"The massacre of Qana, on this first anniversary, seems already to have become the single event which most profoundly represents the grief for the past and fear for the future that continues to haunt Lebanon, and which should occupy, trouble and, indeed, haunt the conscience of the entire world," commented the anti-Israel Al Jadid Magazine re the1996 shelling of Qana, the same Southern Lebanese village that dominates the news this morning. Then, as now, Hezbollah seemed to be winning the propaganda wars on the Arab "street" and in the salons of elite opinion in the West by using civilians and the UN as human shields. It is an ancient wound. Above, memorial of "the infamous Israeli 'Grapes of Wrath' offensive against South Lebanon" (© Børre Ludvigsen photo 1997-1998)
Waking up early morning to CNN International live coverage of breaking events in Lebanon, we were dismayed to find ourselves witness to the spinning -- LIVE -- of anti-Israeli/anti-American propaganda out of whole cloth:
Lebanese seething over civilians killed in airstrike.
That was the banner across the bottom of the screen. The facts: Israelis had targeted a four-story building in the southern Lebanese village of Qana because they had determined that rockets had been repeatedly launched from the area into Israel. The rocketeers having apparently fled, all of the estimated 50-plus casualties were said to be civilians, including 20 or more children. Where were the fighting-aged men, we wanted to know, but CNN wasn't interested. The spin, encapsulated in the words of CNN International's chipper and cheery anchor Richard Quest, referring to Condoleeza Rice's diplomatic mission in the area:
She may be talking logic and sense, but you wanted to shake her and say Mrs. Rice, while you're talking, people are dying.
"There is no room on this sad morning for any other movement than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire," offered Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, announcing cancellation of a scheduled meeting with "Mrs." Rice, who told reporters it was in fact she who had initiated postponement of the meeting under the circumstances.
Meanwhile heartthrob CNN International anchor Shihab Rattansi was browbeating an Israeli military spokesman, seemingly bent on getting him to "admit" the Israelis, with their precision-guided weaponry, had in fact deliberately targeted civilians. Unlike the tendentious Rattansi, on-the-scene Fox News reporter Greg Palkot, calling it "a very complicated, ugly scene, the deadliest of the conflict so far," had more questions than answers: Why were the victims there? Had they not gotten the warning fliers dropped by Israeli planes prior to the bombing? Were they too destitute or otherwise too helpless to leave? Had they thought they would be safer staying inside the building rather than risking escape? Were they members of Hezbollah families being used as human shields, and where were the men of fighting age? At that point, no one knew, but the propaganda mill was in full cry:
Hezbollah's al-Manar TV was reportedly whipping up a frenzy with wall-to-wall airing of images of -- in the words of a CNN International man in the field -- the "horrendous casualties," and a hired "Arab Street" mob was storming the UN building in Beirut, apparently unaware of the irony as they chanted anti-American slogans. War is hell, but why is today's bombing being cast -- again in Richard Quest's words -- as a possible "turning point" of "world" opinion against Israel and the United States? Listen to the words of CNN White House Press Corpsman John King for a clue:
[Secretary Rice's] diplomatic efforts aren't likely to get much attention today because of the drama of this bombing.
Ah, yes, "the drama of this bombing." A propagandist's dream. The probable goal is to deflect attention from Secretary Rice's mission or even, as one of the CNN International anchors suggested, to show that
She just does not have the stature to broker a cease-fire . . .
Or "that she does not have the will," chimed in a hopeful John King. Our imail correspondent this morning catches the gist:
She: No person of sane mind can believe that Americans or Israelis deliberately target civilians. How did that twisted spin grow legs?
She: Yes . . . pants not yet on . . . THEY are the ones who want to "talk things out," and now they twist it and blame HER for "talking."
Heads I win, tails you lose. So tell us again -- since CNN isn't asking -- why were there no men of fighting age in the rubble?