups are war criminals twice over - first for deliberately targeting Israeli civilians with suicide bombings and sniping attacks - second for using their own civilian population as a shields.

Once again Ted Lapkin is directly on the mark:

The War Crimes of the Palestinians
By Ted Lapkin | February 27, 2004

The phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" is one of those hackneyed aphorisms whose potency has been diluted through rampant overuse. Yet on occasion, even this most overworked of truisms can directly hit the mark.

Since the current bout of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians erupted over three years ago, many thousands of words have been written to recount the twists and turns of that war. Yet, it was an Associated Press photograph taken during a recent firefight in Gaza that distilled the essence of a central, but oft overlooked, dynamic of this conflict.

The salient figure in this photo is identified by the snapshot's caption as a "masked Hamas militant." This man can be clearly identified as an armed combatant by his camouflage uniform and combat webbing, as well as by the AK-47 assault rifle that he has strapped across his back.

The Hamas fighter is seen in the photograph setting up a rocket launcher. But, the picture also shows a group of Palestinian boys, some of whom are clearly in their early teens, milling around this artillery piece as the Hamas gunman prepares it for firing.

In case one might wonder what these youngsters are doing at the business end of such a deadly weapon, the caption of the photograph clarifies matters: "A masked Hamas militant sets up a makeshift mortar launcher against Israeli forces, unseen, as Palestinian youths try to cover him from the sight of the forces during an incursion in a Gaza city's neighbourhood, Wednesday Feb. 11, 2004."

With its singularly stark image, this picture communicates one of the uglier realities of a war in which Palestinians regularly use their own children as combatants. Yet, debate about this callous tactic of deliberate child-sacrifice is often suppressed by Palestinian spokespeople who address vehement accusations of bigotry against anyone who dares broach the issue.

Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi provided a typical example of such rhetorical jiu jitsu when this question was raised during her recent visit to Australia. "That is a racist accusation," declared Ashrawi. "To say that we do not love our children - what a horrible thing to accuse us of!" Horrible, indeed.

But, a more forthright portrayal of the situation was forthcoming from Huda Al-Hussein, a correspondent for the London-based Arabic daily Al Sharq Al Awsat. In November 2000, Al Hussein wrote a scathing piece about the hardhearted manipulation of Palestinian youth by leaders who "consciously issue orders with the purpose of ending their childhood, even if it means their last breath."

In fact, there is ample evidence to conclude that the official resources of the Palestinian Authority are directly used to encourage children to court death on the battlefield. The Palestinian Ministry of Education, for example, issues school books for grades five and six that extol the virtues of "Shahada," the Arabic term for martyrdom. In June 2002, Palestinian Authority TV aired an promotional interview 11-year-old Yussra, who declared, "every Palestinian child aged, say 12, says 'Oh Lord I would like to become a Shahid.'"

Aware that they are unable to defeat Israel militarily, the Palestinians have formulated a plan that is designed to vanquish the Jewish State diplomatically. And, Palestinian leaders realize that a public relations offensive is the key to any such political victory.

The gambit of using children as pawns in front line combat is predicated on a calculus in which cynicism is surpassed only by media savvy. The Palestinians have developed a communications strategy that is predicated on the simple premise that the size of a headline will be inversely proportional to the age of the casualty involved. So, because a dead 13 year old child will attract much more journalistic attention than a dead 33 year old gunman, it is deemed legitimate to sacrifice youngsters on the altar of Israel's demonisation.

This macabre Palestinian publicity scheme is both singularly immoral, and doubly illegal. Article 51 of the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Convention prohibits combatants from using civilians to: " shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations."

Moreover, the International Criminal Court considers "conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years, or using them to participate actively in hostilities in both international and non-international armed conflicts" to be a war crime.

Thus, even if the attacks that deliberately slaughter Israeli civilians are excluded from the equation, Palestinian terrorist organizations, and the Palestinian Authority that tolerates them, are war criminals twice over.

It is long past time to unbind the corset of political correctness that suffocates so much of our public discourse, and to state some self-evident truths. The dominant culture of Palestinian society promotes honour killing as the highest expression of family values, and suicide bombing as the highest expression of national values.

The exploitation of pubescent youths as front line cannon fodder exemplifies a Palestinian cult of death that not only debases the value of human life, but also serves as a primary impediment to peace in the Middle East.

Ted Lapkin is Senior Policy Analyst for the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council

Voice of Sanity misses the point again.

The thrust of Leunig's cartoon was not favouring Palestinian suicide bombers but pointing out (as have many before him) that there is an easy acceptance of terror carried out by a legal nation state (if you don't like the US example look at Russia in Chechnya or indeed Iraq in the 1980s). As if the trappings and rituals and legal niceties that surround the terror act matter more than what is done.

I fear that the private schooling system has let you down badly...perhaps you should have gone to the local state school and got taught that very little is black and white.

Sorry, Gary, but I'm a public school product, through and through. That irrelevant attempt at snide condescension aside, I do hold certain truths to be self-evident. I categorically reject the post-modernist assertion that "very little is black and white." Such eschewals of the existence of objective reality lead directly to nihilism.

Moreover, you contradict yourself. Weren't you saying, just a few posts ago, that certain things could be categorized as absolute evil? Yet, now you are saying that moral absolutes aren't so absolute, after all.

It is you who is labouring under a fundamental misapprehension. The point of my post was never to assert that you and Leunig were "favouring Palestinian suicide bombers." My j'accuse was directed towards your propensity for constructing a false moral equivalency between those who deliberately target innocent non-combatants (the Palestinians) and those who use military force in self-defence (Israelis) against armed enemies who use their own civilian population to shield their paramilitary activities (Palestinians again). Moreover, this distinction between the legitimate use of military force, and terrorism is reflected in the law of warfare, aka international law.

Thus, as I pointed out, the Palestinians are war criminals twice over, once for deliberately targeting innocent Israeli civilians, and once again for using their own Palestinian civilian population to shield their armed activites.

Finally, let me make an unsolicited, yet modest suggestion about your polemical style. You accuse Tim Blair of eschewing constructive debate in favour of personal attacks. Yet, you indulge in similar silliness by making pejorative speculations about my purported educational shortcomings.

Why don't you stick to the issue at hand, and leave those ad hominem inanities by the wayside?

'I'm not sure that it fits other cases though eg. the way it has been seduced by Mark Latham. That's hardly a case of taking orders from the boss.'

Hmm.. I dunno. Murdoch likes winners and knows the odds better than most. Perhaps he thinks Howard's done his dash and that Latham is the sort of Labor leader he can do business with; that is to say from the right wing and with significant public approval ratings.

But I agree it can't just be direction from above; all I would say is that if RM were virulently opposed to ML, the welcoming tone of the Aust media for him would have been far more muted.

In this case, I think it's a combination of (1) the journos getting as sick of the low quality of this govt as we are (2) said journos being acutely aware of growing public discontent and tacking accordingly and (3) un certain regard on their part for ML's clever and effective entry into thet cockpit of the bearpit, if you'll excuse such a dreadful construction.

voice of insanity

that's ugly propaganda from Mr Lapkin and no surprise it oozes out of AIJAC, host to awful people like Rubenstein and Mandel.

What's your name, BTW? Aren't we allowed to know? Do you think we're dangerous or something? I get a bit upset at all these Likudniks fearlessly spewing vileness under an assumed name.

If you've nothing to hide, let it all hang out.

Glenn, you are free with dismissive characterisations of Lapkin's viewpoint as "vile propaganda" but you are less forthcoming with reasoned arguments to support that assertion.

Just because you deem something vile doesn't necessarily make it so. You aren't doing the heavy lifting of making a reasoned and well crafted argument. There are no logical, factual contentions to support your assertions. You are engaging in what is called in the law an "ipse dixit."

How about something other than asseverations unsupported by argument?

I agree that Murdoch likes winners and perhaps he is has judged that Howard still has the shakes. Moreover, you can only cut media deals with winners.

And the journo's are seduced by the new look ALP and they sense (and shape) the resonances on the ground. It looks sexy given the dreariness of the day to day churning out the product in Canberra.

However, my main point still stands. Many--those below the ranks of the senior journo-- do not go beyond recycling a press release; or acting as a conduit for the latest government drip feed.

The journo's know that this is happening, but there is little critical awareness of the media within the media. Not much in the way of self-reflexivity you might say--other than Media Watch or