A few days ago, I did a long post about the media’s distorted coverage of damage in San Francisco following the Loma Prieta earthquake. Briefly, I pointed out that, with no political end in sight, but merely to satisfy the maw of a visual medium, the media made it look as if the entire City was destroyed. In fact, damage was extremely limited. The same, it turns out, is true of the Israeli bombing in Lebanon:
While the slanted comments and interviews are bad enough, the degree of pictorial distortion is even worse. From the way many TV stations worldwide are portraying it, you would think Beirut has begun to resemble Dresden and Hamburg in the aftermath of World War II air raids. International television channels have used the same footage of Beirut over and over, showing the destruction of a few individual buildings in a manner which suggests half the city has been razed.
A careful look at aerial satellite photos of the areas targeted by Israel in Beirut shows that certain specific buildings housing Hezbollah command centers in the city’s southern suburbs have been singled out. Most of the rest of Beirut, apart from strategic sites like airport runways used to ferry Hezbollah men and weapons in and out of Lebanon, has been left pretty much untouched.
From the distorted imagery, selective witness accounts, and almost round-the-clock emphasis on casualties, you would be forgiven for thinking that the level of death and destruction in Lebanon is on a par with that in Darfur, where Arab militias are slaughtering hundreds of thousands of non-Arabs, or with the 2004 tsunami that killed half a million in Southeast Asia.
As it happens, Israel has taken great care to avoid killing civilians — even though this has proven extremely difficult and often tragically impossible, since members of Hezbollah, the self-styled “ Party of God,” have deliberately ensconced themselves in civilian homes. Nevertheless the civilian death toll has been mercifully low compared to other international conflicts in recent years.
In the 1950s, there used to be a line about the media: “Don’t believe everything you read.” I guess that should be updated to say that, when it comes to the media (especially the BBC), “Don’t believe anything you read, see or hear.”