Friday, March 23, 2007

Postmortem on the Israel-Hizbollah media war

Sentient people nowadays don't need a lot of reminding of the political bias and limitations of the mainstream news media (MSM). But a distinctive event well-defined in time and scope can be a moment for some systematic research that captures these issues more thoroughly than just impressionistic snapshots during the event.

Such an event was last summer's month-long war between Israel and Hizbollah, the Iranian- and Syrian-sponsored Shi'ite militia of southern Lebanon. A new study (PDF) from the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government (Harvard) captures perfectly the MSM's combination of ignorance, clueless bias, and gullibility. The authors are Marvin Kalb, formerly of CBS and NBC and now a Shorenstein fellow, and Carol Saivetz, an associate and lecturer at Harvard's Davis Center for Russian studies. Their most fundamental conclusion is that the media is no longer an independent observer, nor is it an advocate in its own right. Instead, it's become an unconscious or conscious propaganda tool - a tool almost always better manipulated by groups such as Hizbollah or dictatorships like Iran than by open societies like Israel. As they say at the Pentagon, it's now part of the "battle space." Another bad omen for the future of press freedom.

But there's a bright side: bloggers! Today, when the MSM messes up, they get fact-checked and carefully sifted in ways unimaginable even 10 years ago. All the more reason why we need to remember that First Amendment freedoms are individual rights of everyone, not corporate or guild privileges.

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