For the past few years, I haven’t been scouring The New York Times on a daily basis like I used to; mostly now I just skim if I read it all. (Noam Chomsky is surely disappointed in me.) So my knowledge of how the Times is covering the Israel-Lebanon-Gaza flare-up of state and quasistate violence has been gleaned from secondhand sources, the Angry Arab mostly but others as well. The consensus among the left is that the Times has been its usual stellar self as the leading propaganda organ of the U.S. government: underreporting the extent and severity of Israeli military actions, exaggerating and highlighting the violence of Hezbollah methods and tactics, reporting Israeli deaths but not Arab ones, and obscuring or even lying about the U.S.’s role over the last two weeks.
I don’t doubt the truth of most of this, but here’s the first paragraph in the lead article of today’s Times:
Israel’s two-front conflict saw its heaviest day of fighting on Wednesday, killing 9 Israeli soldiers, dozens of Hezbollah fighters and at least 23 Palestinians in Gaza. As the battles raged, a meeting of the United States and European and Arab countries in Rome failed to reach agreement on a plan to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah as the United States resisted calls for an immediate cease-fire.
This paragraph lays it all out: how many Israelis died, how many Arabs died, and that the U.S., as usual, gave a green light to Israel’s indiscriminate massacre of Lebanese and Palestinians. There’s not a whole lot of concealing going on here.
My aim, of course, is not to defend The New York Times, but to indicate that charges of media’s function being one of propaganda and obfuscation don’t explain very much. Media certainly do sometimes repress, bury, or lie about certain facts, but the general outlines of issues and conflicts are basically known. The problem in the current situation isn’t that people don’t know what’s going on, or that there would be some great uprising against Israel and the U.S. if only Fox News stopped lying about the facts on the ground in Lebanon. The problem is that people don’t really care, or that they don’t know how to go about acting on their knowledge in ways that could help stop the slaughter.