FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Press Blackout on Sabra and Shatila

by TOM GORMAN

Between August 27 and September 10, 2002, the Los Angeles Times ran a well-written series of articles on the anniversary of the 1972 Munich Olympics. Entitled “Munich Olympics: Thirty Years Later,” the series contained twenty articles totaling over 18,000 words, the equivalent of almost 500 column inches, or 41 column feet of text. At least eight articles dealt specifically with the event for which the 1972 Games are most remembered, the brutal kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists.

On the anniversary of the attacks, September 5, a 6352-word article appeared. Titled “Black September; Long Before The Twin Towers Fell, Dream Of Security At Games Toppled When Arabs Murdered 11 Israelis,” the article was accompanied by a gruesome photograph of Yoseph Gutfreund, the Israeli wrestling referee, sitting in the helicopter seat at the airport where he was murdered by the terrorists. The image of Gutfreund’s slumped, manacled, and lifeless body is juxtaposed with a current photo of his two daughters, each standing with one of their daughters, the granddaughters that Gutfreund never knew. The article described at length the sorrow experienced by the Gutfreunds, and their struggle to carry on after their father’s ghastly murder.

To its credit the LA Times gave an account of the Israeli reaction to the terrorist attack, however brief. A 543-word article on September 6 described the tragedy of Mossad agents hunting down and executing the wrong man. Ahmed Bouchiki was gunned down on the street in Lillehammer, Norway on July 21, 1973 while waiting for a bus with his pregnant wife. The Israeli agents had mistaken him for one of the Munich terrorists.

Given this exhaustive (and entirely proper) coverage of the thirtieth anniversary of the terrorist crimes in Munich in 1972, a fair-minded observer would expect the anniversary of a terrorist crime with perhaps a hundredfold (if not more) of the deaths at the Olympics to receive at least equal coverage. Referred to here are not the horrific crimes of September 11, 2001; an enormous amount of (again, entirely proper) coverage of the first anniversary of those atrocities was featured in the Los Angeles Times. It is the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist killings at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps that one would think worthy of at least equal, if not significantly greater, coverage in the LA Times. The details of these attacks are easily available.

In a fair media culture, one would expect to see:

Lengthy and detailed descriptions of the events of September 16-18, 1982, including the tacit (or even overt) permission given by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to the Christian Phalange and Haddad militia to move into the camps. Statements that the Haddad militia (followers of a defector from the Lebanese Army who was set up as a puppet in the southern area of Lebanon occupied by Israel) was essentially an arm of the IDF. Reports of IDF flares lighting the camps on the night of the 16th, to help the militia complete its “mopping up” of “terrorist nests,” as then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon described their mission. Accounts of the brutal slaughter continuing until the 18th, with Israeli forces watching the carnage from a promontory that provided a clear view inside the camps. Interviews with the survivors of the horrible acts of September 16-18, 1982. Pictures showing the slaughtered corpses of the victims of these terrorist attacks, including photos of the living descendants of these victims, as well as an accompanying article talking of the emotional suffering of these descendants. Given that the current leader of Israel was one of the principal actors in this pogrom, a detailed account of the Kahan Commission investigation, wherein the Israeli government declared then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon indirectly guilty of war crimes for the deaths of anywhere between several hundred to several thousand Palestinian men, women, and children.

Yes, one would expect. But what is found when we search the Los Angeles Times for the days surrounding the twentieth anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres?

A deafening silence.

Indeed, a researcher has to go back to June 27 of this year to find the most recent reference to the attacks on Sabra and Shatila in the LA Times, and then it is a report about a Belgian court dismissing a war crimes case against Ariel Sharon. The court argued that since Sharon was not physically in Belgium, he could not be prosecuted for war crimes in connection with the Sabra and Shatila massacres. A recent Belgian law allowed for the prosecution of any person for war crimes, regardless of the nationality of the accused or the place of the alleged crime. Thus, the only reference to the Sabra and Shatila massacre in the Los Angeles Times over the last three months has been a story describing how Ariel Sharon will escape prosecution.

Lest anyone believe the lack of coverage in the LA Times an anomaly, there was practically no coverage of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in any mainstream American press. Aside from an account on the Associated Press and UPI wires of Palestinian marking the anniversaries (rather than these media outlets providing detailed retrospectives on the crimes), the only mention of the anniversary in the mainstream press was put at the end of a September 18 article in The New York Times which first discussed the bombing of a Palestinian school by Israeli settlers (occupiers), and then the fact that, “For the Israelis, it was the 29th anniversary of the 1973 Middle East war, also known as the Yom Kippur war, in which Israel came under surprise attack from Egypt and Syria, assisted by other Arab nations.” Mention of atrocities against Palestinians, assuming they are mentioned at all, must always be prefaced with an allegation of Arab treachery, namely a “surprise attack” in 1973.

Why this disparity in coverage? The answer is all-too simple. The crimes of Palestinian terrorists committed against Israelis will always be portrayed as more egregious than anything of which Israel may be guilty, even if those Israeli crimes result in a body count that is one hundred times greater.

What would be surprising is if the US media gave anything approaching equal coverage of the 1982 massacre. If the “propaganda model” (see Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent) of the media is accurate, this disparity in coverage is wholly predictable. A reader would not expect the US media, if it were a propaganda device of the government and elite interests, to show a balance. An observer should not expect the media to argue that the conduct of the very political and corporate interests they serve (and in many cases the media and these elite interests are one and the same), is in any way comparable to the comparatively minor actions of official enemies. People, whether at the individual or corporate and state level, are always more willing to point fingers at an agreed-upon “evildoer” than to look in the mirror. Hypocrisy is perhaps the most devious human vice.

In an open society such as the US, the propaganda function of the media serves a dual purpose; not only are the atrocities committed by official allies not deemed newsworthy, but the media is also characterized as a “free press.” Therefore, it seems illogical for someone to point out that the media might be biased in its coverage of official allies versus that of official enemies. The discussion of press bias in a case such as that of Munich versus Sabra a Shatila cannot even begin because people are indoctrinated from a very early age to believe that the ideal of a free press espoused by their leaders, parents, and other authority figures reflects reality.

Unfortunately for the victims and survivors of Sabra and Shatila, there is no such reality.

(Many thanks to Ed Herman for the thesis of this essay).

TOM GORMAN lives in Pasadena, California. He welcomes comments at tgorman222@hotmail.com

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail