Jihadi journalism

Richard Landes is the medieval historian and author, most recently, of Can “The Whole World” Be Wrong?: Lethal Journalism, Antisemitism, and Global Jihad. He taught at Boston University. His excellent site is The Augean Stables. He posts here on X/Twitter, where he specifies his areas of interest — “Medieval historian, apocalyptic thought, blog on lethal journalism & other follies of 21C intelligentsia” — as well as his preferred pronouns — “thou, thee.” He has a lot to say to thee (and me).

Landes gave the phenomenon of Pallywood its name. He was the foremost expositor of “The Muhammad Al-Dura Blood Libel: A Case Analysis.” Meeting him in the summer of 2007 when I visited Israel as a guest of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations was a highlight of the trip for me. Wherever host Fern Oppenheim knocked on the door, the door opened.

The internet magazine White Rose has now published Landes’s long essay “Jihadi journalism.” It takes up the report by HonestReporting on the AP and Reuters photographers who appear to have gone along for the ride with Hamas to document the October 7 massacre in Israel.

Landes reviews the evidence. He places it in the appropriate context. He takes a scholarly if biting approach to the subject. His essay is long and difficult to excerpt. You more or less have to let Landes develop the case.

At one point Landes quotes a Jordanian editor: “Fake news has a long and distinguished pedigree in the Arab world.” Landes comments: “And when, on rare occasions, self-censorship fails and Muslims begin to publicly criticize Muslims, an ‘honor-brigade’ steps in to save Muslim face. Western journalists, who depend on these media-men, who trust them and ‘have no reason to doubt’ them, thus pump unfiltered (enemy) war propaganda into the public sphere.”

Landes of course takes up the performance of the mainstream media in the matter of Israel’s supposed attack on the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City (links omitted):

We were all witnesses to the power of this alliance between post-fact “narrative” journalism and pre-fact, propaganda journalism. The consequences were and continue to be devastating on a global scale. On October 17, 2023, just before 7 P.M., an explosion occurred in the parking lot of the al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City. The explosion, by military standards, was minimal, and the fire ball that followed, though briefly impressive, only burned a half dozen cars, with structural damage to three. The hospital had some windows blown out by the blast, but remained intact. Informed estimates put the death toll at a high of 50, and probably fewer. (The only two photos showing multiple bodies have around 20.) The most impressive one in the courtyard of the hospital is surrounded by people with no sign of further bodies anywhere.

Hamas decided to play this one for all it’s worth. They claimed that an Israeli airstrike bombed the hospital itself in a “horrific” and “criminal” attack. With thousands crowded around the hospital seeking safety from the savage Israeli bombing, it led to over 500 of them being killed, and the death count would probably rise as bodies were dug out from the rubble. What proof did they offer for these claims? Pictures of hundreds of bodies? Pictures of the destroyed hospital and the workers digging victims from the rubble? Pictures of the giant crater and the belongings of the thousands of people who had taken shelter there? Shrapnel and other fragments of the missile that struck?

Nothing of the sort. The fragments had mysteriously vanished from the site, “making it impossible to assess its provenance,” according to the New York Times. Actually, not impossible at all. The removal of the shrapnel from their own rockets is a standard Hamas operating procedure in cases of shortfall, a tell-tale proof of provenance.

Instead, what the stations showed was a medley of short, jerky, un-focused pictures of bodies being removed in the chaotic darkness. It’s not clear whether this is how the footage came, or—in time-honored Pallywood style—CNN’s editors strung together the most striking sight-bytes to give the impression of a massive catastrophe. CNN’s reporters certainly were convinced, referring repeatedly to the “horrific images,” warning that the pictures viewers were about to see were “horrendous… sickening… heart-wrenching… graphic scenes of utter destruction.”

And yet, these actual shots that CNN used over and over to illustrate their claims, they don’t add up to much at all. Looked at dispassionately, these photos offer no evidence for any of Hamas’ accusations—nothing showing damage to the hospital, nothing indicating the presence of hundreds of deaths, or thousands of people gathered there to seek shelter, no picture of the huge crater caused by the “massive” blast that killed so many.

And yet, so mesmerized were the entire pack of CNN journalists, that for the next 17 hours (at least)— hours after the IDF had presented the evidence to them—CNN played the same medley of videos, each time with a somber warning, each time accompanying the narratives about a horrific catastrophe that had killed hundreds, “with a rising toll expected as bodies are pulled from the rubble.” Over and again CNN recited the tale (for which they had no photographic evidence) that the ceiling of the hospital’s operating room caved in during surgery.

So convinced were these shrewd journalists of the massive nature of the blast, that when the Israelis claimed it was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) rocket, the response was incredulity: “that is a lot of damage for one rocket.” Clarissa Ward, claiming expertise based on her experience, but reading from Hamas talking points, expressed doubts about Israel’s case: “I will say, based on seeing these rocket attacks, that they don’t usually have an impact like that in terms of the size of the blast, the number of the death toll.” Narrative over evidence….

Read the whole thing along with its many links here.

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