Media as Political Propaganda

Posted: 5/25/2008 4:41:00 PM
Author: Laina Farhat-Holzman
Source: This article originally was in the Santa Cruz Sentinel website on May 24, 2008.

Note from Librarians for Fairness: The article below is NOT about libraries, but we have decided to add it to our website, especially in view of the fact that the media has largely ignored the reality that the al-Dura incident was a hoax. Moreover, innocent Israelis were murdered by terrorists directly because of it.

Media as Political Propaganda
by Larina Farhat-Holzman

Our Founding Fathers regarded a press free from government interference as an essential institution for the protection of democracy. The press was to inform voters through a diversity of viewpoints and to prevent the abuse of power that thrives in the absence of scrutiny.

In the real world, however, media often serve as mouthpieces of the government in power or a distraction of scandal and gossip as we often find in the American and European popular tabloids.

In some dictatorships there is only one view permitted -- the dictator's -- and foreign journalists are barred. In Burma and North Korea, we have seen the necessity to clandestinely cover Burma's flood-storm disaster or Korea's recurring starvation.

But in sophisticated dictatorships Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, foreign journalists were permitted but were under constraint. Uncooperative journalists were expelled. Journalists couldn't cover the country at all if they were expelled, so they had to wait until the end of their tour of duty to tell the truth.

One area of the world that needs to be covered honestly is the Arab Middle East -- an area that plays a major role in American foreign policy. Israel has a rambunctiously free press, but the Arab world, particularly the Palestinian territories and Gaza, is a different case. Local journalists foolish enough to expose graft or corruption will not live long. Foreign journalists must be pro-Palestinian or they are expelled. And some foreign journalists let themselves be used for political propaganda.

Perhaps you will remember one searing image that came out of Gaza: the image of Mohammed Al Dura, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, crouching in terror behind his father as "Israeli bullets" flew and ultimately "killed" the child and "wounded" the father. The Palestinian media turned it into a major propaganda piece to convince the Muslim world -- and Europe -- that Israeli soldiers deliberately shot the child in a 45-minute hail of machine-gun fire. This image has permeated the psyches of Muslims everywhere, resulting in streets named for the "martyr" and postage stamps commemorating this horror for eternity.

The photo image and story came from a Palestinian journalist and was broadcast by a French journalist working for one of the official French TV networks. CNN saw the photos and rejected them as dubious, but later covered the issue after the "respectable" French network showed them. They assumed that due diligence validated the photos.

Philippe Karsenty, a French journalist and media critic, has taken a different show on the road. On May 13, at UC Santa Cruz, a consortium of scholars for peace in the Middle East, Stand With Us and Leviathan, sponsored his talk. We saw footage before and after the "incident" and some very damning evidence that the entire Dura incident was staged. The footage shown on French and world TV was edited; we saw original footage. The testimonies of the Palestinian and French journalists were very inconsistent. They claimed that the Israelis fired for 45 minutes against a wall, intending to kill the father and the boy he was protecting. However, the film showed no firing coming from the Israeli barracks at all; it also showed only seven small round bullet holes in the wall, and not a drop of blood -- quite impossible after 45 minutes of firing that would have dismantled the wall as well the father and son.

A dead child's body was photographed in the morgue, but this child did not look like what we could see of Dura. Furthermore, the death of the child, his identification in the morgue, and the funeral, complete with printed posters, all took place an hour or two after the shooting. That efficiency should be bottled and sold. Karsenty, who was sued by French TV 2, has won his case in court, validating his accusations of fraudulent journalism.

The supposedly wounded father was shown with very old scars, not new bullet wounds -- and apparently when investigated were found to be from a previous brush with Palestinian factions. The entire filming was so blatantly fraudulent that it is embarrassing to see. The horror is the damage this piece of theater has done.

Buyer beware. This is not journalism.

Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer and author. Contact her at or visit her Web site at