September 21, 2006

The French Correction

Hatched by Sachi

A strange defamation trial draws to a close in Paris, France. A government-owned television station, France 2, is suing three people who dared to criticize it for broadcasting the now infamous -- and almost certainly fake -- Mohammed al-Dura "shooting" footage, an event which set the scene for the Second Intifada... and gave the Palestinians their most durable and fraudulent martyr.


A detailed background of this trial can be read in Backspin. You can also read a long and very cautiously written account on Wikipedia, if you want more background.

In 2000, the second "Intifada" erupted after Yasser Arafat rejected an absurdly generous offer by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, an offer that President Bill Clinton virtually extorted from the Israelis. Just as the violence began, a Palestinian stringer for France 2, Talal Abu Rahma (sometimes called "TAR" in the trial testimony), presented video footage that was broadcast (repeatedly) on that station.

The video purports to show Jamal al-Dura and his young son Mohammed caught in the crossfire between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers, the brave Jamal shielding his terrified son with his own body. Later, we see an ambulance loading up Jamal and his "slain" son Mohammed, both of them (the France 2 broadcast explains) having been shot up by the Israelis.

France 2 was very explicit: they flatly state that the Israelis killed the child, Mohammed al-Dura, who was subsequently declared a martyr who symbolized the entire Intifada.

The pair were whisked to hospital... where they vanished. Today, nobody can find either of them, or even whether Mohammed is alive or dead. Without question, France 2's footage inflamed the Palestinians, leading to hundreds of murders of Israeli Jews and Moslems by Palestinian suicide bombers and other terrorists.

However, later research from a number of independent sources revealed that the entire incident was staged.

In Nov. 2004, a French journalist named Philippe Karsenty published an article in Media-Ratings, a media watchdog organization, criticizing France 2 and demanding the resignation of Arlette Chabot, the head of the information desk at France 2, and Charles Enderlin, the narrator and chief defender of the program. Karsenty charged that France 2 had known even when they broadcast the footage that it was likely staged.

Among the pieces of evidence behind this explosive accusation is outtake footage that France 2 eventually had to admit holding and reveal to (a few) journalists... outtakes that showed repeated "staging" of other supposed Israeli atrocities (multiple takes, directors telling "dead bodies" how to sprawl more effectively, and so forth). France 2 maintains, however, that they don't have any footage of such obvious fakery specifically in the al-Dura incident -- though there is a discrepency between the number of minutes of outtakes they claim they have (27) and the number of minutes they have shown to interested journalists (24).

Rather than responding by presenting evidence that they were right or a point-by-point rebuttal of Karsenty, France-2 sued Karsenty and two others in 2005 for "defamation." The case was heard over the last few days in the 17th chamber of the Paris Tribunal.

The Hearing

Political Central has been covering the France 2 defamation trial in Paris for the last several days. Witness after witness has testified that:

  • Their own independent investigations show that the incident was staged;
  • That France 2’s Enderlin knew about the staging;
  • And that France 2 actively sabotaged their investigations.

So far as I can tell, France 2's entire defense consists of the following:

  1. Who the heck are these so-called journalists and professors anyway? They don’t know anything.
  2. How dare they criticize a respected established TV station such as France 2!
  3. Besides, even if the footage were staged, it's still "true," because the message was real.

In other words, France 2's primary excuse is that the al-Dura killing story was fake but accurate.

Means, Opportunity, and Motive

What bothers me most about this case is not the invalidity of the al-Dura report. Nearly every expert who has examined the footage concludes it was staged. Certainly, Talal Abu Rahma, the France 2 Palestinian stringer, had every opportunity to fake the footage -- he was there. And we know the means existed, because we have all seen many, many staged photos and even video footage since then: recall the "Pieta" body in the rubble, the Wailing Woman and her eight or nine demolished houses, and the Green Helmet Guy carting the bodies of dead children all around to "discover them" (right where he planted them) for the video cameras.

What’s bothersome is that it has become very clear that France 2 knew about the fakery, but they decided to run with the story anyway. Why? What possible motive could they have for such a blood libel against Israel?

I honestly believe it's because the story fit their prejudices against Israeli Jews... even though Enderlin himself is an Israeli Jew. This is hardly unprecedented; there are many Israeli Jews who identify rather with the Palestinian "cause" than the survival of their own nation.

I think France 2 saw its mission not to report abstract truth; rather, it was to spread the "real truth"... that is, its own anti-Israel, and probably antisemitic ideology, both of which are extremely popular in France right now.

That is why France 2 got so angry, "lawsuit" furious, at people who challenged the footage: who cares whether the Israelis really killed Mohammed al-Dura, or whether he may even still be alive? (To date, nobody has shown any evidence that he died at all.) M. Enderlin was more interested in the higher truth; he simply didn’t care how many lives were affected or even killed by his irresponsible reporting. Look instead at all those atrocities the Israelis commit every day!

Can't make an omlet without breaking a few legs.

But the implications of this trial are ominous. France 2 is a government-owned TV station. They believe they can say anything they want, and they will punish anyone who dares criticize them or attempts to thwart the broadcast of the higher truth.

If this trial ends in France 2’s victory, then freedom of speech has ceased to exist in France. There will be one truth, the government truth (pravda), and other voices won't be allowed "to confuse matters by participating in the discussion," as Robert Anton Wilson wrote in another context.

Dramatis Personae

Let's take a look at the cast of characters...

  • Philippe Karsenty, the most active of the three defendants, founder of Media-Rating.

Karsenty first became convinced that the al-Dura "shooting" was staged when ballistic tests made it clear that the al-Duras could not have been hit by direct fire from the Israeli position. But as soon as this was demonstrated, the immediate response -- not only from the Palestinians but from France 2 as well -- was that they must have been hit by "ricochets."

But Jamal says he was hit 9 times, and his son Mohammed 3 times. Twelve ricochets?

France 2 invited a few selected experts and journalists to show the outtakes, but they didn't invite Karsenty. During the trial, Karsenty was questioned by the judge about what happened next:

Q (judge): Denis Jeambar and Daniel Leconte, who viewed the 27-minute outtakes, said (Radio Communauté Juive) all the scenes were staged except the al-Dura scene. Jeambar cited a video of the father displaying his scars, a new element of proof shown by France 2 at a press conference.

A (Karsenty): I did not see the film because I was not allowed to attend the press conference. Leconte told me he was interested in the affair, and intended to investigate it. But Arte [French-German-Spanish cultural TV channel] warned him they would not work with his production company, Doc en Stock, anymore if he didn’t drop the subject. Jeambar was under pressure from inside l’Express, notably Jacques Attali. Alexandre Adler told me that Charles (who is his brother-in-law) was tricked by his fixer. Many people have told me privately that they know the scene was staged, but they won’t say it in public.

If you believe Karsenty (and the later witnesses), then there was a significant intimidation campaign conducted by a government TV station to stifle independent investigation, culminating in this very lawsuit.

  • Francis Balle, professor of media, former member of the CSA (French equivalent of the FCC), testified that Karsenty's expose of France 2’s al-Dura footage was persuasive; he called the original footage "dubious" and said the effect was "drastic."

Maître Dauzier (Karsenty's lawyer) asked Balle whether France 2 might have refused to show the outtakes to protect its source. Balle said non: "the footage should be shown so that the truth can be told."

Amazingly (for anyone who reads American newspapers; or blogs), one of the charges against Karsenty is that his language was "excessive." But Balle testified that it's normal to use such strong words on controversial topics. (Evidently, this is a foreign concept to France 2. Or maybe to France itself.)

To me, this sounds like the old Soviet charge of "boorish behavior."

  • Luc Rosenzweig is a "63 year-old retired journalist (Libération, Le Monde) whose last position was TV critic;" he tried to conduct an independent investigation for l'Express, to be published on the 4th anniversary of the al-Dura incident (or non-incident, as it appears).

The editor of l'Express at the time was Denis Jeambar, who eventually killed Rosenzweig's article after being pressured by Jacques Attali -- I don't know the connection between Attali and l'Express, besides the fact that he used to write for them.

Rosenzweig did not have any hypotheses about what "really happened;" he just found the France 2 report and the footage "dubious."

Originally, Rosenzweig was not allowed to see the outtakes because, he was told, the film was locked in a safe with other legal documents. When he finally did get to see them, Enderlin only showed him 24 minutes of staged scenes, not 27 minutes of "outtakes" from the al-Dura incident itself.

The time discrepency raises a question: did Enderlin misspeak, accidentally saying 27 minutes when he meant 24? Was Rosenzweig wrong about the timing? Or is there really another three minutes of outtakes that France 2 isn't showing?

If the latter -- then what is in them, and why wouldn't the TV station show those three minutes? These questions cannot be answered at this point.

Rosenwzeig tells what happened when he tried to do a proper journalistic investigation. Having gathered material from Shahaf and others on the Israeli side, he went after the other side of the story. He was told that the cameraman was receiving medical treatment in Paris; he left messages and has not had a reply to this day. He looked for a fixer who could take him to see Jamal [the father in the footage] -- that didn’t work either. He tried to see the doctors at Schifa hospital who reportedly received the corpse of a boy identified as Mohamed al-Dura [at noon or 1 PM, although the incident is reported to have begun at 3 PM] [that last bracketed statement is in the original]. He tried to go to Gaza but was refused entry. So, he concludes, I couldn’t get the other side of the story. As a journalist I can’t affirm that the scene was staged, but the probability that it was staged is much higher than the version presented by Enderlin.

Eventually, Rosenzweig wrote an article on la Ména's website, rather than for l'Express. The title is “Charles Enderlin is a liar in all languages."

  • Professor Richard Landes, medievalist at Boston University, put all the material on his website for easy reference.

When Charles Enderlin showed Landes the "outtake" footage in Jerusalem, Landes realized that, although Enderlin said he did not believe al-Dura scenes were staged, in fact Enderlin was well aware that Palestinians routinely staged scenes (many journalists call it “Pallywood").

Landes saw several minutes of the al-Dura footage that had been cut from the France 2 broadcast... and which told a shockingly different story from the TV report:

What he saw was the few minutes of al-Dura footage that was cut: the boy moves, holds his hand over his eyes, looks at the camera. He is alive. Landes affirms that as a historian he would say there is a 95% probability the scene was staged.

Enderlin showed Prof. Landes a drawing of the Israeli position directly facing the al-Duras. But in fact, that drawing was totally erroneous: the position Enderlin showed was the Palestinian position ("Position Pita"), not the Israeli position.

Three years after the event he still doesn’t know the lay of the land? Or did he think I was too stupid to check for myself? And he told me the bullets had been found. Oh? So where are they? In a bag, in the Palestinian general’s desk drawer. You believe that?

Good question. Do we? Should we believe that vital evidence is kept in some Palestinian general's desk? Forgive me for being a bit skeptical.

  • Gérard Huber is a writer and a psychoanalyst who wrote Contre-expertise d’une mise en scène ["re-examination of a staged scene"]. As the Paris correspondent for la Ména, Huber tried to investigate the supposed al-Dura shooting; he too concluded that the scene was staged.

In his testimony, he said:

The cameraman who filmed the scene [Talal Abu Rahma, the Palestinian stringer for France 2] retracted the testimony he gave to the PCHR, he declared under oath that the Israelis shot the al-Duras “deliberately, intentionally, in cold blood.”

Think about that charge: in the midst of an intense firefight, when the Israeli were outnumbered, their position in a guardhouse untenable, under fire from three directions at once -- they decide to ignore the threats to their own lives and instead concentrate their fire on an unarmed father and son crouching behind a concrete post. "Deliberately, intentionally, in cold blood."

If that were really true, it wouldn't just be in cold blood; it would be in suicidal deathwish.

But that is the story that France 2 chose to run... in its own cold blood.

  • Maître Amblard, plaintiff’s attorney; her performance was bizarre. She declined to cross-examine any of the witnesses called by Karsenty; she presented none of her own on behalf of France 2's accusations against Karsenty and the other defendants; and her closing argument was pathetic.

Nidra Poller at Politics Central describes it:

Charles Enderlin is a distinguished prize-winning journalist, author of several books. He is an Israeli citizen, he served in the army. France 2 is a national television channel, reputable, reliable. On 30 September 2000 TAR is caught in a crossfire, trapped. He takes refuge behind a panel truck, risks his life, films a scene that the other reporters could not film, they ran for cover, he filmed the death of a child, sent the images to Charles Enderlin, they were viewed by countless members of the press corps [at the Beth Agron Press Center in Jerusalem]. The images were validated. Talal Abu Rahmeh is a reliable cameraman, he has been working with France 2 since 1990.

In other words, the al-Dura scene cannot be a falsification because France 2, Charles Enderlin, and TAR are above suspicion. Whereas, Philippe Karsenty and his so-called witnesses....

There is no proof of intention, no proof of motive. The day after the broadcast everyone agreed that the gunfire came from the Israeli position. Several days later other hypotheses were expressed; Charles Enderlin refuted them....

Then Maître Amblard proceeds to hold the witnesses up for ridicule. Who are these so-called professors and journalists, what do they know about war reporting and death scenes...?

What of the so-called staged scenes in the outtakes? None of them appear in the al-Dura news report.

Let me see if I've got this argument straight: the fact that France 2 is sitting on footage of staged scenes, rather than releasing it, is used by their lawyer to refute the notion that the scenes were staged. After all, if they were staged, then France 2 would release them immediately!

It goes on and on. The entire closing argument boils down to this: our report is correct because it would be so dreadful if we were wrong; and besides, all of our critics are associated with the news service la Ména; and in any event, we're talking about Israelis here... what do you expect?

As Poller puts it:

Questioning the veracity of a patently dubious report is an insult to the honor of France 2 and Charles Enderlin because they are honorable and those who question them are dishonest, confused, shabby, worthless hecklers who don’t know when to stop.

In the end, Amblard asks for 1 Euro of "symbolic damages" to "put an end to this shameful campaign that has been going on for years, spreading untruths." In other words, France 2's entire case is a fraud, and they're hoping that by asking for meaningless damages, they can extract a settlement.

What's It All About?

Depending on how it turns out, this lawsuit will either be the best thing or the worst that has happened to French journalism since Emile Zola penned J'Accuse. The trial has exposed the age old European traditions of media bias and ideological corruption: France 2 used their reputation as a shield to knowingly spread lies, then intimidated anyone who questioned them. In other words, the France 2 lawsuit is the French "Rathergate."

The French have been fed lies about Israel by a government-owned TV station. What else has the government been lying about? Once people start asking this question, there is no turning back.

Many years ago, because of a family connection, I stumbled into the controversy over silicone breast implants. I became interested and really researched it, medical journals and all. Lo and behold, I found out that virtually everything that was reported was either flatly false or utterly unsubstantiated.

After the initial sensationalism over "silicone disease," which referred to a huge number of unrelated and harmful effects supposedly attributable to the implants, the reporters never followed up with the many subsequent studies that found the implants to be perfectly safe.

That was the first time I realized that reporters are often stupider and more ignorant than even a lay person who takes an interest in some subject. I generalized my revelation: if the media could be so wrong about an issue I understood, how much could I trust them about issues I don't know anything about?

French journalism (and the French judicial system) are just about to cross that Rubicon. What are they going to do about it? From what I read, France 2 has no case. But it is France, after all, and you never know what rough justice you're going to get.

Let’s hope the judge and France 2 itself stop short of crossing that river... for France’s sake.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, September 21, 2006, at the time of 7:58 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Nuclear Siafu

If I remember French defamation law correctly, whether or not France 2 told the truth is not the point of the lawsuit. The point is whether their detractors went "too far" in criticizing them, whatever the hell that means. It's like someone bringing in the FCC to fine their opponent for using PG language in a public debate, where government has mandated everything must be G rated. Or perhaps they’re being fined for using PowerPoint, which the government has determined to be prejudicial.

If that's not how it is, then I don't see how any judge with brain cells enough to breathe could find in favor of the defendant.

The above hissed in response by: Nuclear Siafu [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 9:35 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

I think Dafydd, that you are expecting the French people to actually get upset that their news organizations are editing the news in such a way as to make Israel look bad.

Who knows, it may come to pass... they've got a politician over there in Nicolas Sarkozy who may use this as an example of the Entrenched Social Entropy That Will Destroy France If You Don't Elect Me or some such, but otherwise unless otherwise inflamed I think that the average French citizen will not care. In the United States we have a cultured reputation in the MSM for being honest, thorough and truthful. It may or may not be true, but our Media Elite SAY they are honest etc, so it is embarrassing to them whenever it is shown that they have not been so. In Europe they seem to be a little more Cosmopolitan about these old-fashioned ideas, I'm not even sure if facts are important to them if those facts get in the way of the Politics.

Especially when the Politics makes either the US or Israel look bad.

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 10:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: Mr. Michael

And of course, after I post I notice that I am addressing Sachi and not Dafydd. No offense intended... :)

The above hissed in response by: Mr. Michael [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 21, 2006 10:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive

Somewhat off topic: Hugh Hewett has an interview this morning with Thomas Edsall, who ended his 25 years at the Washington Post as senior political correspondent. To Edsall's great credit, he appeared very candid in his answers to Hewett's questions pursuing strong bias of MSM coverage.

It's a parallel case of holier-than-thou journalists feeding the public the correct line, and well worth reading.

The above hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 9:02 AM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

Isn't Hungary facing a popular revot because the government there was lying deliberately and systematically for years?
France may be close behind.
I hope.
Now, if people here would realize the MSM has been doing the same staged news in its attacks on America and in support of terrorists, we might just get someplace.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 11:29 AM

The following hissed in response by: DaveR

Slightly OT, but this discussion just reinforces a truth that I think is carefully avoided in the MSM... that far from striving to make the US "more European" in terms of freedom of information and speech, we should be demanding that they achieve our level! The Europeans (and most others in the world) are nowhere near as free to say and read what they want as we already are.

Of course, there IS a force with an agenda to control information dissemination in the US... it is the same MSM that tries to convince us we are being controlled by everyone and everything under the Sun, except themselves. They have the megaphone to drown out everyone else, and if they like you (e.g. Liberals), you can do no wrong. But if they don't (e.g. Bush), they will put the very security and prosperity of the whole country at risk to make sure you fail. The media itself is the despot they never tire of warning us about!

The above hissed in response by: DaveR [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 1:17 PM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

W.R. Hearst is the man to consult on this issue:

"You can crush a man with journalism.”

"You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."

"Any man who has the brains to think and the nerve to act for the benefit of the people of the country is considered a radical by those who are content with stagnation and willing to endure disaster."

As I see it, Hamas furnished the pictures, and French TV furnished the war. The MSM is content with stagnation and disaster. They will crush any who try to oppose them.

This is pure tragiocomedy. So, who will coin the term "Le affaire al-Dura"? I still can't believe they were dumb enough to bring a lawsuit. But arrogance, thy name if Francoise.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 22, 2006 2:21 PM

The following hissed in response by: Infidel

This must be why Amnesty International shows France ahead of the US in terms of "Freedom of the Press".

The above hissed in response by: Infidel [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2006 5:54 AM

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