Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fake but accurate: what if it's turtles all the way down?

Here's the joke:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.

At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise."

The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?"

"You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down."

I thought of this story the other day, while discussing the France2 case with an exceptionally intelligent young man. He was open to the idea that France2 had been guilty of promulgating a lie in the al Durah affair, but asked me whether it really mattered so very much that it was a lie in that particular instance because, after all, Israel does target Palestinian children. The old, "fake but accurate" argument.

A brief discussion about the nature of collateral damage in asymmetrical warfare ensued, and he agreed that it's probably unavoidable no matter how careful a military is. But he insisted that Israel must purposely have targeted children in some instance or other, because it was such a well-known fact.

I asked the young man the following question: what if all the reports he'd read about Israelis purposely targeting children were based on lies? If enough reporters truly believed that "fake but accurate" was a reasonable way of reporting things, then what was to stop them from lying about this to make a point they felt to be essentially true?

In other words, what if--like the turtles--it's lies all the way down?

[NOTE: As a bit of background on journalistic standards for reporting about Israel, here's a point-by-point debunking of the famous and influential Chris Hedges Harper's article that alleged Israeli soldiers killed Palestinian children "for sport." And here's an excellent overview on the entire topic of the NY Times's distorted and misleading coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, written by Tom Gross of National Review. The more I've learned about the media, the more I've come to believe that Hedges was operating under the "fake but accurate" rubric.]

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