Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Power of Ideas: How Public Opinion Sways Policy

John Stuart Mill highlighted the important influence of intellectuals on public policy well over a century ago. He noted that a statesman adopts a policy, not because of objective reality, but because of public opinion. In 1838 Mill wrote "that speculative philosophy, which to the superficial appears a thing so remote from the business of life and the outward interest of men, is in reality the thing on earth which most influences them, and in the long run overbears any (other) influences..."
With regards to the perilous situation Israel finds itself in today, Hillel Halkin points out that "one can often know what an entire society will be thinking tomorrow by looking at what its intellectuals are thinking today. And it's here that, in 2007, one has the most reason for worry, because, as was the case with the Jews of Europe in 1928, Israel has few friends and the trend is running against it. This is especially true of Europe, where Israel has been voted, in country after country, one of the world's two or three least popular states. But in America, too, there has been a steady slippage in Israel's image, particularly in academic and intellectual circles — and these are the circles one needs to watch, because they almost always, in the long run, have a trickle-down effect on the rest of a population."
Universities all over the western world have indeed become hotbeds of anti-Israel rhetoric. Led by faculty like Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky in America, Ilan Pappe & Avi Shlaim (now in England) in Israel, the Roses and legions of others in Britian, more and more credence is given to the very discussion of whether Israel has the 'right' to exist at all. This is now deemed a far topic of debate.
With very real threats against the survivability of the Jewish State, these concerns are now far from academic. See Hillel Halkin's piece below, followed by
Daniel Pipes' "Op Eds Now More Central in War than Bullets"
& Mitch Bard's more recent "The Media's War on Israel"
The latter authors demonstrate how the media is used more and more as a weapon in war, and to devastating effect. See Marv Kalb's methodical study of how the press allowed itself to be manipulated by Hezbollah in "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media As A Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict."
Greatest Danger For Israel
April 17, 2007
excerpts below

As militarily strong as it is, Israel will not necessarily remain forever stronger than the hostile Arab and Muslim world around it. Should it one day be deprived of its military superiority, its only way of assuring that it did not lose a conventional war would be by means of its nuclear deterrent.
In such a situation, a nuclear Iran, should it come to exist, could spell Israel's doom even if it did not choose to play with national suicide by attacking Israel with atomic weapons.
Merely by neutralizing Israel's own atomic arsenal, it could condemn it to a military defeat that might lead to its dismemberment. The result might not be a Holocaust in the sense of millions of deaths, but it could be a death blow to Jewish peoplehood.
Could this happen? It certainly could if other things won't be there to prevent it, among them a clear signal from America and Europe that they would not allow it as they allowed the Holocaust.
And it's here that, in 2007, one has the most reason for worry, because, as was the case with the Jews of Europe in 1928, Israel has few friends and the trend is running against it.
This is true especially of Europe, where Israel has been voted, in country after country, one of the world's two or three least popular states.
But in America, too, there has been a steady slippage in Israel's image, particularly in academic and intellectual circles — and these are the circles one needs to watch, because they almost always, in the long run, have a trickle-down effect on the rest of a population. One can often know what an entire society will be thinking tomorrow by looking at what its intellectuals are thinking today.
The greatest danger to Israel is that, should it ever grow weak enough to lure the sharks who would like nothing better than to tear it apart, it will look around and find no one to aid it, just as the Jews of Europe had no one to aid them. This is why, when it comes to Israel, the battle for public opinion is so important.

Original article available at:
Op Eds Now More Central in War than Bullets
by Daniel Pipes
New York Sun
October 17, 2006
[NY Sun title: The West Must Learn The Public Relations of War]
excerpts below
Soldiers, sailors, and airmen once determined the outcome of warfare, but no longer. Today, television producers, columnists, preachers, and politicians have the pivotal role in deciding how well the West fights. This shift has deep implications.
First, battling all-out for victory against conventional enemy forces has nearly disappeared, replaced by the more indirect challenge of guerrilla operations, insurgencies, intifadas, and terrorism. This new pattern currently holds for Israelis versus Palestinians, coalition forces in Iraq, and in the war on terror.
This change means that what the U.S. military calls "bean counting" – counting soldiers and weapons – is now nearly immaterial, as are diagnoses of the economy or control of territory. Lopsided wars resemble police operations more than combat in earlier eras. As in crime-fighting, the side enjoying a vast superiority in power operates under a dense array of constraints, while the weaker party freely breaks any law and taboo in its ruthless pursuit of power.
With loyalties now in play, wars are decided more on the Op Ed pages and less on the battlefield. Good arguments, eloquent rhetoric, subtle spin-doctoring, and strong poll numbers count more than taking a hill or crossing a river. Solidarity, morale, loyalty, and understanding are the new steel, rubber, oil, and ammunition. Opinion leaders are the new flag and general officers.
Therefore, as I wrote in August, Western governments "need to see public relations as part of their strategy." Even in a case like the Iranian regime's acquisition of atomic weaponry, Western public opinion is the key, not its arsenal. If united, Europeans and Americans will likely dissuade Iranians from going ahead with nuclear weapons. If disunited, Iranians will be emboldened to plunge ahead.
What Carl von Clausewitz called war's "center of gravity" has shifted from force of arms to the hearts and minds of citizens. Do Iranians accept the consequences of nuclear weapons? Do Palestinians willingly sacrifice their lives in suicide bombings? Do Europeans and Canadians want a credible military force? Do Americans see Islamism presenting a lethal danger?
Non-Western strategists recognize the primacy of politics and focus on it. Al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, codified this idea in a letter in July 2005, observing that more than half of the Islamists' battle "is taking place in the battlefield of the media."
The West is fortunate to predominate in the military and economic arenas, but these no longer suffice. Along with its enemies, it needs to give due attention to the public relations of war.

The Media's War on Israel
Mitchell Bard
April 24, 2007
When Israel retaliated against Hezbollah during last summer’s war, it was forced to fight two battles: one against the Lebanon-based terrorist organization, and one against a hopelessly biased global media. The first serious study of the media’s behavior throughout the conflict has confirmed this impression.
The study, released in February and titled “The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media As A Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict" (pdf.), was written not by a partisan watchdog organization that would be expected to arrive at these conclusions; rather, it was produced by a respected journalist, Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
In meticulous fashion, Kalb details how the press allowed itself to be manipulated by Hezbollah. He also records the mistakes made by Israel in trying to manage coverage, points out several of the outright distortions that were widely reported, and analyzes the impact of the digital media and the fundamental disadvantage a democracy such as Israel faces in a public relations battle with a non-democratic state or terrorist organization.As Kalb observes, Israel is automatically at a disadvantage in any conflict because it is an open society. “During the war,” Kalb notes in the study, “no Hezbollah secrets were disclosed, but in Israel secrets were leaked, rumors spread like wildfire, leaders felt obliged to issue hortatory appeals often based on incomplete knowledge, and journalists were driven by the fire of competition to publish and broadcast unsubstantiated information.” He adds that Hezbollah was able to control how it was portrayed to the world and could therefore depict itself as “a selfless movement touched by God and blessed by a religious fervor and determination to resist the enemy, the infidel, and ultimately achieve a ‘divine victory,’ no matter the cost.” (Of course, no mention was made of Hezbollah’s dependence on Iran and Syria.)Perhaps the most serious charge made by the media throughout the war was that Israel was indiscriminately targeting civilians. Groups such as Human Rights Watch made the allegation, which was then publicized uncritically by reporters. Although Israel underscored that it was Hezbollah that was using civilians as shields, the media relied on the allegations of Kenneth Roth, the executive director of HRW, who charged, falsely, that Israel’s military showed “disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians.”
Kalb notes that reporters should have been aware that Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had said before the war that Hezbollah fighters “live in their [civilians’] houses, in their schools, in their churches, in their fields, in their farms and in their factories.” Early in the war, indeed, reporters did note that Hezbollah started the war and casualties were a consequence of the fighting, “but after the first week such references were either dropped or downplayed, leaving the widespread impression that Israel was a loose cannon shooting at anything that moved.”Kalb produces statistics that clearly show the anti-Israel bias of the Arab press. To be sure, it is not surprising that 78 percent of the stories on Al-Jazeera would label Israel as the “aggressor.” Western news services, however, would be expected to show some semblance of balance. Such was not the case. For example, the BBC ran 117 stories on the war, 38 percent of which depicted Israel as the aggressor. Only 4 percent of BBC reports placed the blame for the conflict on Hezbollah. Most media stories drew a disturbing moral equivalence between the warring sides, suggesting that Israel and Hezbollah were equally to blame.
In Kalb's assessment, American network coverage of the war was more intense than at any time since the 1991 attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Of these stories, however, more than half focused on Israeli attacks against Lebanon. With the exception of Fox News, Kalb writes, “negative-sounding judgments of Israel’s attacks and counter-attacks permeated most network coverage.” Similarly, he reports that Israel was depicted as the aggressor nearly twice as often in the headlines of the New York Times and Washington Post and three times as often in photos.Israel was repeatedly criticized for alleged attacks on UN troops in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Kalb notes that the “impartial” UNIFIL web site published information about Israeli troop movements while no such information was posted regarding Hezbollah’s military activities. Kalb also reiterates what media watchdogs knew all along, but journalists rarely admitted: that the media’s access to stories in Lebanon was strictly controlled by Hezbollah:
Foreign correspondents were warned, on entry to the tour [of a southern Beirut suburb], that they could not wander off on their own or ask questions of any residents. They could only take pictures of sites approved by their Hezbollah minders. Violations, they were told, would be treated harshly. Cameras would be confiscated, film or tape destroyed, and offending reporters never again allowed access to Hezbollah officials or Hezbollah-controlled areas. Kalb compared the terms to that of the Soviet era and said that only CNN’s Anderson Cooper described the ground rules that Hezbollah imposed to try to control the story. Kalb says “all of the other reporters followed the Hezbollah script: Israel, in a cruel, heartless display of power, bombed innocent civilians. Casualties were high. Devastation was everywhere. So spoke the Hezbollah spokesman; so wrote many in the foreign press corps.
Cameramen didn’t need permission to film devastation, but they were warned against taking pictures of Hezbollah terrorists. “The rarest picture of all,” Kalb observes, “was that of a Hezbollah guerilla. It was as if the war on the Hezbollah side was being fought by ghosts.” The Herald Sun of Australia also published equally rare photos showing Hezbollah preparing to fire rockets from civilian neighborhoods, the type of visual evidence that, if widely disseminated, could have quickly discredited the inaccurate reports of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.Reporters always want more access to the war and the decision makers involved, so it is not surprising that many complained about restrictions placed on them by Israel. Kalb reports, however, that reports were filled with interviews with Israeli troops, generals and officials and that “the depth and breadth of the coverage seemed to belie the common complaints about access.” By contrast, he notes, “Hezbollah provided only limited access to the battle field, full access to an occasional guided tour, and encouraged visiting journalists to check its own television network, Al-Manar, for reports and information about the war.” Kalb adds, “Al-Manar was to Hezbollah what Pravda was to the Soviet Union.”The discovery of doctored photos used by major media during the war was a major embarrassment and Kalb skewers the press for its misuse of photographs. In addition to several frequently cited examples, he mentions a photo of a southern suburb of Beirut that appeared in the New York Times that the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Erlanger later admitted was out of context. The Times used a satellite photo showing the destruction of a Beirut neighborhood that gave the impression of massive devastation throughout the city, but a larger photo of Beirut would have shown that the rest of Beirut was undamaged. Nothing in Kalb’s report will come as any surprise to media critics or Israel’s supporters. What is shocking is that these well-documented abuses have continued for so long without the media itself taking corrective measures. The report should be required reading for journalism schools, not to mention working reporters. The serious maladies Kalb describes must be fixed if the media is to expect the public to have any confidence in its reporting.

1 comment:

Lao Qiao said...

Liviu Librescu, the hero of the Virginia Tech tragedy, died while holding the door to his classroom shut so that his students could jump out the window. The press has underplayed his heroism, perhaps because he was an Israeli. Perhaps it is not too late to interview the students in his class who are alive because of him.

An Arab Israeli Muslim is a member of the Israeli cabinet. He will not sing Hatikva. Israel is the most tolerant country in the world. Where else could a member of the cabinet refuse to sing the national anthem? This too is a possible source of publicity.