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An Honest Mistake or Propaganda?

From Haaretz: French public television network France 2 on Tuesday revealed they had aired photographs that allegedly showed destruction caused by the Israel Air Force during Operation Cast Lead, which were in fact taken during a different incident in 2005, … Read More

By / January 7, 2009

From Haaretz:

French public television network France 2 on Tuesday revealed they had aired photographs that allegedly showed destruction caused by the Israel Air Force during Operation Cast Lead, which were in fact taken during a different incident in 2005, one in which Gaza civilians were killed by an explosion caused by militants in the Strip. The footage aired on Channel 2 on Tuesday afternoon showed dozens of dead bodies, including Hamas gunmen and citizens, which the channel said were killed by an IAF bombing raid on January 1st. It later came to light that the channel had instead aired footage of the devastation caused after a truck full of explosives blew up in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp.

A news editor at France 2 told Le Figaro Tuesday that they had "made a mistake by airing those pictures," which he said depict events from 2005.

I will in all seriousness credit France 2 with acknowledging its mistake, even if it means that the original images it broadcast have already been propagated and have already done their unavoidable damage. I’ll also go so far as to not draw any definitive conclusions about the current integrity of a television network whose Israeli bureau chief, Charles Enderlin, has, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary — last legitimized* by the Paris Court of Appeal — maintained his position that the IDF was responsible for the alleged shooting death of Mohammed al-Durrah, a 12 year-old Gazan whose "martyrdom" has been called the Palestinian Dreyfus Affair. Reporters are not necessarily defined by their news organizations (Marx wrote for the New York Tribune), and vice versa.

War reporting, it must also be said, is prone to errors, and some errors carry heavier consequences than others. Whatever the truth behind France 2′s admission of an honest mistake, it does emphasize an important point raised recently by Jeffrey Goldberg about the stupidity of the IDF’s decision to disallow foreign correspondents into Gaza.  There are good, honest print, TV and photo journalists from all countries–not least of all, ours –willing to expose the very real tragedies of war, and also the heinous propaganda efforts which seek to fabricate new tragedies for ideological purposes. (As Jeff points out, Hamas is unconscionably adept at doing just that.)

Still, that this snafu comes at a moment that demands great sensitivity and fastidious attention to detail, whatever one’s politics or sympathies, indicates a gross dereliction of duty on the part of France 2. Whoever is responsible for running old images of dead Palestinians–killed, no less, by detonated Hamas explosives–should at the very least be kept away from the newsroom for the remainder of the conflict.

(For those curious, the embedded photograph is probably the most famous war photo ever taken, by the unrivaled Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War. It’s entitled "Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano," and is dated September 5, 1936.)

* Ismail’s comment below is correct. My original use of the term "substantiated" was technically misleading because the Court did not rule that Karentsy had proven his case, but it did uphold his right — based on the seriousness and sincerity of his investigation — to call the al-Durah footage a forgery. There is indeed overwhelming evidence that the tape was a fake. This is not a minor point, and many other critics of France 2′s reportage have come to similar determinations. See in particular James Fallows’ piece in the Atlantic, "Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?" The reader is of course invited is make up his own mind, but I would add the following: given the contentiousness surrounding France 2′s portrayal of events during the second intifada, might it not have been expected to exercise greater caution in its reporting of the current conflict?

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