Palestinians, the New York Times, and the art of picture cropping

Messaging is an art.  The accomplished spin artist uses no lies in her palette, but instead paints through placement, emphasis, and omission.  Thus it is with the New York Times in its coverage of Israel/Palestine.  I’m sure other news sources are just as bad, but the New York Times, with its vast readership and claim to first-rate journalism, singles itself out for my condemnation.

Yesterday’s headline piece on the latest assault on Gaza detailed every rocket fired from Gaza into Israel (mostly destroyed through the Raytheon-created Iron Dome).  Only at the bottom of the 4th paragraph did it mention the human victims: 29 Palestinians.  None listed by name, age, or explanation of where they were or why they were killed.  Their guilt is implied; they are Arab, Muslim, and in the wrong place (as the old joke goes, I didn’t hit him, his face got in the way of my fist).  And it’s important to note that those human beings weren’t “killed” in Israeli attacks, according to the Times; they simply “died.”   It’s unthinkable that the deaths of 29 Israelis would be after-thought 4th-paragraph mention.  It’s unthinkable that the death of a single Israeli person would be buried that far into the story; fortunately, so far that death toll stands at 0.

Today the death toll rose to over 80 Palestinians, but the New York Times coverage of this stays “even and balanced” by making sure to include both in the headline and the opening sentence that Gazans launched 100 missiles into Israel.  One would think that missile to missile ratio would make for a more accurate comparison, but that would only be if one carried the mistaken notion that the death of a Palestinian is equal a tragedy to the mostly-unfounded fear of an Israeli.  (“Can you imagine just going about you business and having to rush to a bomb shelter,?!,” asks the rhetoric.  No?  Then you probably also can’t imagine putting your kid to sleep and then having your entire house flattened because there are no air raid sirens and no bomb shelters.)  Also, that would make Israel look like an aggressor, because it launched far more missiles into Gaza (322 to about 80) last night.  And we can’t have that.

The accomplished spin artist (we might call her a propagandist) also understands that by selecting part of a picture, she can make it look like an entirely different animal.  A picture of a snake might, in fact, turn out to be the tail of an elephant when we remove the rest of the drop cloth.  So it is, again, with the New York Times coverage of Gaza.  The elephant in the room is the occupation.  The elephant is the open-air prison of Gaza, 1.8 million people (mostly refugees) in an area 1/10th the size of Rhode Island who cannot get in or out.  The elephant is the fact that every single week of the year, whether we hear about it or not, Israel is shooting guns or missiles into Gaza from the land, air, or sea space it controls; every single month it kills Palestinians.  The elephant is that those guns and missiles come from the United States, and they’ll keep coming so long as it is good for business.

When I first realized the snake was an elephant’s tail, it was because I saw the word “refugee” pitted against the word “bulldozer;” all of a sudden, something seemed fishy.  Like maybe my picture had been cropped at the edge.  The spin artists aren’t infallible; they usually forget to wipe up a fingerprint or two.  They are banking on the fact that most of us won’t put on our Sherlock hats and pull out our magnifying glasses, that the confusion they’ve sown is sufficient to keep us from delving in deeper.  We’ll prove them wrong.  We’ll remove the drop cloth and reveal the elephant.  We’ll name the dead as we fight to save their brothers.  We’ll call bullshit when we see it; only in this way can we save the world.




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