Pudding as Proof

by NORMAN SIMMS September 24, 2014

In the last few weeks since the cease fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza many journalists and other media commentators have started to argue over whether or not the Associated Press, The New York Times, the BBC and so on have been engaged in deliberate acts of distortion in order to present Israel as the villainous aggressor and the people and government in Gaza as the innocent victims of this excessive and criminal violence.  Most of this debate, if one can call it that, focuses on an essay written by Matti Friedmann who used to work for AP.  Claim and counter-claim have been tossed about, some people, including his former bureau chief, arguing that there has been intimidation and coercion from the Hamas-run officials inside Gaza and from their politically-correct sympathizers around the western world, and other reporters working with other agencies and networks have reacted with shock, dismay and anger at being accused of such things, assuring everyone that they are honest, objective, professionals. But then a few of Freidman's fellow journalists at AP, such as Stephanie Butnick, have backed up his story, even adding some further charges of their own.  Is this just a matter of he said/she said and everyone is entitled to their own opinion? 

Although I am of the opinion after months and years of scrutinizing the news media, comparing the different sources, and coming to realize the amount of distortion and manipulation involved in demonizing Israel and hushing up the perfidy and fanaticism of the Hamas cause, I think the current debate on the intentions and integrity of the press agencies misses the point.  Everyone believes he or she is right.  It would be invidious to say otherwise or, rather, to collect all the data, make a chart, and draw logical conclusions.  That is not the point.

What is the point?

It is certainly not a question mainly about conscious rational decisions.  In many, if not most instances, the insulted editors and directors of the media probably do believe in all sincerity that they are carrying out their tasks with tact and integrity, while the reporters with a great deal of courage to point their fingers at their (former) colleagues and bosses honestly think they were forced into presenting lopsided versions of the events in the Middle East.  As the old proverb has it, the proof is in the pudding: or, in a more recent formulation, if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks, then it is a duck.  The question has nothing-or rather very little to do with conscious intentions, let alone with beliefs and feelings.

If the proof is in the eating, the pudding has not been cooked well: the ingredients are a poisonous mixture of half-truths and outright lies, as well as of omissions and irrelevant side-issues.  This apparently sweet-looking image of poor suffering Palestinians and blood-thirsty Zionists is a disgusting mess.  Yet the bakers and chefs, along with the waiters and busboys all truly assume that they have been serving up precisely what their public wants and needs. Overwhelmingly (to lapse for a moment into impressions and statistical charts) the western press has misrepresented the events of the fighting in Gaza-in fact, has not seen the fighting but presented the actions as a lopsided, disproportionate attack on the poor innocent civilians of Gaza; with the score-card of dead, injured, and homeless won by the Gaza people hands down.  Provocative acts in the way of rockets and mortars shot into Israel, tunnels built with funds sent for humanitarian aid used instead for infiltration of Israeli territory, hiding of control and command centres, and storage of weapons and ammunition, and the actual number and identification of body-counts and causes of Palestinian losses all downplayed, if not manipulated, omitted or denied.  Evidence of private dwellings booby-trapped so as to cause maximum secondary explosions, schools and mosques turned into munitions depots, hospital rooms devoted to military functions and a dozen other acts of perfidy have either been airbrushed away or trivialized.

Why can't the major media smell the stench or taste the noxious substance they have concocted? Why do most readers accept what they are served without objection?

First of all, it is because they are operating in an atmosphere of self-delusion, using discourses that do not allow their common sense to function properly, and are caught in a vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophecies.  Post-modernism has provided the media moguls with a texture of specious reality in which to collect the news, process it through distorting lenses, and created as a set of so-called authorities to which they can measure and verify what they have confected.  But this is still on the superficial level of words and images that are constantly rearranged and given new colours and tones, or new artificial flavours to return to our kitchen metaphor.

Second of all, there are layers of contextual history to be folded back and depths of unconscious motivation to be plumbed. In other words, the pudding has to undergo a chemical analysis and run through a physics investigation.  Not only do they not believe they are doing anything wrong or unprofessional.  In their own eyes and minds, they have vehemently doing precisely what they ought to do, what they have been taught to do, what they feel their readers want and need to know.  You can't argue with that.  In fact, they won't allow you to argue with them or to criticise their reasoning powers or their sense of common reality.

Still, deep down, the reality they operate from is not the same as the one most Jews and most Israelis, from personal and family history, from private and public experience share.  Many psychohistorians, historians and psychologists who have been able to engage with terrorists, fanatics and suicide-killers point out-these excitable, traumatized and deluded persons operate within hallucinations and fantasies against projections of their own dysfunctional infancies and childhoods, respond to abusive parents, strict religious upbringing, loss of identity through migration and conflictual socializing.  What they don't react against at the core of their being-though they use these other superficial hurts and humiliations as the rationalization for their violence-is "the occupation," poverty per se, discrimination or prejudice by neighbours, teachers or government officials.  We know that Hamas, ISIS, Al-qaida, and a myriad of other militant, murderous organizations and pseudo-states are, as one says, in a "Bad Place," a confusing and confused place in their own minds.  If they threaten or attack, you don't reason with them: you protect yourself, you attack them, you destroy them.

But-and this is the point we are getting at-what about the journalists, academics, intellectuals who support them, feel they should give them a voice, present not so much their side of the story as their narrative as the replacement for the privileged, colonialist, imperialist, aggressive, demonic other side?  They are "our" journalists, academics, journalists, intellectuals: they are us.  And yet the way they "frame" the news justifies our defeat, or at least the obliteration of Israel, all Jews everywhere, Americans and their allies in Europe and elsewhere.  That is what we can see them doing, but that is not how they see themselves. 

To us they are condescending, that is, we are fools and dupes of our own apocalyptic narrative, our lachrymose sense of history, our irrational refusal to accept what we read in the newspapers, see on television, hear them say.  Accused, they are defensive, go into denial, and cry victimhood: The big bad wolf is after them. The troll under the bridge is lurking to grab them and gobble them up. 


God knows!

Is there a solution? A new recipe to follow?

I dare not psychoanalyse people I have never met.  The group behaviour does mark out the symptomatic behaviours that seem to justify their willingness to turn against western enlightened values and Judeo-Christian traditions, as well as overlooking manifest signs of evil and psychotic political actions.  For some reason they are duped by the false and manipulated versions of the events in Gaza which non-western journalists, from India, for example, were able to see and then report.  They have somehow or other become susceptible to the suggestions of a sentimentalized and infantilized of the passive Palestinians, and yet seem able, at least partly, to see what ISIS does in Syria and Iraq.  Yet even there we can see hints, clues, symptoms, somewhat blurred versions of the mental disease: the journalists who sympathize with the fanatical causes, who even convert or work for the Islamicist or left-leaning radical networks, who identify with the so-called downtrodden and exploited-at times marry into the clans.  Is this similar to the Laurence of Arabia love-affair with the exotic Arabian cause or the Stockholm Syndrome? 

To reverse some of the effects of the post-modernist malaise (or psychosis), it would be necessary for them to climb out of the moment and (re)gain a comprehension of the complexities of life.  The reduction of complicated and significant versions of the Truth to nothing but diverse, competing and equally meaningless "positionalities" requires practice in analytical skills-knowledge of many languages, study of the dynamic interaction of different kinds of cultures, (re)training in the elements of classical logic, Renaissance rhetoric and comparative jurisprudence, as well as studies in the history of religion.  Instead of being satisfied with superficialities and sound-bites the journalist should learn to keep probing, seeking hidden motivations, unseen and often unconscious powers in the otherwise inexplicable and self-destructive behaviour of most peoples.  One is tempted to say, "Give them an old -fashioned education and a good dose of practical experience in the real world" but at least to understand their manifest failures to approach what they say and do with caution. 

Norman Simms has just published the first volume of a new book, Jews in an Illusion of Paradise: Dust and Ashes (Cambridge Scholars Publisher.  Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK).  It is available from the publisher as well as amazon.com and other online bookseller sites.  The second volume may be out before the end of this year    

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