Ghosts in the Media Machine

Bloggers—and to a much lesser extent some media outlets—have paid considerable attention to specific examples of media manipulation in the war being fought between Hezbollah and the IDF in Lebanon and Israel, but we seem be under-covering the overall framing of the media's coverage, particularly when it comes to the subject matter chosen for coverage.

This comes into sharp relief when contrasted against the coverage we've become used to from the war in Iraq, particularly as it relates to the media coverage allowed and provided by two different insurgencies in Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iraq's predominately Sunni insurgency.

In Iraq, we’ve become somewhat used to embedded reporters reporting from both sides of the conflict with a fairly wide latitude to operate. Stringers, both print media and photographers, have occasionally embedded within the insurgency, providing coverage from ambushes and sniper's nests alike. The insurgents themselves often seem to be media hungry, filming operations themselves and often releasing the tapes to the media or producing them on DVDs for public consumption in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

By and large, the vast majority of video reporting allowed and encouraged by the Iraqi insurgency is combat-related. IED ambushes are particularly popular, often released as montages set to Islamist music as propaganda videos. The Iraqi insurgents have often seemed intent on portraying themselves as rebel forces actively waging a war for the people, whether or not the people would always agree.

Hezbollah, however, seems to be fighting a different kind of media war.

Hezbollah has far more control over their battlespace than does the Iraqi insurgency, and has a much tighter rein on the media reporting coming out of Lebanon. Mainstream media outlets have let this be know albeit comparatively quietly, as I mentioned in the comments of Jefferson Morely's Washington Post blog entry, The Qana Conspiracy Theory:

Anderson Cooper has already admitted that his crew has been handled by Hezbollah media minders, and CNN's Nic Robertson has openly admitted his coverage on July 18 was stage-managed by Hezbollah from start to finish. Times' Christopher Allbritton has said that Hezbollah has copies of every journalist's passport, and has "hassled many and threatened one" to cover-up what journalists have seen of Hezbollah's rocket launching operations. CBS's Elizabeth Palmer admits to being handled by Hezbollah, and being allowed to only see what Hezbollah wants them to see. They are the voices of a few, expressing the experiences of the many.

Israel Insider chronicled these disturbing examples of media control, but the media at large has been loath to make the level of Hezbollah "minding" over their reporting widely known.

With this control and the apparent complicity of many media stringers both Arab and western, Hezbollah has chosen to fight a completely different kind of media war than they one we have seen in Iraq. A review of the Yahoo! photostreams (compilations of various media photographers' work released throughout the day) coming out of Iraq and Lebanon paint two very different pictures. While the Iraqi insurgency often sought to crave media attention (especially when it was more active as an insurgency in 2004 and 2005, as opposed to today's more conflict between Sunni and Shiiite Iraqis), Hezbollah’s tightly-controlled media war seeks to portray Hezbollah itself as something of a ghost.

Scan the photos coming out of Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, and you'll see and unending stream of dramatic photos of dead women and children and anguished rescue workers climbing through the remains of bombed-out residential buildings, and you will see heart-rending photos of toys in the rubble. You will see mourning. You will see pain. You will see a civilian infrastructure in tatters.

What you will not see, except in very rare cases, is Hezbollah.

The "Party of God," well-known for their parades of armed masked men in the past, have vanished into the ether. You will see no Hezbollah fighters brandishing their weapons with bravado. You will see no photos of Hezbollah’s rocket launchers or rockets prepared to fire upon Israel’s civilian population. You will see no photographs of shattered launchers or weapons caches or even fighting aged men amid the rubble. The media itself quietly reports that anyone who does take such pictures may be killed, though you wouldn’t know it from the amount of attention that disturbing detail has received in the press.

Hezbollah is fighting the Victim's War, hiding behind civilians that they set up as targeted pawns by firing rockets from inside Lebanon's villages, cites, and towns, from outside apartment buildings, hospitals and schools in residential neighborhoods.

It is a war of cowards, largely covered by sympathetic Arab Muslim stringers and their Hezbollah minders who determine what can and what cannot be reported; a war in which the "professional" media is all too complicit.

Cross-posted at Confederate Yankee.