Thursday, November 15, 2007

The al Durah blood libel and the deconstruction of imagery journalism 

Among the many interesting stories we have not covered on this blog, the al Durah libel case stands out as one that I would have written about if I had had more free time in the last couple of months. The case, now on appeal in France, turns on whether or not a French television network staged the filming of the killing of a Palestinian child by Israeli soldiers back in 2000. The question is important for general reasons and specific. Generally, because defenders of the television network -- France 2 -- are waxing all sophisticated on us naifs and arguing that all television journalists stage video and that nobody should be shocked or surprised. Specifically, because the video in question has become a staple of anti-Israel propaganda around the world, including in justification of the murder of Daniel Pearl.

Chances are you know nothing about the al Durah case. The mainstream media has virtually blacked it out, not just in France but in Britain and the United States. Pro-Israel blogs (see, e.g., Pajamas Media) and magazines have written about the case, but you will hear no discussion of it in casual conversation among even newshounds unless they are particularly attuned to the unfair treatment of Israel in the media. If you are still interested -- and you should be if you harbor any remaining faith in the credibility of television journalism -- Melanie Phillips has written about the case at The Spectator's blog. She links back to earlier pieces of hers on the subject; this post is particularly useful.

The al Durah case is fascinating because it brings together many old themes in an explosive mixture -- the moral complexity in Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, the uses and abuses of children in asymmetrical warfare, the application of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to television journalism (in which the observation by a journalist of a bullet fired by an Israeli changes either the location or the trajectory of the bullet), and the curious historical relationship between notorious French trials and anti-Semitism.

It seems to me, however, that the case also reveals the enormous changes in the circumstances of imagery journalism in the last few years. The al Durah footage was shot and broadcast in 2000. It is now being deconstructed -- outside the courtroom, at least -- with the technique of distributed analysis honed by the blogosphere in only the last three or four years and especially during 2006's Hezbollah-Israeli war. The al Durah video was manufactured and promulgated under one set of standards -- that everybody believes what they see on television -- and is now being analyzed with the post-Rathergate, post-Green Helmet guy knowledge that journalists stage imagery all the time. My question is this: do imagery journalists, including those who scoff that "everybody" stages photographs and video, understand how dramatically their world has changed in just three years?

MORE: For a deeper dive into today's action in the al Durah case, read this.


By Blogger tm, at Thu Nov 15, 07:44:00 AM:

Honestly, I don't think it's that big of a revelation to most people. I think I was shocked when I was 11 or 12 to learn that the Iwo Jima flag raising wasn't lightning in a bottle, but after that it's not such a big deal. In a sense, the righty blogosphere reminds of nothing so much as the minority of people that were shocked - shocked! - to learn that reality TV contains clever edits and the occasional reconstruction.

Also interesting here is how thoroughly the right is recreating the epistemology of post-modedernists like Baudrillard. I expect it won't be long before someone throws up a trial balloon by wondering aloud if reality itself isn't staged.  

By Blogger David M, at Thu Nov 15, 11:19:00 AM:

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 11/15/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Nov 15, 11:53:00 AM:

We can all be skeptical of what we "see" as being representative of reality, but when the visual image is blatently contrived but then passed off by the protagonist/"reporter" as "real" or "true", the problem is not so much in our heads, but how this manufactured reality has political ramifications.

The second Iwo Jima picture was "staged", in that it used a larger flag, but there is no doubt that the first flag raising was real. It was a real event, in the sense of the word that the picture represented reality. The question about the al Dura case is "what is the reality?" Was the child in question even hurt, etc. as portrayed?

How many people believe something because they saw it on the Evening New or saw it on the Internet, and it just happens to reinforce their own worldview? I know a 9-11 "Truther" that I work for (in another country), and of course he insists that a missile hit the Pentagon, and that this sort of truth is not available on the Internet in America. Yeah, right. These images are meant to be propaganda to deceive people and reinforce the idea war that is being waged.


By Blogger pst314, at Thu Nov 15, 12:25:00 PM:

"Honestly, I don't think it's that big of a revelation to most people."

Sadly, you are mistaken. The al Durah fakery (and numerous other dishonest news reports) are cited by many, many lefties and liberals to justify their hatred of Israel and support for muslim terrorists.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Nov 16, 01:20:00 AM:

Honestly you cant trust those lying journalists i mean tey are lying 365 days a year even on christmas and they still spew lies like wildfire i mean GLOBAL WARMING is the biggist lie of the century  

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