Note: This article originally appeared in the Toronto Sun: http://www.torontosun.com/2014/08/30/would-i-lie-to-you
What's heading our way, in this terrorist-bloodied world? We depend on international media to help us find out.
So it's time to look at some dirty secrets, foreign correspondent edition.
Trench coats and panamas have given way to sat phones and moral ambiguity. An ideal starting point in understanding this media ambiguity – and its occasional, sinister undertones and implications for us – is the Israel-Hamas war.
The penny should have dropped well before today's Gaza crisis. No later than April 11, 2003, in fact.
That day, CNN admitted in the New York Times that it hid and manipulated reality, though the wording was more delicately self-regarding. Prior to the 2003 defeat of Saddam Hussein, CNN couldn't reveal fully the monstrous excesses and threatening nature of his Iraq, because, said chief news executive Eason Jordan, the network's Iraqi staff risked retaliation.
Problem: Jordan didn't explain why, having been prevented from reporting honestly there, CNN nonetheless insisted on keeping its financially rewarding Baghdad post operating before and during the 2003 war. Some critics concluded that an appetite for big, wartime money-making ratings outstripped CNN's taste for truth, with some ambitious journalists playing along.
Have media done similar things in Gaza?
International media boasts its courage and iconoclasm. But while saturating us with stories about Gazans' suffering, many journo outfits come up strangely short. Yes, we need to know about Palestinian casualties – even if Gaza's people freely elected a Hamas government on a platform of eradicating Jews and Christians.
But brief mention of Hamas' human shields is about as far as media venture into the designated terror organization's inhuman nature and inhumane operations. Surprising, given that ISIS is a four-letter word for Hamas.
The result: Virtually no press photos emerge of ferocious Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other "fighters." And no MSM interest in the UN's Palestine refugee agency's pattern of Hamas-friendly hiring at its facilities, including of teachers in schools packed with munitions. Are Hamas chiefs hiding in hospitals and mosques? Extrajudicial killings of Israeli "collaborators"? Gazan kids killed by a short-falling Hamas rocket? Who cares? Cut to pictures of Israeli tanks.
Big Hamas questions have hardly been touched, especially in the early weeks of the struggle. Why? Some media inadvertently exposed the secret.
The Wall Street Journal's Nick Casey tweeted a photo of a Hamas mouthpiece at Gaza's main hospital, and asked, with "the shelling, how patients at Shifa hospital feel as Hamas uses it as a safe place to see media." Then, with that courage and iconoclasm we hear about, the tweet was yanked.
You want iconoclasm? Take Libération, the French hard-left daily founded by that rolling barrage of mistresses and metaphysics, Jean-Paul Sartre.
Libération reporter Radjaa Abou Dagga said Hamas had offices near Shifa's emergency room, then announced that heavies served him notice: "You will leave Gaza fast and stop work." And, presto. Dagga's article disappeared from "Libé's" web page, replaced by a sniveling, self-rebuking note: Dagga's report was "dépublié" – "depublished," withdrawn – "at the author's request."
Fear of becoming ISIS-styled, halal-slaughtered journalists? Keeping options open for future postings on Islamist territory? A combination?
Fear surely rules in Hamastan. Whispered stories describe Gaza-based scribblers facing Hamas death threats, and the Foreign Press Association has belatedly condemned terrorist intimidation. But maybe CNN-type ambitions are at work, too.
Either way, correspondent Uriel Heilman put it best. Covering the Israel-Hamas fighting, Heilman wrote that unreported Hamas censorship and press self-censorship mean the public is "only getting half the story."
"And where I come from," he added, "a half-truth is considered a lie."
Something to remember when relying on media for intelligence about our future in a dangerous world.
- A lawyer with 30 years' experience in intelligence affairs, David B. Harris is director of the International Intelligence Program, INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc.