Adnan Hajj Bandwagon
The Pictures Are Fake. The Butchery Isn’t.
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, August 9, 2006
Adnan Hajj, the long-time Reuters photographer, was caught doctoring pictures from Lebanon—intensifying smoke here, adding to an Israeli warplane’s flares there. The mini-scandal has the right-wing blogosphincter contracting with glee: here’s another chance to discredit the “MSM” (that’s the faintly sadomasochistic acronym sniffed off by blogs that, for lack of barreled fish to shoot at, bash “mainstream media” instead). Better still: here’s a chance to change the war’s focus. It’s not about 900 dead Lebanese. It’s not about a flattened country, a demolished economy, a million people on the run. It’s about journalists doctoring the news to make Israel look bad. It’s about Hezbollah “managing” the news. It’s about Israel being the victim not only of “terrorism” north of the border, but of a vast pixilated conspiracy pointing all the way back to editors’ offices in London and New York . Gentlemen, start your swiftboats.
But that’s how dismal the non-rendition of the Lebanon war has been in this country. Not only do you get a lopsided interpretation of a theater where every Hezbollah fighter is a “terrorist” and civilians who stay behind are “sympathizers” (who therefore deserve every artery snapping shrapnel they get); not only is the human and economic toll made to seem somehow equal on both sides of the border—even though it is literally ten times heavier on Lebanon’s side, about twenty times heavier if we’re comparing civilian losses, and incalculably heavier if we’re talking economy and infrastructure. But when news of massacres and relentless air raids and neighborhoods in flame does seem finally to make Americans sigh twice and begin to question the madness, here come the deflecting brigades firing their flares as they seize on an easy target.
It’s impossible and indeed wrong to defend Adnan Hajj in any way, if he’s proven to be photography’s Stepehn Glass—an inventor rather than a journalist. There’s no room for discussion on that score, no excuses for “poor lighting conditions” as Hajj claims, no mitigating explanations. The moment he doctors a picture, he becomes a liar. That, apparently, is what he did. But it is possible to condemn Adnan Hajj without discrediting the story making it out of Lebanon . It is not only possible but necessary to ignore Hajj: he’s a bit player, an imbecile maybe, the sort of dishonest journalist you find in every setting, in every war, maybe in every other television station and newspaper, the way you find crooked cops and intellectually dishonest bloggers and abusive priests and murderous Marines and on rare, rare occasions of course, corrupt politicians. The minor scandal he’s enabled shouldn’t be given the power to deflect attention from what no Photoshop editing need invent. The reality is bad enough: It isn’t as if the Israeli air force isn’t bombarding Lebanon day and night no matter how fake flares may be jutting out of one particular picture. It isn’t as if some one third of the dead in Lebanon have been children, no matter how questionable the circumstances surrounding the picture of one dead child may be.
To dismiss the Adnan Hajj “scandal,” of course, will be interpreted (by the right-wing radio shout shows and their blogoheads) as an endorsement of what he did, and by extension as some sort of complicity with “inventing” the extent of the horrors in Lebanon . It’s no such thing. But to simply say that it’s no such thing doesn’t diminish the effectiveness of the attacks on anyone looking to dismiss the Hajj business, because deflection, not ethics, is the motive behind the hammering at Hajj and Reuters and the “MSM.” The motive behind the outing of Hajj is to discredit the reporting of Lebanon as a story of Israeli savagery. Period. It has nothing to do with upholding journalistic standards. If that were the case the same bloggers and their Rush jobs should have been all over every embedded reporter’s ass since the occupation of Iraq began, because if one really wants news-management at its craven best, at its lying, censoring, cowering worst, you can’t do worse than the Pentagon’s embed policy. It’s not just managing the news. It’s choreographing it—and cutting it off at will, when the news isn’t reported the Pentagon’s way. And the media for the most part have played along, self-censoring, sanitizing, submitting. So whatever Hezbollah is doing with journalists in South Lebanon , whether it’s intimidating them about not filming the sites of outgoing missiles or photocopying their passports—it isn’t one bit different in kind, though considerably less overbearing in substance and frequency, than what the Pentagon conditions of reporters on its watch in Iraq .
Odd though how the Adnan Hajj matter parallels the Lebanon war in this regard: To dismiss the Hajj case is seen as complicity with it just as to condemn Israel’s savagery is seen as an endorsement of Hezbollah—as if it isn’t possible to condemn lousy journalists while still trusting the best of them and their overriding stories, as if it isn’t possible to call Israel’s savagery by name without indemnifying Hezbollah one whit for its own insane provocations when this war began, its own regressive nature as an organization, its own savagery in return—though let’s not fall into the equivalency trap, either, on this case by case basis: Since July 12, the immorality and the war crime crowns have been worn by Israel virtually unchallenged. That’s no apology for Hezbollah. It’s merely identifying the butcher’s knives in a line-up the truth of which no swiftboating or Photoshop editing can alter.
The irony in all this is that while Adnan Hajj has been idiotically Photoshopping his pictures and ruining his career while jeopardizing his news employers’ trust, the real hack job, the real attempt at news-management, intimidation and fakery has been carried out by those very bloggers and radio shootists brandishing the Adnan Hajj story as a scandal. They’re the ones trying to diminish the Lebanon story. They’re the ones trying to make Israel ’s butchery look less bloody than it’s been. They’re the ones trying to peddle the folly—or at least plant a seed of doubt, which is all they need in the United States, where the audience is predisposed to doubt Arabs or think them all liars to start with—that maybe that massacre at Qana didn’t happen, maybe the destruction isn’t nearly so devastating, maybe the Israeli air force really is as humanitarian an organization as Oxfam and the Red Cross if, out of its own good heart, it has the time and heart to drop evacuation leaflets before bombing the place clean.
Hajj in all this is only the bloggers’ convenient tool. There’ll be others. Just don’t fall for any of it—neither the Hajj jobs, nor the flare-throwing deflectors’ hack jobs.