(Ab)Using the Media

As ever, the Blogosphere is analysing news left, right and centre, and generally trying to keep the politicians and media in line. As part of this, a bunch of people are analysing the media war that came out of the Lebanon/Israel disagreement, and it's self-evident that Hezbullah did a damned sight better job of manipulating the media than Israel.

Now, the concept of censorship in time of conflict is long-standing. "It is not in our interests to let you publish this information", and can be for either genuine military purposes ("We're not going to let you give away information that is of use to the enemy") or more craven political ones ("We will not let you publish photos of coffins returning from Iraq").

Less successfully or often done is using the media to deliberately mislead. "This photo shows HMS Invincible burning off the Falklands" or "There are no Americans in Baghdad. We are crushing them, their broken bodies lie on their burned tanks." Usually these are for domestic consumption. Nobody outside the country in question tends to believe them.

Of late, though, we now have apparently a bunch of excellently done fake stories designed not so much for the domestic demographic, but for outside sources. For example, you have the faking of an Israeli airstrike on ambulances, http://www.zombietime.com/fraud/ambulance/, of an Israeli missile strike on Reuters vehicles http://powerlineblog.com/archives/015118.php and the various posed photos of placed artifacts or people, notably in Qana. (Where rescue workers photographed carrying children suddenly would be photographed unconscous in pain getting rescued themselves a few minutes later). http://www.zombietime.com/reuters_photo_fraud/.
They really were very well done, and accepted without question.

We have two that come up from this. Firstly, given the assymetric nature of modern warfare, is this manipulation of the media considered acceptable, bearing in mind that third parties are basing their opinions on the media coverage, and the second is if we were hoodwinked because we were predisposed to believe that Israel would do such heinous travesties so they must automatically be true?



War Hero
I'd say the answer to your first question is one of perspective - I present my story in the most effective way possible, you use PR, they manipulate the media, as Yes Minister might put it. War is politics and thus the opinion of the outside world counts. If that means you fake evidence to change it your way then well, it's war.

To the second - no, it's that we tend to believe photographs instinctively, particularly when a source we tend to trust (such as the media, whether we like to admit it or not) presents them as true. I don't think you need to e predisposed to one side or the other.
The truth of modern warfare is that you cannot win using kinetic methods on their own. The side that cannot accept this fact and plan their operations accordingly will lose.

Whether or not we find this acceptable is irrelevant. Our enemy does, and continues to advance as a result. We're in the game whether we like it or not.

Hizb'Allah understand this very well, and have as a result largely succeeded in their war aims. Their propaganda is credible to casual observation and to expect more than that from a media obsessed with speed of delivery is sheer foolishness. Complaining that the media behave like the media as so many in the military do is to ignore reality - we don't ignore the things like the weather or rivers when we plan, why do we ignore the media ?

The trouble is, the Warrior mentality that runs the Israeli military (and the US military too, come to think of it) cannot accept this fact. If we wish to win we must ensure that kinetic operations only take place when they will have a positive impact in the information war. The implications of this - that tactical reverses can aid victory - are profoundly unsettling to Warriors.

Just look at Vietnam - the NVA and VC lost far, far more troops than the US in Vietnam and lost far more firefights than they won. They achieved their mission. The US, Warriors to the end, did not.
Use of media in war is very interesting. Information operations are about conditioning the information that bubbles up so they support operational or strategic goals.

Two examples I heard of yesterday. In 1941 HMS Barham was torpedoed by U331 in the Med. with approximately 1200 killed (RIP). The story was capped because the earlier loss of HMS Hood had caused a minor upsurge of public dismay.

A chap I met on the ferry yesterday told me how he and two other kids had "captured" a German pilot after he was shot down in Liverpool. They took him to a woman's house, where she promptly fed and watered him royally - her old man was a thieving scouse docker, her son a pilot in the RAF in North Africa. He was stuffed with food, as were the local bobby and some redcaps who turned up to take him into custody. The kraut promptly was given a letter form and wrote home how well fed the average British civilians were! He was encouraged to do so, to create the sense that we were winning the Battle of the Atlantic, even though at that stage we certainly weren't!

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