Posted by: sean | August 1, 2007

Fallout from Israeli "journalists" in Lebanon

Nicholas Blanford, the Beirut correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor was recently arrested and detained on suspicion of being a spy in a Lebanese village near the Syrian border (emphasis mine):

We ended up at a nearby house in Yahfoufa where we were offered cups of Turkish coffee. Soon, more Hizbullah men arrived and we were escorted to an office in the village of Nabi Sheet. Ali and I handed over our cellphones, wallets, and my small backpack of journalistic gear for their perusal. That didn’t help the situation.

In the eyes of our captors, my GPS device and a satellite phone – intended to aid our trip to remote Toufeil – only marked us as spies. Still, I was not unduly worried. I had been detained by Hizbullah before. It usually meant sitting with them for two or three hours while they verified my identity. I reeled off a list of names of top Hizbullah officials whom they could contact.

However, the Hizbullah men of the Bekaa are a tough, suspicious breed and unused to foreigners tramping around their areas.

Furthermore, Hizbullah has grown more wary of foreign journalists since the recent revelation that two Israeli correspondents had entered Lebanon on foreign passports and reported from the party’s strongholds in Beirut and the south, an act that has made life more difficult and potentially dangerous for Western journalists operating here.

I recently wrote about my exchange with Lisa Goldman, one of the Israeli journalists who came here, and she recently tried to defend her lack of journalistic ethics on CNN in a debate with a local professor of journalism from the Lebanese American University. In this interview and on her blog she keeps mentioning all of the positive feedback she’s gotten from Lebanon. Strangely missing from her blog comments is much negative feedback, which would lead one to believe that the only Lebanese responses she’s gotten have been positive.

I know this to be patently false. For example, she refused to validate my comments on her blog as well as those of a Lebanese NGO worker who does projects on conflict resolution. So if those two comments aren’t on her blog, I presume that she’s been filtering many of the comments she doesn’t agree with as well. For someone who claims to be writing about Lebanon in order to bridge the gap between Israelis and the Lebanese, it seems ironic that she would reject comments by those with a different opinion than hers.

On her blog, she dismisses the charges leveled by a foreign correspondent based in Beirut that she has “caused alot of problems for legitimate professional reporters who report from Lebanon (and who actually try and make an effort to understand the situation.)” Nicholas Blanford’s recent jail time should put to rest any doubts that anyone had about this one. (Obviously, Hezbollah is at fault for being so paranoid and not allowing journalists free reign, but the stunts of Goldman and her Brazilian/Israeli friend have only made a bad situation worse.)

She then says that western reporters are doing a bad job of covering Lebanon since Israelis seem to know little of the current situation there:

As for the “countless foreign correspondents who work tirelessly” in Lebanon to “try and bring an accurate and fair picture to the world” – well, perhaps you should try harder to be accurate and fair. Because given that most non-Lebanese people seem to have the impression that the majority of Lebanese are either homeless, impoverished victims of the summer war, or militants running around with rocket launchers on their shoulders, it seems that you are not doing a very good job at all in presenting an accurate and fair picture of Lebanon.

Of course, this is absolutely ridiculous for several reasons. First, as anyone with access to Google can easily see, there are plenty of accounts of Beirut nightlife. A Lexis Nexis search for articles in the North American press in the last three years with the words “Lebanon” and “nightlife,” for example, come up with 40 articles. The same search for English-language European sources yields 83 results. If Israelis don’t know what normal life in Beirut is like, it’s because they don’t want to know, not because the information isn’t out there.

So when Goldman says “I had a lot of knowledge of Lebanon from the internet,” I can’t help but wonder if she knows how to use the internet at all. In any case, it seems clear that as far as Lebanon goes, Lisa Goldman does not, in fact, know Shi’ite from shinola.

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Responses

  1. What a pair of jackasses. I had completely missed this story as I’ve been in Tangier the past month and a half. Cheers to both you and Charles for covering it. Nice reading material, by the way. I’m a big fan of Marc Bloch.

  2. Thanks for the support. It’s something that really pissed people off here. Both my journalist friends and my Lebanese friends were very upset by this, but if you go to her blog, you’d think that everyone in Lebanon was saluting her for her bravery.

    From your blog, I’m not surprised that you like the Bloch. I’ve only read l’Etrange défaite, which I’m not done with yet, but I’d like to read some more of his stuff as well. I’ll probably pick up some more stuff next month when I’m back in Paris.

    I hope you had a good time in the Maghreb.

  3. Just sent you an email to your address listed.

    Someone — I’m not sure who, exactly — just re-published all of Marc Bloch’s wartime writing. I saw it in several bookshops in Paris in April, so you should have no trouble tracking it down.

    I too have not read anything aside from L’Etrange defaite, though he was really quite well-regarded as a historian before the war.

  4. Without entering into the exchange between you and Goldman, I’d like to know what you mean when you refer to Blanford’s “jail time,” since, at least according to the excerpt you’ve included, Blanford does not mention jail. It appears — again according to your excerpt — that Blanford believes that his time with the Hizbullah was this time due to oversensitivity on the latter’s part, for which he gives as a reason the recent revelation of Israeli “journalists.” On the other hand, Blanford explains in the paragraph preceding your emphases that the “Hizbullah men of the Bekaa are a tough, supsicious breed,” etc. Is this “breed” even more tough and suspicious because of “Goldman and her Brazilian/American friend” or should the verification of Blanford be taken with a Hizbullah grain of salt, as Blanford seems to say in the second paragraph you’ve cited? One last question, the numbers you cite regarding the words “Lebanon” and “nightlife”: how far, in your opinion, do they go in corroborating your argument that “if Israelis don’t know what normal life in Beirut is like, it’s because they don’t want to know”? You may be right. But have you searched and thought to include the same numbers for “homeless” and “Lebanon,” “victims,” and “Lebanon,” etc., in the Western press? I’m sure nightlife exists in Beirut, and I hope soon to find it, but don’t you think that your cited search results suffer from a bias for certain information similar to that of Ms. Goldman?

  5. If you read the article I linked to in its entirety, entitled Our reporter’s night in a Lebanese jail, you’ll see the “jail time” I’m talking about:

    At midnight, we were placed in the custody of the Military Police, handcuffed, and driven to base’s jail.

    It was a long night. The lights were switched out, plunging the prison block into darkness. I laid on a smelly wool blanket spread out on the concrete floor of the cell, using my boots as a pillow and breathed in the fetid stink from the cell’s latrines.

    As for your second question, Blanford isn’t alone on this. Many foreign journalists and researches I’ve spoken to about the incident think that the Israeli girls have made their jobs more difficult and perhaps more dangerous.

    Finally, in response to your last question, a Lexis Nexis search for “Lebanese” and “homeless” in North American news sources yields 204 results, as opposed to the 40 results for “Lebanon” and “nightlife.” In contrast, searches on Israel for “nightlife” and “homeless” yield and 104 and 604 results, respectively. (Searches for both countries and “victims” included over 1,000 hits, at which point Lexis Nexis stops counting.)

    So there is about a 1 to 5 ratio of nightlife to homeless coverage for Lebanon and a 1 to 6 ratio of nightlife to homeless coverage for Israel. But no one would claim that Tel Aviv is a bunch of homeless victims, would they? The claim, from someone who pretends to have had “a lot of knowledge about Lebanon,” that the foreign media doesn’t cover the cosmopolitan part of Lebanon is either uninformed or disingenuous: she’s obviously either not paying attention to the actual coverage or willfully ignoring it in bad faith. Anyone who knows anything about Beirut or the Middle East knows that Beirut is a cosmopolitan place with a wide variety of different people, local and foreign.

    Even a quick look at Beirut’s wikipedia entry would tell any curious reader that Beirut is often called the Paris of the Middle East (even if I think it’s more like the Miami of the Middle East) and that in 2006 it was ranked in the top ten best cities by Travel and Leisure Magazine (right between New York and San Francisco).

  6. Some liberal Israelis have mentioned to me that this kind of reporting should be highly encouraged. They say that it’s a worthy cause to show what normal everyday middle class life is really like in Beirut, particularly for an audience which has certain other-worldly negative imaginations about their very neighbor. The whole point is to challenge stereotypes. Is this disingenuous?

    It could just be a case of good intentions but bad methods with lots of extremist reactionary talk in between.

    -km

  7. Kai: Yes, it’s disingenuous. Lisa Goldman, for example, endangered the lives or livelihoods of Lebanese people so that she could file a report with the Israeli TV media that says that foreigners aren’t allowed into the Dahiyeh unless they’re vetted by Hezbollah (not true) and that Israel only bombed the security square of the Dahiyeh (also not true).

    The rest of her report was pap. Reports about the Lebanese middle class and Beiruti nightlife are ubiquitous. If Israelis don’t trust the reports by the Washington Post, NY Times, AFP, AP and Reuters, and insist on viewing the Lebanese as a bunch of extremist savages, the problem is one that is obviously too deep to be solved with Israeli stunts like Goldman’s.

    If Israeli news outlets really wanted to humanize Lebanese people, they wouldn’t have to endanger them while doing so. There is tons of footage and reporting along these lines, and if that were really the goal, they’d just have to air some of that coverage.

    For example, they could run Anthony Bourdain’s cooking show “No Reservations,” which just happened to be filming when the war started. The video of his experience during the war is really interesting.

  8. Hey Sean. Thanks for this blog and for this post. I have been trying to post a comment on Lisa’s blog, just to give her my humble opinion as a Lebanese and she never permitted me to do that. I really got pissed off when I heard her say that she had so many encouraging emails from Lebanese! What was she doing really? filtering the comments?? Go Lisa!
    I don’t know much about ethics of journalists and if she endangered peoples’lives. I don’t care. What really made me laugh though is that she discovered that we do yoga and we go out to pubs!!! Is this is the great scoop that made her come all this way from Israel through the security and making all this fuss!
    SHE DISCOVERED THAT WE ARE NORMAL PEOPLE!!! Israelis never stop to amaze me..
    On the other hand,she ended up saying what the mainstream media in Israel wants to hear. I would have forgiven her if she did a good story that could have been a peace-building tool. I was in Beirut during the war and Israelis blew the shit out of Lebanon (not just the suburb). Just for the record also, the southern suburb is also part of Beirut. I guess some people forget that.
    Coming to Nicholas Blandford: Bad luck for him. Although I was somehow sad that he got out of jail with a wasta!! Corruption is killing this country.

  9. Sean: You make a fine case and I ultimately agree with you. Keep up the good work.

    -KM


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