Employing the Mass Media to Justify a Massacre

by Alan Goodman | July 21, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


“There’s no country on Earth that can be expected to live under a daily barrage of rockets.”

Thus spoke Barack Obama on July 16, after eight days of Israeli bombing and shelling of Gaza that—at that time—had resulted in 200 deaths—many of them children. But Obama was not talking about Israel’s crimes. He was talking about the ineffective rockets from Gaza that at that point had killed exactly one Israeli—a volunteer working with a combat unit of the Israeli army on the Gaza border.

And Obama was justifying Israel’s slaughter in Gaza—which would escalate the next day.

How does a ruling class heavily invested in Israel—a Middle East-based enforcer for its interests—brand one-sided massacres by Israel as a “response to terrorist attacks on Israel?”

By lying and distorting reality through an instrument of its rule: the mass media.

Mass media propaganda organs portray ineffective—sometimes home-made—rocket attacks from Gaza as more devastating than massively destructive Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

On July 9, ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer presented a story about “rockets raining down on Israel today” while showing video footage of massive devastation. And Sawyer claimed the footage showed “an Israeli family trying to salvage what they can, one woman standing speechless among the ruins.” But the massive devastation was in Gaza and a result of Israeli bombs. Later, ABC and Diane Sawyer apologized for the “error.” The web page at ABC that presented the original story has a meaningless note that “ABC News has misidentified a photo and has therefore removed the introduction to this story.” And the damage was done. The very fact that such an error could be made—if that’s what it was—shows how deeply the mainstream news machinery has been programmed to distort reality when anyone paying any attention to what is actually going on with Israel’s slaughter in Gaza would know that there is no such thing as Israeli families standing amidst the kind of devastation shown in the video, and that the devastation shown in the video is widespread and typical of what the Palestinian people in Gaza face daily.

And Palestinians’ lives are portrayed as cheap compared with those of Israelis.

When the first Israeli died—after 200 (at that point) Palestinians had been massacred in Gaza, many of them clearly not combatants—the headline in the New York Times was “First Israeli Killed Near Gaza Border.”

Cropped, but unretouched and unedited screencapture of NY Times online coverage 7/15/2014.

The devastated home in the photo is actually of a home in Gaza even though the article is laid out to appear as if it is connected to the headline about the death of an Israeli, and the headline itself trains readers to see Palestinian lives as meaningless and Israeli deaths as priceless, while Israel massacres Palestinians.

This headline trains readers to see a single Israeli life (the volunteer, as mentioned above, who was assisting the Israeli military in a combat zone on the Gaza border) as exponentially more precious than hundreds of Palestinian lives. The headline was followed by a photo of a man walking through a devastated home. That photo was of a Palestinian man in his home in Gaza. But that information was only revealed if you read the caption, and a casual reader scanning the Times got the message that Israelis were subjected to death and devastation.

When mainstream reporters attempt to humanize the Palestinian people, they are literally shut down.

Ayman Mohyeldin is an NBC News correspondent who personally witnessed Israel’s slaughter of four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach. Mohyeldin posted numerous chilling details on Twitter and Instagram, photographs he took of their anguished parents and video of one of their mothers as she learned about the death of her young son. He interviewed a wounded boy at the hospital shortly before he was to be operated on, and recounted what he saw on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. Earlier, Ayman Mohyeldin reported: “[Y]ou can understand why some human rights organizations call Gaza ‘the world’s largest outdoor prison.’” He added: “One of the major complaints and frustrations among many people is that this is a form of collective punishment. You have 1.7 million people in this territory, now being bombarded, with really no way out.”

The day after Mohyeldin’s report on the slaughter of the fourth youth on the Gaza beach, NBC ordered him out of Gaza. Officially NBC claimed this was because of “security concerns.” Journalist Glenn Greenwald revealed the decision to completely remove Mohyeldin from reporting on Gaza by a top NBC executive. Top news media execs make calls like that based on bigger concerns than the safety of a reporter. And the reporters who replaced Mohyeldin with reportage from the Israeli city of Tel Aviv stuck much closer to the official distortions of what is going on in Gaza. Later—in response to widespread outcry and protest on social media, and reportedly angry protests by other NBC reporters—NBC returned Mohyeldin to Gaza coverage.

When, occasionally, there is anything close in the mainstream U.S. media to posing questions about U.S. backing for Israel, it is immediately slammed or “diverted.”

This is not as simple a problem as “unbalanced” media coverage. Or “one narrative being presented to the exclusion of another.” Or the “corruption” of “corporate media” by “special interests.” This is a problem of truth and reality being covered up, lied about, and distorted. The coverage of Israel in the mainstream media is a case of people being systematically and consistently lied to by a mass media that is training people to identify with the interests of the U.S. ruling class and its empire, and to see terrible crimes committed by the U.S. and its allies as “fighting terrorism.”

Think about the following example of how, when even relatively mild questions about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians are posed, they immediately and forcefully get “channeled” into identifying with the interests of the empire:

Piers Morgan, before he got fired by CNN, ran a report from a CNN reporter in Gaza depicting massive destruction and terror being rained down on people during another Israeli massacre, at the end of 2012. After watching it, he more or less blurted out: “Gaza is, to many people, one of the key problems in the region because of the terrible oppression, whatever the right phrase is for it, of the Palestinian people there. It’s an awful place for people to try and live, isn’t it?” Morgan was immediately “corrected” by his guest, CNN analyst Fareed Zakaria, who said: “First, one has to say, Piers, as you did, the Israelis are justified in doing something when all these rockets are being fired at them. So there’s no question that it’s justified.” With that “settled,” the terms of acceptable discourse were re-set, and the discussion moved on... to critiquing how successful (or not) Israel had been at advancing the interests of Israel (and by extension, its sponsor, U.S. imperialism). And in the process, utterly upside-down terms were set as the beginning and ending point for any “analysis” that was going to come across the airwaves, and how viewers were being programmed to think.

Even more damning is the way more pointed exposure of the nature and role of Israel is handled. Widely respected and veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas was threatened, suppressed, and ultimately silenced. During the Bush regime, she asked Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow, a question that suggested the U.S. supported “collective punishment for Lebanon and Palestine." His response was, “Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view.” (Hezbollah is an Islamic fundamentalist force in Lebanon branded a terrorist organization by the U.S., and this response essentially accused Thomas of being pro-terrorist.)

After Israel attacked the Turkish humanitarian ship Mavi Marmara in international waters and murdered five unarmed activists to prevent it from breaking Israel’s brutal blockade of Gaza in May 2010, Helen Thomas asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, “If any other nation in the world had done it, we would have been up in arms,” and “What is the sacrosanct, iron-clad relationship where a country that deliberately kills people and boycotts—and we aid and abet the boycott?” The next day a fanatical supporter of Israel posted a video of Thomas saying Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine.” The day after that, Hearst News Service announced her (forced) “retirement,” the White House Correspondents’ Association—which slavishly accepted and fed the nation Bush’s “weapons of mass deception” lies—rushed to denounce her, and her speaker’s’ bureau fired her.

These incidents of lies, distortions, and censorship are the tip of the iceberg, but reveal a whole enforced environment of dehumanizing the Palestinian people, blaming one-sided massacres of Palestinians on the Palestinians, and cover up the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine. And an exposure of the overall nature of a media that—like the ruling class it serves—wouldn’t know the truth if it hit them in the head.


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