The mix of news and politics is usually not a good thing, particularly when the politicians can manufacture news at will. Asharq Alawsat Editor in Chief Tariq Alhomayed just touches on the problem in this editorial.

He points out that Hamas politicians make public statements—loaded with emotional cargo—that simply cannot be true. That doesn’t stop news media from reporting them, nor does it stop audiences from believing them. He notes, too, the use of ‘sock puppets’ on various Internet fora, where Arabs assume Israeli names to make outrageous statements or simply invent a fact, the denial of which puts people in jeopardy of physical violence. Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood… they all use it, he claims.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to observers who note the rise of ‘Pallywood’ and ‘Fauxtography’. These are terms used to describe photos and video clips that are posed, mis-captioned, deceptively arranged and then transmitted to the media in order to drive a political agenda. Astute observers note that the same Palestinian women, for instance, may appear in several different photos over a period of months, each time decrying some disaster visited upon her by Israel. Unfortunately, each time she describes a different disaster, with different consequences. Either she’s incredibly unlucky or she’s being used politically. Then there’s the ‘Green Helmet Guy’ who appears carrying dead children after Israeli attacks on Qana (2006) and Gaza (2008/9)… the same dead children. Even the iconic images of Mohammad Durrah, are severely questioned and have been the subject of court cases in Europe, long after they made an impact in the Arab world.

Manipulating the news, of course, is not exclusive to the Arab world. Iran was caught in a poor attempt to cover up a failed missile launch. The former Soviet Union was noted for erasing, in the darkroom, the images of those no longer in political favor. Nor is the US immune. In addition to major newspapers’ picking up and running with the fake Iranian photo, among others, politicians are often on the receiving end of malicious (or sometimes, only humorous) photo manipulations.

It seems that the adage ‘Seeing is believing’ can no longer hold its own weight. If images can be so easily manipulated, how much easier to play with words!

News Laundering
Tariq Alhomayed

What’s worse than money laundering in our Arab world is news laundering.

This happens around the clock without any consequences or supervision. In the world of the internet, satellite channels, and SMS text messaging, it is clear to see that news laundering is widely popular and some media organs are contributing to this whether intentionally or unintentionally.

The simplest example of news laundering can be seen in the comments made by Deputy Chairman of the Hamas Politburo Mousa Abu Marzook during a recent lecture he gave in Damascus. He said, “We lost 1500 martyrs but our strong women and our hard-working sisters gave birth to over 3500 Palestinian babies during the [Israeli] attacks.”

This information was published as a news item on January 19 in one of the Saudi newspapers. That day, I spoke to the Editor of that publication as we were both in Kuwait, and I asked him how that could have happened when the hospitals were being bombed. Do you realize that you are acquitting Israel [of its attacks on hospitals], particularly since the news item could not be corroborated!

He seemed perturbed by the headline and said, “This cheapens Palestinian blood.” However, I was surprised by Abu Marzook’s comments on the Hamas victory, citing this unsubstantiated information, as if life and death had no value at all!

January:30:2009 - 10:05 | Comments & Trackbacks (11) | Permalink
11 Responses to “‘News Is Not Something to Be Made Up’”
  1. 1
    Sparky Said:
    January:30:2009 - 10:57 

    While I like the land of make belief and elves and fairies, I do believe that newspapers should be a source of truth if not objective then at least subjective truth…not one where the gingerbread comes to life in the oven and runs and runs and says “Run run as fast as you can you can’t catch me I am the gingerbread man”. He ends up getting eaten by an alligator of which my daughter would say, “Mom that is sick”.

    In all fairness, I think that is a great summary. I also remember Muslims criticizing the U.S. when Palestinians supposedly cheered on the downing of the world trade centers. Some claim the videos were videotaped months and months earlier than 911 and based on a whole different issue. I see the same photos circulating over and over again saying this is what Israelis did to Gaza when I saw the pictures a few years ago in reaction to Jenin.

    I personally do not appreciate having my emotions toyed with regardless of what side it comes from. If the photos are from a particular case and time, they should be verified first before being circulated or published.

  2. 2
    John Burgess Said:
    January:30:2009 - 11:53 

    I think the integrity of major newspapers and wire services has been seriously compromised by a lack of objective fact-checking. Perhaps it’s due to budget cuts leading to staffing cuts, but the damage is very serious. In the US, the media holds about as much public trust as the US Congress, which rated even below Bush!

  3. 3
    Solomon2 Said:
    January:30:2009 - 12:38 

    I personally do not appreciate having my emotions toyed with regardless of what side it comes from.

    Years ago when I first started hanging out at blogs, I proved to the satisfaction of one Frenchman that the article he read that made him hate the U.S. was bogus, simply because it was clearly labeled “satire” and he missed that. He agreed but pointed out, puzzled, that even though he knew it was false, the hate the article induced remained. If that is the effect of an accidental manipulation, how much more effective is a deliberate one!

    For too many writers it is the emotional manipulation that is important, not the truth. When caught, they respond that they are advocates and the precise truth and context is not so important. It can be very difficult to discern such advocates from the reporters, and by no means does everyone on the receiving end wish to do so.

  4. 4
    ratherdashing Said:
    January:30:2009 - 12:39 

    More silly Iranian Fauxtography

  5. 5
    chucho Said:
    January:30:2009 - 13:22 

    I am so glad to read that editorial. Thanks. This is a maddening issue. I’ve spoken to editors who are unapologetic about engaging in these lies. They view it as a propaganda war; an counterbalance to a pro-Israel bias in the Western media. But my argument is that lying and engaging in conscious (and frankly, kind of primitive and infantile) misrepresentations of the truth does more harm than good. If the Gaza cause is indeed just, then why do they need to engage in these manipulations? My answer is because in fact both sides are wrong, but neither wants to admit it. Israel takes a far more mature (and arrogant) approach. The Arab side seems to be engaged in children’s games, and tricks that are easily exposed, thus undermining their legitimate issues. Every time something like this is exposed, thousands of Westerners roll their eyes and say “it just goes to show that the Arab are lying and exaggerating their misery.” I argue that these poor attempts at propaganda (coupled with superlatives and words like “Zionist terrorists” and “Israeli genocide”) is harmful to the Palestinians. The genocide word bothers me a lot, too, considering that the same people getting hysterical about the “genocide” of the Palestinians don’t seem to care at all about the 400,000 Sudanese in Darfur who might actually be victims of genocide. They don’t care about Darfur as much because racism against Africans is endemic in much of the Arab world and becasue Al-Bashir is viewed as a friend. But if the Israeli’s kill 1,300 Palestinians going after Hamas, which chooses to fight in dense urban zones, then that’s “genocide.”

  6. 6
    John Burgess Said:
    January:30:2009 - 17:04 

    The above comments are all correct. When the abhorrent is faked, it’s just too easy to ignore real instances. The story of ‘The Boy Who Cried, “Wolf!”‘ stands as the exemplar. That story is credited to Aesop ((620-560 BCE). As it remains apt today, I suspect we can conclude that he’s talking about the human condition, not any particular political group of humans.

    When it was hard to fake a photograph, photographs could be trusted, more or less. Now, it’s so easy to create a fake that photos need watermarks or other distinguishing features to offer somewhat of a guarantee of their authenticity. Words, as I said, are so much easier to fake, to misrepresent, to use to lie. It’s a problem we need to be concerned about. It’s a greater problem when they are used to mobilize naive masses toward some political action. All it takes is a touch of plausibility—and that is certainly established when an educational system demonizes any other group or country—and the flames are lit and fanned.

    Honest education, realistic assessments of other peoples’ goal and ambitions, the ability to think critically about information that is thrust in your face… all of these are necessary for a civil government and civil society.

    In my view, the worst possible form of government is anarchy.

  7. 7
    chucho Said:
    January:31:2009 - 10:55 

    Although, when I pose this point to a Orthodox Muslim British friend, he immediately refers to the toppling of the statue of Saddam as a clear example of how this flimflammery occurs in the US media, too. There are actually lots of examples, like the fake news spots produced by the government that the networks ran as “authentic” news segments. I guess it goes back to the need for people to be intelligent, educated and curious enough to separate the wheat form the chafe.

    My Orthodox colleague also points out that while clearly the Arab media can play tricks, the numbers don’t lie: 1,300 dead Palestinians, a good portion of the children. So if dead babies show up on the covers of the Arab press all the time, there is some truth behind this conscious (and cheap) appeal to the passionate sympathy for babies.

    He also laughs and asks: “What do you expect from Hamas.” The implication being that they’re not extremely sophisticated folks, so their propaganda will reflect that. They don’t care if educated people in the West see though their efforts — what matters is the effect it has on Arab St.

  8. 8
    Islam And The West Trackbacked With:
    February:01:2009 - 12:11 

    Islam And The West Accelerated Links…

    Crossroads Arabia with the laundering of the news….

  9. 9
    Omar Said:
    February:01:2009 - 15:23 

    Hello I would like to invite you to visit our website :

    IKhwanweb is the Muslim Brotherhood”s only official English web site. The Main office is located in London, although Ikhwanweb has correspondents in most countries. Our staff is exclusively made of volunteers and stretched over the five continents.
    The Muslim Brotherhood opinions and views can be found under the sections of MB statements and MB opinions, in addition to the Editorial Message.
    Items posted under “other views” are usually different from these of the Muslim Brotherhood.
    Ikhwanweb does not censor any articles or comments but has the right only to remove any inappropriate words that defy public taste
    Ikhwanweb is not a news website, although we report news that matter to the Muslim Brotherhood”s cause. Our main misson is to present the Muslim Brotherhood vision right from the source and rebut misonceptions about the movement in western societies. We value debate on the issues and we welcome constructive criticism.

    to help inform you about your subject matter,questions

    If you have any addition questions you can email us at :

  10. 10
    Sparky Said:
    February:02:2009 - 23:30 

    I found some interesting Nazi propaganda that targeted children…at the following link.

    It seems like the Nazis were very threatened and jealous of the Jewish people. Propaganda vilifies groups of people and has disastrous effects.

    Omar I will take the time to look at the brotherhood, but I need to make sure that hatred or vilification of another group is not an occupying belief.

    Also is the website completed? I clicked on a few links and it said, “service unavailable” for example “MB and the West”

  11. 11
    Israel Bombs Gaza - Hundreds Dead - Page 30 - Pakistan Defence Forum Pinged With:
    February:05:2009 - 13:19 

    [...] such a "blatant" war crime. By contrast, Israel’s actions are more complex" News Is Not Something to Be Made Up: Asharq Alawsat Editor in Chief Tariq Alhomayed "points out that Hamas politicians make public [...]

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