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marct
03-07-2008, 06:19 PM
A very interesting piece on how language is used in media was just posted by Yonatan Mendel (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n05/mend01_.html) on the London Review of Books site. Basically it is an analysis of the discourse in the Israeli media surrounding their reporting on Palestinian issues.

I do not want this blowing up into some type of anti-fill-in-the blank type thread (and I'll lock it if it does :cool:), but I do think that his piece is an excellent one to base a discussion on the use and abuse of discourse, media, etc. in structuring perceptions. In that vein, I'd be interested in seeing what people think about it.

Marc

CR6
03-07-2008, 07:31 PM
I do not want this blowing up into some type of anti-fill-in-the blank type thread (and I'll lock it if it does :cool:)

Marc

I am ANTI your draconian restrictions on the exercise of free speech in the blogosphere, you jackbooted cyber-thug!

Okay, seriously, I view a nation's media as a reflection of popular mood in a lot of cases, despite the entreaties of some (such as the Shorenstein Center's Marvin Kalb) that the press be "detached, unemotional, cool skeptical, determined.” As such I'm not surprised that Israeli media language paints an "us vs them" word picture when discussing IDF operations.

Acknowledging that cross-cultural analogies suffer from inherent flaws I find a 2005 Parameters (C:\Documents and Settings\ARTHUR.POWERS\Desktop\PARAMETERS, US Army War College Quarterly - Summer 2005.htm) article by William Darley instructive on this point. He writes that in the US at least, “public support for wars is not so much an act of intellectual deliberation as it is a collective emotional reaction to events due to what Clausewitz described…as a ‘latent hatred and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind, natural force.' ” It's easy to see the media reflecting that emotional reaction in its reporting, at least until a government looses the support of the public due to what is seen as incompetence or indecisiveness. At that point, as the public mood cools, the change may be reflected in the language of media reports.

This idea is further reflected in an essay by Daniel Hallin and Todd Gitlin entitled “The Gulf War as Popular Culture and Television Drama”. They wrote that 80% of the US' biggest newspapers increased circulation in GW1 and that both cable and network television news outlets saw ratings spike during the Persian Gulf crisis; and demonstrated a link between popular approval of President GWH Bush (exemplified by the President’s 89% approval rating at the start of the air war), and pro-war media coverage. Part of me believes that this reflects the fact that the press is also a business, thus newspaper circulation and television ratings largely factor into how a story is presented to the public, and what stories are selected to air at all. If running pro-war stories sells paper or air time, the story will be run.

marct
03-07-2008, 08:00 PM
Hi CR6,

I am ANTI your draconian restrictions on the exercise of free speech in the blogosphere, you jackbooted cyber-thug!

Oh, drat - and I was just starting to polish them :D!

Okay, seriously, I view a nation's media as a reflection of popular mood in a lot of cases, despite the entreaties of some (such as the Shorenstein Center's Marvin Kalb) that the press be "detached, unemotional, cool skeptical, determined.” As such I'm not surprised that Israeli media language paints an "us vs them" word picture when discussing IDF operations.

I'm not surprised by it either. I don't think that it is possible for the press to be "detached" in all issues, partly for exactly the reasons you pointed out relating to both business and popular support.

Acknowledging that cross-cultural analogys suffer from inherent flaws I find a 2005 Parameters (C:%5CDocuments%20and%20Settings%5CARTHUR.POWERS%5 CDesktop%5CPARAMETERS,%20US%20Army%20War%20College %20Quarterly%20-%20Summer%202005.htm) article by William Darley instructive on this point. He writes that in the US at least, “public support for wars is not so much an act of intellectual deliberation as it is a collective emotional reaction to events due to what Clausewitz described…as a ‘latent hatred and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind, natural force.” It's easy to see the media reflecting that emotional reaction in its reporting, at least until a government looses the support of the public due what is seen as incompetence or indecisiveness. At that point, as the public mood cools, the change may be reflected in the language of media reports.

I agree that there is definite reporting of public emotions but, at the same time, I have to wonder when it crosses from reporting the public emotions to controlling the public emotions and perceptions. Maybe that question is unanswerable :confused:.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Richard Henshel who did a lot of work on self-fulfilling prophecies. It struck me at the time, and has been floating around in the back of my mind ever since, that language / discourse is a form of that. For example, is the constant use of the verb "respond" a reflection of policy, a "perception" of emotion, a reflection of beliefs in the real reasons for why things happen, something else or all of the above?

wm
03-07-2008, 09:16 PM
Marc,

I have no quantitative research to bear this out, but what the hey; arm chair philosophizing has a long and distinguished history.

I would not be surprised that a read of the Palestionian press would have the same kind of slant, mutatis mutandis , as that reported to be found in the Israeli press, and for good reason.

When we start doing things to other folks that we are, arguably, averse to doing under normal circumstances, we need to have tools to overcome/mitigate/avoid that sense of aversion and to justify or downplay the moral breaches we may feel the practices commit. One such tool is to paint one's adversaries in a bad light, which justifies one's less than sterling conduct toward them. I suspect you have heard the line justifying extreme forms of punishment for those who commit heinous crimes, "He forfeited his right to treatment as a human being," or something similar. This is an example of the first type of tactic. Because even this form of negative labeling of others is at least a little unsettling to us, an alternative is often used. Descriptions of one's own actions are made to sound as inocuous as possible so that one so not have to admit to being a partry to wrongdoing. At one point I remember we stopped talking about killing the enemy and talked instead about "servicing targets."

Each of these tactics are present in the author's description of the "norms" the Israeli press follows when reporting on Palestinian "affairs." The BBC uses another interesting tactic on its web page--potentially offending words or phrases are put in single quotes, as in: Malayasian journalist 'murdered' in E. Timor.

marct
03-07-2008, 09:48 PM
Hi Wayne,

I have no quantitative research to bear this out, but what the hey; arm chair philosophizing has a long and distinguished history.

True - just ask Chomsky :eek::D.

I would not be surprised that a read of the Palestionian press would have the same kind of slant, mutatis mutandis , as that reported to be found in the Israeli press, and for good reason.

That's a very good point and an analysis I would like to see. I suspect you are right on. I have a friend over there doing some research right now; when he gets back, I'll drag him out for a few beers and pick his brains.

When we start doing things to other folks that we are, arguably, averse to doing under normal circumstances, we need to have tools to overcome/mitigate/avoid that sense of aversion and to justify or downplay the moral breaches we may feel the practices commit. One such tool is to paint one's adversaries in a bad light, which justifies one's less than sterling conduct toward them.

Hmmm, yes, that would be another part of the cultural-emotional "circuit" that CR6 was mentioning ("anger against he opponent"). I can certainly see it becoming a discursive loop that is mutually reinforcing.

I suspect you have heard the line justifying extreme forms of punishment for those who commit heinous crimes, "He forfeited his right to treatment as a human being," or something similar. This is an example of the first type of tactic. Because even this form of negative labeling of others is at least a little unsettling to us, an alternative is often used. Descriptions of one's own actions are made to sound as inocuous as possible so that one so not have to admit to being a partry to wrongdoing. At one point I remember we stopped talking about killing the enemy and talked instead about "servicing targets."

Yup; that rhetorical tactic is pretty well know both on individual stigmatization ("he is an animal" therefore not human) and on the group level.

Each of these tactics are present in the author's description of the "norms" the Israeli press follows when reporting on Palestinian "affairs." The BBC uses another interesting tactic on its web page--potentially offending words or phrases are put in single quotes, as in: Malayasian journalist 'murdered' in E. Timor.

Sounds like a variant on newspeak ;).

wm
03-07-2008, 10:00 PM
Sounds like a variant on newspeak ;).

So does that mean my post was a doubleplusgood or a doubleplusungood in your estimation? ;)

marct
03-07-2008, 10:01 PM
So does that mean my post was a doubleplusgood or a doubleplusungood in your estimation? ;)

..........

Rex Brynen
08-06-2008, 06:26 AM
Just in case anyone missed this priceless report from the Onion News Network: Pentagon's Unmanned Spokesdrone Completes First Press Conference Mission (http://www.theonion.com/content/video/pentagons_unmanned_spokesdrone)

:D


(hat-tip: Wired's Danger Room (http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/08/pentagon-unleas.html)):

marct
08-09-2008, 06:10 PM
Just in case anyone missed this priceless report from the Onion News Network: Pentagon's Unmanned Spokesdrone Completes First Press Conference Mission (http://www.theonion.com/content/video/pentagons_unmanned_spokesdrone)

:D

Dangerous thing giving me blogging ammo :D.

Schmedlap
08-10-2008, 04:54 PM
My impression is that journalists, in general, think that the most responsible way to do their jobs is to be detached observers with no dog in the fight, in order to be objective. Objectivity is good, but the way that the profession seems to interpret it is to ignore context. That is not objectivity. That is ignorance and negligence. Has the journalism profession put sufficient effort into translating its responsibility for objectivity into a system of professional ethics to guide the actions of its members? Given the sorry state of our media, my suspicion is no.

Regarding this article in particular, it is too bad that the author used the first half of the article as a pure propaganda piece that demonstrates his lack of objectivity because he probably repelled people from continuing on to read where he makes four good points. I think that he highlighted some pertinent shortcomings on the part of Israeli journalists who are not fulfilling their responsibility to be objective reporters. On the other hand, I see no evidence here to support the notion that journalists cannot look at things as "us versus them," to put it crudely, and still be objective.

1. He points out that apparently "shock is for Jews only"
It is a good point. I think that by only highlighting the human toll on one side, the media is doing its viewers a disservice. My awareness of civilian casualties in OIF did not dissuade me from my support for our goal and I did not and do not regard such reports as unpatriotic, subversive, or even troublesome. It is information that we need in order to make informed decisions.

2. "After every assassination any minor activist is 'promoted' to a major one."
Another good point. If there is a pattern of such behavior, then it begs the question of whether the IDF is attempting to deceive the public. I don't know about Israeli law, but I know that such a thing is illegal here.

3. "This phenomenon, in which IDF statements are directly translated into media reports – there are no checkpoints between the army and the media – is the result both of a lack of access to information and of the unwillingness of journalists to prove the army wrong or to portray soldiers as criminals."
I think that GEN Pace did a good job of stating on multiple occasions that media scrutiny is an important part of our democracy. Likewise, I am sure that this applies to Israel's. Regarding an unwillingness to portray Soldiers as criminals, I think the author is showing his bias. Perhaps he wants IDF Soldiers portrayed as criminals to suit his agenda, but the unwillingness on the part of most people, journalists or not, is natural, not political. It is not of our nature to point to a young man serving his country in battle and say, "criminal" unless there is some very convincing evidence.

4. "During the last intifada, Israeli D9 bulldozers destroyed thousands of Palestinian houses, uprooted thousands of trees and left behind thousands of smashed greenhouses. It is better to know that the army cleared the place than to face the reality that the army destroys Palestinians’ possessions, pride and hope."
Like point 1, this might go a long way in helping the Israelis to refine their approach if people were more aware of the consequences on the other side.

Those four points are good examples of the journalists playing the role of cheerleader rather than objective observer. But it is not due wholly to an "us versus them" mindset. It has more to do with laziness and no interest in objectivity. Media can be responsible, objective, and critical. All three of those reinforce the other. If a journalist were a true patriot (to cite an American example: Michael Yon), then he will be quick to point out that, "hey, what we're doing is not working - we need to change this." That is what Yon did earlier on in Iraq and he took heat for it among cheerleaders in the US, but he was objective, he was right, and he was doing a good job as a journalist. On the other hand, we've got wannabe journalists in this country who whine about a lack of photos of flag-draped coffins. That is the other end of the spectrum from cheerleading and it is no better.

There is no need to disavow one's allegiance in order to be objective. It is just a matter of being mature and faithful to your responsibility of being objective. Sure, "us versus them" can exacerbate the problem of laziness. But if journalists are guided by a set of professional ethics then patriotism need not be incompatible with responsible journalism. It seems as though there is a movement within the journalism professional to view oneself as a journalist first and a citizen of a country second (or lesser order of precedence). That is just as bad as a reporter getting carried away with cheerleading. Rather than being an automaton amplifying state propaganda, we have witnessed reporters becoming reflexively opposition-minded critics who ignore the good and sensationalize the bad. News need not be just an endless parade of disasters or an endless parade of gov't propaganda. It can stake out some middle ground and report good and bad news. Viewing yourself as a citizen of a particular country first and a reporter second can reinforce this. Those who think that it would undermine it probably misunderstand the meaning of the term "constructive criticism."

William F. Owen
08-11-2008, 08:05 AM
Yonatan Mendel
A year ago I applied for the job of Occupied Territories correspondent at Ma’ariv, an Israeli newspaper. I speak Arabic and have taught in Palestinian schools and taken part in many joint Jewish-Palestinian projects. At my interview the boss asked how I could possibly be objective. I had spent too much time with Palestinians; I was bound to be biased in their favour. I didn’t get the job. My next interview was with Walla, Israel’s most popular website. This time I did get the job and I became Walla’s Middle East correspondent. I soon understood what Tamar Liebes, the director of the Smart Institute of Communication at the Hebrew University, meant when she said: ‘Journalists and publishers see themselves as actors within the Zionist movement, not as critical outsiders.’

Ya All*h! If you go and work for "Jewish-Palestinian" projects, even the most secular left wing Israelis will be highly suspicious of your motives. If you talk about "Palestinians" you are also inviting scrutiny from some of the more extreme.

What people don't seem to understand is that your average Israeli journalist is an Israeli! Not a Jew and not some ones third party national "assimilate."

Do not expect anyone who has grown up in Israel to be objective, detached or neutral. What is more some of the most extreme anti-Zionists I know, live in Israel. On a lesser scale, friends of my wife go and risk physical harm from extremists by monitoring IDF check points. Being neutral is seen as cowardice. Pick a side. Any side. You may be hated, but you will be respected.

I very much doubt Yonatan Mendel is as objective, detached or neutral as he might like to believe. I certainly am not. I don't pretend to be. Even though I live here, I am constantly and quite aggressively scrutinised, by Israelis, as to my motivation.

...and if you can't see the irony, I can't explain it to you! :D