Israel vs. Hezbollah: Who Is Winning the Media Battle?

The following is a transcription of the August 5, 2006 edition of "FOX News Watch" that has been edited for clarity.

ERIC BURNS, HOST: It has been almost a week since an Israeli air strike on the village of Qana was blamed for the deaths of 28 Lebanese civilians, including 19 children. Headlines told the story around the world. Pictures reinforced the headlines.

Israel responded by releasing these pictures: rockets, which it says were launched by Hezbollah in that village of Qana. And later in the week, Australia's Herald Sun published these exclusive photos it says were smuggled out of Lebanon, showing Hezbollah militia members in the streets of the villages of south Lebanon.

Neal, every war these days, we've pointed it out: two fronts, military front, media front.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: Media front. Oh yes.

BURNS: Who's winning on the media front?

GABLER: Well, I think, you know...

BURNS: And what do the events of this week do along those lines?

GABLER: Well, Richard Engel of NBC News, who's been covering the Mideast, you know, called this Qana attack a turning point. And it was a turning point in the coverage of Israel because even the mainstream media turned against media because there were images of dead children. And, you know, as I've said on this show many times, the cameras follow the casualties.

So this was a major loss for Israel in the media.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Hezbollah's got the greatest propaganda machine since Joseph Goebbels and "the big lie." Goebbels of the Nazi Third Reich would be applauding what Hezbollah has done.

They — these pictures that were smuggled out of Hezbollah being among civilians, many of us have known this for years. Also pointing out, the casualty numbers you mentioned were — are now revised. They were twice...

BURNS: Right.

THOMAS: ...what they were originally, and that's.

GABLER: Fifty-four originally, Cal.

THOMAS: Right. And that's what got into the media. And that doubled the criticism of Israel, unfairly.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: You know, I think Israel — it's — we've talked about narrative on this program many times, and there was a piece in The New York Times on Friday saying that the Israelis are trying to figure out how to write the narrative so that they win. I mean, if Hezbollah stays standing, they don't win, and the images from this village in Qana, despite some people trying to stay it was staged — which was denied by all the news agencies — I mean, it — Israel has targeted — it appears to have been targeting children. And there is no way to argue with that narrative, whether it's false or true.

JIM PINKERTON, NEWSDAY: I call it the Rodney King rule. And that is, if you can claim underdog or victim status, you win. And the images will override any attempt to give it context or — or relationship.

BURNS: Let us bring, for the moment, a fifth member into the panel today. Dan Rather actually was talking about this very same subject. Dan doesn't get a lot of forums these days, but he got one this week on "The O'Reilly Factor."

Here's what he said — interesting — about this matter.


DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: The pictures tell a story; they don't tell the story. And television has tremendous advantages. Its biggest advantage: it can take you there, really transport you right there.

But television — and I'm a person who spent a great deal of my professional life in it — I think I know its strengths and weaknesses. Its weakness is depth. And what's missing in most war coverage is context, perspective, background, history and analysis.


THOMAS: This is going to sound funny, but I agree with Dan Rather; it tells a story, but not the whole story.

BURNS: But wait a minute. We hear this all the time — you can't have context, perspective, historical analysis in every single report that comes out of a war!


PINKERTON: Then you better get it right. And the point that needs to be drilled home is that the original report showed 56 — that's a huge numbers. And it turns out it was, according to Human Rights Watch, which is a group that is anti-Israel, it was down to 28. I mean, the impact — if you're going to get it wrong, don't report it at all.

HALL: You know, I think we need many more people giving the history of this as well. I mean, if you're standing at the border live — which is what cable doing — standing in Haifa, standing in Beirut, you're not getting - I mean, I read a story in Time magazine that said that a lot of people are questioning whether we are not uniting terrorists who previously hated each other on religious grounds, whether the United States is not further isolated. There are things that we could be talking about on television rather than showing more rockets going, more bombs dropping. And we don't tend to do that in TV.

GABLER: And let me just dispute your point, Eric. We've got 24/7 here on FOX and CNN and MSNBC. And all we get most of the time, when we're not having reports, are opinion mongers. You know, we had Michelle Malkin here on this network denying that Qana even happened. What we need are historians, experts, people who are not just — don't just have opinions to dispense, but people who have context to provide. And we can do that if we're not afraid of losing audience.

THOMAS: The storyline has changed from 1976, when the last pro-Israel press we had with the Entebbe rescue — now Israel is the evil occupier. And somehow all of these people bombing northern Israeli cities, threatening to eradicate Tel Aviv and the Jewish people, are somehow heroes.

GABLER: Because the script is too simple, Cal. That's why.

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