US Media Rules of Reporting on Israeli ‘Operations’ in Gaza

Since Hamas fired its first projectile from Gaza into Israel in 2001, the US establishment media have strictly followed several rules of reporting on the “rockets.” These rules are unwritten. The scriveners and TV news broadcasters may not even think of them as rules. Nevertheless, American mass media reporting on Gaza rockets consistently and predictably follows one absolute, overarching, principle: Israel is always the victim. The rules implement this First Principle. Short are the careers of those who transgress them.

The media faithfully have followed the rules in “Operation Protective Edge.” A reasonable person could fairly describe “Protective Edge” as US-tax dollar funded, Israeli-delivered bombs, tank and artillery shells, missiles, flechette grenades and other explosive devices which sometimes kill dozens of civilians in the Gaza strip a day. No consumer of US mass media will ever hear that description, of course. It offends the First Principle.

Here are a few of the Rules of Rocket Reporting, with commentary:

Rule Number One, Hamas rocket fire always starts any Gaza-Israel hostilities. Hamas always launches "unprovoked" attacks. Israel always “responds” to protect its civilians from the rocket menace. “Israel launched its air campaign on July 8 to stop unrelenting rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel,” according to Associated Press’s standard statement for every Operation Protective Edge story. Reuters’ boilerplate version of this claim asserts: “Israel launched its offensive on July 8 following a surge in Hamas rocket salvoes.”

Like the lamentable Lemming, the generally accepted US media repeat this Israeli fable as incontestable fact, so well-established and accepted that it requires no attribution. The Rule also excludes any possible Israeli responsibility for the violence. It bars any suggestion that the hostilities may have something to do with, say, Israel’s seven-year-old siege and blockade of the territory, or the Israeli policy to “put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger,” as Dov Weisglass pithily remarked. (Those words were not fit to print in the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, or the other beacons of America’s free press, and accordingly have never appeared in them.)

Rule Number Two, This could be called the “Heavy Precipitation Metaphor Rule.” Never report that Hamas simply fired rockets into Israel. Rather, Hamas always “unleashes" "indiscriminate and unrelenting." “constant” “barrages” which “rain” and “pour” all over the Jewish state, putting “5 million Israelis … under the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza.” Here’s a typical example, from the New York Times:

Israeli tanks rolled into the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday night and naval gunboats pounded targets in the south as Israel began a ground invasion after 10 days of aerial bombardment failed to stop Palestinian militants from showering Israeli cities with rockets. … As rockets continued to rain down on Israeli cities, a military spokesman said the mission’s expansion was “not time bound” and was aimed to ensure Hamas operatives were “pursued, paralyzed and threatened” as it targeted “terrorist infrastructure” in the north, south and east of Gaza “in parallel.”

(As an aside, note the phrase, “showering Israeli cities with rockets,” which not only evokes the Holocaust but falsely implies that Hamas rockets actually hit numerous “cities.”)

Rule Number Three, or the “Human Shield Stipulation,” provides that all people in Gaza killed or maimed by Israel’s massive tonnage of land, sea and aerial explosives are “human shields.” Do not report an Israeli “response” to the rockets (see Rule Number One) or Israel’s killing of even one person in Gaza without invoking “human shields.”

According to the Human Shield Stipulation, Hamas stores or unleashes its rocket barrages from homes, hospitals, mosques, schools, playgrounds, and the like. Hamas apparently thinks this will deter Israel from attacking Hamas weapons caches or its fighters themselves, perhaps counting on the IDF’s reputation as the “most moral army in the world” to refrain from killing innocents. On July 30, The Hill published a good example of Rule Three, summarizing Congress’s near unanimous praise for “Protective Edge”:

The House on Wednesday passed a resolution to condemn the extremist group Hamas for its recent rocket attacks against Israel. The measure, passed by voice vote, specifically denounces Hamas’s use of civilians as "human shields" during combat.

"Hamas is engaging in a crime of enormous proportions, perpetrated by those who are deliberately hiding among civilians to protect themselves," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.). "The world can’t let terrorists embed their forces among the civilian population, using them as human shields, without speaking out."

Like all prescriptive rules of language, the Rules of Rocket Reporting must be followed despite the actual facts. The Rules are purposefully simple-minded and easy to use. Even American journalists and politicians like Ed Royce can understand and ply them with little difficulty. The Rules are also impervious to falsification, contradiction, or challenge. They must be obeyed, no matter how nonsensical the result.

Take Rule Number Three. Some American journalists may have noticed that the Hamas “human shield” tactic has never worked – that is, since the first rocket in 2001, Israel has never hesitated to annihilate every last “human shield” in the neighborhood whenever it bombards Gaza. Over 13 years and innumerable major and minor “conflicts,” “human shields” have proven 100 percent ineffective. Would any group, Hamas included, continue to use “human shields” when they have not once “shielded” a single rocket or “militant” from Israel’s uber-moral war machine?

It’s a good question. The Rules, however, do not allow exploration of questions that may undermine the First Principle.

(Interestingly, Israel recently turned the “human shield” Rule upside down. All along, it turns out, Hamas has not been using humans to shield weapons. It is using its weapons as a trick to get Israel to kill humans. As Prime Minister Netanyahu recently put it, Hamas’ goal is to “pile up as many civilian dead as they can…They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.” Although cursing your enemy for duping you into annihilating him is not a view often heard, even in insane asylums, America’s fourth estate describes Netanyahu’s disturbed comment as “indisputable.”)

Application of the Rules also produces canyon-sized gaps in coverage of the Israeli-Gaza “conflict” or “war” (popular euphemisms for “bloodbath”). For example, despite all the “barrages” “raining” and “pouring,” the American press has not been able to avoid reporting that the rockets almost never hit anything, never seem to kill or seriously injure anyone, and seldom cause any serious property damage.

Since the rockets force Israel to kill so many “human shields” (see Rules One and Three), wouldn’t it make sense to inquire about the actual threat the rockets present to the Jewish State? Isn’t there a story in this?

Nope, nothing to see here. Move along.

Recently, at Mondoweiss, someone named Phan Nguyen did what all the major broadcast and cable networks, national newspapers, news magazines and dominant news web sites in the US have never done: Report the actual number of deaths caused by rockets and mortar shells fired from the Gaza strip from 2001 to the present.

The result (as of July 28, 2014): 35 Israeli deaths.

If you remove the few Arabs and Israeli military forces from the list, the number drops to 19.

So over thirteen years, Gaza rockets and mortar fire killed 19 noncombatant Israeli citizens. In other words, Gaza projectiles on an annual basis kill an average of 1.357 Israeli civilians.

Israel has a Jewish population of 5.656 million. Thus, the odds of being killed by a Hamas terror rocket are 1 in 4,168,017. That translates to a 00.000023 percent chance.

The probability of surviving a “barrage” of rockets “showering” down all over Israel is much, much better than surviving Operation Protective Edge by hiding in a UN school from the most moral army in the world.

One thing is for sure. In general, the Rules of Rocket Reporting have been far less effective in covering up reality than they had in the past, mostly as a result of ever-growing and non-regulated social media means to disseminate that reality. Further, in “Protective Edge,” the Hamas rockets’ singularly unimpressive performance as a weapon and symbol of “terror” has not helped Israel garner sympathy for its orgiastic bombardment and mass murder of Palestinian civilians.

Another, lesser rule, the “Rule of Disproportionate Balance,” has not advanced the First Principle in the current “conflict” either. US news consumers are all too familiar with this rote recitation: “The Palestinian Health Ministry says some [insert current four-digit estimate] people, mostly civilians, have been killed … since fighting started on July 8. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have also been killed” (Reuters form). This construct, designed to create an impression of “qualitative equivalence” whenever Israel kills grossly disproportionately volumes of civilians, simply is not working this time. The implication that three Jewish civilian deaths have any kind of “equivalence” with thousands of civilian Palestinian deaths (and growing every day) is preposterousness and abhorrent.

Indeed, the conventional Rules of Rocket Reporting have been doing such a poor job of concealing the reality of “Protective Edge” that Israel’s hasbara councils were forced to bring out a deus ex machina – the “Iron Dome.” The “Iron Dome Job Rule” requires the media to tell us that, as one of the standardized odes has it, the “missile shield” technology provides “astonishingly effective …air defense [that] has prevented Hamas from killing Israelis and spreading terror in the civilian population.” (Bloomberg News). The AP sings “Dome’s” praises more effusively: “The ‘Iron Dome’ defense system has emerged as a game-changer in the current round of violence … shooting down dozens of incoming rockets and being credited with preventing numerous civilian casualties. [Iron Dome] shoot[s] down more than 90 percent of its targets.”

The “game-changer” (some game, AP!) explains away the absence of any significant impact on Israel from Hamas’ endless barrages and constant heavy precipitation of rockets and restores justification for Israel’s over-pulverization of the Gaza strip. Netanyahu, who can squeeze more bullshit into a confined space than John Deere, captured this in one of his daily “Protective Edge” chats on CNN with Wolf Blitzer: “They haven’t succeeded [in killings Israelis] not for lack of trying.  It’s because we have developed, with American help – and I appreciate the help that President Obama and the U.S. Congress have given us to develop these Iron Dome, fantastic systems.”

“Dome Job” is a sham, of course. Before Iron Dome descended onto the stage, Hamas rockets caused virtually no damage. According to Pham, there were a total of 17 rocket fatalities in the ten years of fire before Israel first used “Dome” in 2011. Even Ed Royce must sense something off-kilter with the idea that “Dome” saves “numerous [Israeli] civilian lives” that were not under any rocket threat in the first place. Besides, the same stories that “rain” “pour” and “shower” adoration on “Dome” report that it knocks out only a tiny fraction of the latest “barrage” “unleashed” on the Jewish state. Indeed, “Dome” may be a complete con job, a “sound and light,” computer-generated illusion, hiding the reality that “no Iron Dome missile has ever collided with a single rocket.” Naturally, the media never independently investigate the sole source of “Dome’s” performance reports – the IDF – instead, as always, reporting claims by Israeli authorities as incontrovertible fact.

But why would Western commercial media investigate and try to confirm Israeli government claims? The media’s job is to follow the Rules and protect the First Principle.

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Author: Peter Casey

Peter Casey lives in New Hampshire.