THE SIX DAY WAR: ISRAEL’S MASTERSTROKE OF WARTIME NEWS MANAGEMENT

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The war of 1967 was the start of the occupation which endures to this day: fortifications near Qalandia check point between the West Bank and Jerusalem, June 2014 ©James Rodgers

This article was originally published by The Conversation. You can read that version here.  

REPORTING ON THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT is the ultimate challenge in international news. It demands a thick skin. In no other field of international diplomacy are journalists’ words subjected to such scrutiny. It demands knowledge not just of history, but of vastly differing cultural, religious, and geographic perspectives. At times, it demands willingness to face danger.

All of these factors are relevant as the world marks 50 years since 1967’s Six-Day War, whose consequences continue to shape the parameters of any discussion of the conflict. As the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen put it in his book on the conflict, Six Days: “The occupation that started in 1967 has become the driving force behind the violence that Israelis and Palestinians are inflicting on each other.”

Israel’s military success in the Six-Day War redrew the borders of the Middle East – and it also set a new standard for government spin in wartime. Alongside its preparations for war, Israel ran a masterful communications campaign designed to disguise its military one. “Newspaper offices not only in Israel, but throughout the world, received pictures of Israeli troops on leave relaxing on the beaches,” remembered journalist Winston Churchill, grandson and namesake of Britain’s wartime prime minister, in the account he co-authored with his father, Randolph.

Churchill, who was reporting for the News of the World, himself played an unwitting part in the spin. Granted an interview with the Israeli cabinet’s new defence minister, Moshe Dayan, Churchill reported that:

General Dayan declared: “We don’t want anyone else to fight for us. Whatever can be done in a diplomatic way I would welcome and encourage but if fighting does come to Israel I would not like American or British boys to get killed here and I do not think we need them.

Moshe Dayan (L) in 1967. Tom Pearlman, Jr. via Wikimedia Commons

Dayan knew what he was doing: he was a military man opening a front in a media war. In his autobiography, published in the 1970s, he wrote of his meetings with journalists on the eve of war, and his hopes “that the impression might be gained that we were not about to go to war but were intent on exhausting all the diplomatic possibilities”.

The media was an indispensable part of creating that impression. Shortly after Israeli forces captured the Western Wall in Jerusalem, David Rubinger photographed three paratroopers standing before the wall’s white stones. Distributed by the Israeli Government Press Office, the picture became one of the most recognised images of the entire conflict. Rubinger died earlier this year, at the age of 92. Three years ago, I interviewed him for my own book, Headlines from the Holy Land. We met in his West Jerusalem home, which still housed the dark room where he had developed that picture.

“They had tried a trick,” he said of the Israeli government. “They sent a lot of people on leave. Units were sent on leave on Friday, and Saturday for Shabbat, which was obviously a Dayan trick.”

This ploy – exploiting the expectation that religious Israeli troops wouldn’t fight on the Sabbath – was a major success. Not many reporters seem to have fathomed what the Israelis had done until much later, although one Guardian headline – “Israelis cloak their aims” – did hint that all was not what it seemed.

Taken in

By the time victory came, Israel and the region had been transformed. Borders which exist today, albeit without international recognition, were established by force of arms. Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights were under Israeli military occupation, and remain so today.

In the process, Israel’s military also transformed its image in much of the British press. No longer the “terrorist” force of late British Mandate days, it was suddenly a respected fighting force facing down hostile neighbours. In the News of the World’s June 11 edition, the Sunday after the war, Churchill wrote of “a victory unprecedented in the history of the world”.

The Arab armies, meanwhile, were humiliated in battle – and their media strategy collapsed too. David Hirst, later an authoritative correspondent and author, was then a stringer in Beirut. In a 2014 interview he told me how, at the start of the war, “the Arabs believed what the Egyptian media was saying. And they thought that victory was on the way”. Defeat, he remembered, came as a “colossal shock”.

One of the toughest tasks facing correspondents caught up in world-changing events is judging where they might lead. As Sydney Gruson wrote in the New York Times of June 9 1967:

On one thing all Western diplomats and Israelis seem to agree: too much blood has been spilled – more perhaps than is yet realised in the great flush of victory – to expect that Israel would willingly return the frontiers to what they were before the war began on Monday.

He was right. Those frontiers remain. Soldiers and diplomats might study 1967 for strategy. Journalists at work in the fake news era should study its lessons in spin.

Journalism, terror, and trauma

MY SCHOOLDAYS WERE SPENT IN MANCHESTER. Although I have now lived away from the city for many years, I still return frequently — often to watch football. Even if they have covered conflict in many parts of the world, journalists do not become immune to witnessing the consequences of violence. Journalists are people, too. They will inevitably be affected differently by death closer to home — especially when those are the deaths of civilians, including children.

The challenges of keeping up professional standards in cases like this are many, and they are not always met. The day after this week’s attack’s I wrote a piece, ‘How should Journalists cover traumatic events?’ for Prospect.

I am also posting links to an earlier piece ‘Terror attacks put journalists’ ethics on the frontline’  I wrote for The Conversation,  and to a more detailed report ‘Fanning the Flames: Reporting on Terror in a Networked World’ by Professor Charlie Beckett from the LSE.

All of these pieces contain discussion of issues which, in today’s world, journalists must be prepared to face.

I will post the concluding extracts from my article ‘Journalism, Separation, and Independence’, on the reporting of the end of the British Mandate, in future weeks. 

 

Journalism, separation, and independence: newspaper coverage of the end of the British Mandate for Palestine, 1948 — Part II

This is the second part of my article about British and U.S. newpaper reporting of the end of the British Mandate for Palestine. You can read Part I here, and the whole article on the website of Journalism, where it was first published  

IN HIS DIARY ENTRY of 5th April 1948, just weeks before the Mandate was to come to an end, Gurney recorded the fact that The Times was to run a piece on a new book, published by the British Government’s Stationery Office. The book included ‘admirable pictures and photographs’ of ‘the Holy City under British care.’ (Golani, 2009: 87). That ‘care’ may have been about to stop. The way in which it was to be portrayed retained great importance. Indeed, the ‘administrative, economic, even military’ aspects of the British Mandate were complemented by what were probably then cutting-edge public relations techniques. On Gurney’s staff, as Public Information Officer, was Richard ‘Dick’ Stubbs ‘previously advertising manager for Bob Martin’s condition powder’ (Golani, 2009: 200) – a preparation then, as now, designed to keep pet dogs in top shape. Even with Stubbs’ assistance, Gurney admitted, ‘It’s not easy to follow what’s going on.’ (Golani, 2009: 70) This led him to compare his own access to information with the task facing the press, in terms that suggest a degree of admiration, ‘even when you have access to all the information there is, but these fellows have to go out and get it for themselves.’ (Golani, 2009: 70). This is not within this article’s main scope, but his use of the word ‘fellows’ is interesting for what it says about gender attitudes in that milieu at that time – especially given that two of the most prominent correspondents, Board and Hollingworth, were women. Further indication of what must have been a predominantly a man’s world is found in the fact that the title of Board’s own 1937 memoir was Newsgirl in Palestine. Her choice, or that of her publisher?

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A member of the Parachute Regiment stands guard over a group of Jewish civilians who wait in line to be interrogated by British army officers and members of the Palestine Police during a sweep in Tel Aviv for members of Jewish terrorist organisations such as the Irgun. © IWM (E 31978)

 

If one can detect among the British political elite in Palestine an understanding of the importance of press coverage, and even a degree of respect, then it is not always returned. Those who had ‘to go out and get it for themselves’ could be scathing of those who did not. At one point, Gurney wrote that Duffield had complained that the assistance offered by Stubbs’ Public Information Office had made some reporters’ lives too easy (Golani, 2009: 70). Hollingworth and her colleagues – although perhaps not those whom Duffield all but accused of laziness – did want to try to find out what is going on. Throughout her career, starting with her famously (and correctly) reporting in August 1939 – when she was herself ‘only three days into [her] first journalism job’ (Garrett, 2015: 67) – German armoured divisions on the Polish border, and poised to invade, Hollingworth was one to get the story herself. In Palestine, it was the sheer difficulty of doing so which frustrated her. In her article published in The Observer on 11th April 1948, she explained why. The opening of her piece included a line, ‘It is the first time in history that shells have landed in the Holy City,’ designed, as the best reportage should be, to gain, and retain, the audience’s attention. As the piece continued, she reflected on the difficulty of establishing what was happening. Having apparently reached a dead end in her quest for ‘hard’ facts, Hollingworth turned her ire on those who, she obviously felt, should have been providing more reliable information.

The sound of gunfire was audible all over the centre of Jerusalem, and shells fell within two miles of the Dome of the Rock Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Before the shelling began, the only ‘hard’ facts of a situation which daily becomes more obscure and confused were that the Arabs this morning retook Mount Castel and that there was heavy fighting along the western approaches to Jerusalem – the only possible entry into the city for Jewish traffic.

There is no longer the slightest reliance to be placed in Jewish reports. Their Press is under strict censorship, imposed and enforced by the Jewish Agency, and its misrepresentations and distortions are reaching astonishing heights. There is indeed an atmosphere of quite unbelievable reality in the Jewish approach to the situation, which is based upon the determination to maintain at all costs the illusion that it is impossible for Jews to lose in any encounter with Arabs.

On the Arab side the Press indulges in childish boasting and highly-coloured accounts of Arab victories while what must be termed “official Arab sources” simply do not know what is happening, as their means of communication and collection and collation of data are hopelessly inadequate.

Unfortunately, the British authorities police and military, who might be expected to provide at least a check upon the prevailing exaggerations, appear usually to be in the position of having to obtain their information from the Press. They never know anything more.

Hollingworth’s piece has been quoted some length here because it illustrates at least two important points about the significance of the newspaper coverage of the end of the British Mandate for Palestine. This, surely, was journalistic independence in text form. Hollingworth did not feel she owed anything to any of her potential sources. On the contrary, she felt that they were failing her, and, by extension, her readers. With the exception of their access to British officials (and Gurney’s reflection that he, unlike the journalists, had ‘access to all the information there is’ suggests that was probably of limited scope and value) the correspondents were at a distance from the people whose lives and conflicts they were covering. Perhaps one can therefore also read a degree of frustration into Hollingworth’s criticism of British officials who ‘appear usually to be in the position of having to obtain their information from the Press’. Just as they seem to be at a distance from what is going on, so are the correspondents. In the fifty or so news reports which formed the core of the research for this article, one looks in vain for any reflection of Arab or Jewish opinion other than that offered by official sources. Whatever one might think of later 20th century, and 21st century, reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it is now more readily known (and some scholars, such as Philo and Berry (2004, 2011) have been deeply critical of it), this seems striking. The reporting at this time seems removed from the people, Jewish and Arab, of Palestine. The human interest stories of the café owner, school teacher, farmer, or casual labourer, which might today be expected to provide context, or even a superficial indication of public opinion, are absent. Where are the casual contacts – the taxi drivers, the shopkeepers, with whom western correspondents might now chat? Where are the academics, the religious leaders, from whom they might seek more nuanced understanding of, or elite opinion from within, the communities which they were covering?

Their absence might tend to support an interpretation suggesting that western reporters had, at least in part, an Orientalist approach to the story, in the sense employed by Said.  ‘Orientals were rarely seen or looked at; they were seen through, analyzed (sic) not as citizens, or even people, but as problems to be solved or – as the colonial powers openly coveted their territory – taken over.’ (1995: 207. In considering whether this was the case, it proved instructive to look at some of the work which Hollingworth in particular published on other assignments. Hollingworth’s reporting was selected because of the range of other stories which she covered during the period shortly before and after the end of the British Mandate for Palestine. Duffield, Broad, and others, such as O’Dowd Gallagher of the Daily Mail, who were also reporting from Palestine in this era, did not travel as extensively as she. This is understandable. Given the huge amount of editorial appetite for coverage of Palestine, they had little incentive to do so. Hollingworth, on the other hand, seems to have been more restless. Even a brief examination of her work for The Observer in 1948 and 1949 uncovers datelines in Greece, Egypt, and Yugoslavia. Her work from these locations displays, in addition to her versatility as a correspondent, a frequent reliance on elite sources. There is one important distinction. The sources to which Hollingworth had access in other locations seemed very well informed – at least, that is the impression given from the detail in which she is able to report either the purge of the Secret Police in Yugoslavia (Hollingworth, 1948c) or the diet of the dying Greek Prime Minister (Hollingworth, 1948d). The lack of access to detailed, reliable, information she experienced in Palestine explains the frustration she expressed in the article cited above – and also why her reporting, and that of her fellow correspondents, sometimes feels removed from the action.

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A view of part of the Old City of Jerusalem from the nearby hills

Security, an issue which will be discussed in more detail below, may have been another factor in this sense of separation. A week after the British authorities quit Mandate Palestine, Richard Wyndham, a reporter for Kemsley newspapers, was killed in the Sheikh Jarrah district, on the approaches to the Old City of Jerusalem (Daily Express News Service, 1948). We should not forget that Board, Duffield, and Hollingworth had all personally been uncomfortably close to the bombing of the King David Hotel. Newspaper reports and newsreels which cover the immediate aftermath of the attack show that plenty of other correspondents witnessed the dead being taken from under the rubble. Hollis (2016: 10) has described the end of the Mandate as a time when the British political elite in Palestine were antagonistic to, and felt antagonized by, the peoples whom they were supposed to govern. ‘Both communities were criticised in language that patronised the Arabs and demonised the Jews, as these British servants of the empire began to realise that they themselves were increasingly the objects of hostility from both quarters.’ The reporting reflects a similar detachment, and, certainly in the case of Hollingworth, rigorously expressed disdain. So while Orientalist (in the sense employed by Said) perspectives formed part of the relationship between western reporters and the peoples whose conflict they were covering, there were additional factors: security, access, and probably language, too. Sherman’s point, cited above, about the lack of Hebrew skills among British officials presumably applied equally to western correspondents.

 

The second point about Hollingworth’s 11th April, 1948 article worthy of more detailed discussion here is the attempts which the belligerents make to mislead correspondents. Using phrases such as ‘misrepresentations and distortions’ and ‘childish boasting and highly-coloured accounts’ (Hollingworth 1948a), Hollingworth, frustrated as she was by the dearth of ‘“hard” facts’ at least made it clear to her readers that she was not taken in by the information she had been fed. Although attempts to influence coverage, especially coverage of armed conflict, are as old as war reporting itself, these attempts to mislead are especially significant given what has followed. There can be few languages which have a single word for ‘public diplomacy’ in the sense of trying to influence public opinion. Hebrew is an exception. The word hasbara defies straightforward translation, but definitely includes this concept. ‘There is no English word. It’s either public diplomacy or information, some would say indoctrination,’ is the explanation offered by Nitzan Chen, current Head of the Israeli Government Press Office (cited in Rodgers, 2015: 119). Judging from Hollingworth’s experience, this is where that ‘indoctrination’, or attempt at the same, begins to establish itself: ready to grow in scope and sophistication as the State of Israel itself develops, right up to the age of social media (see, for example, Kuntsman and Stein, 2015). Hollingworth’s experience has its counterparts in every era of the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1967, for example, David Hirst, the veteran Middle East correspondent who was then a young stringer based in Beirut, wrote, ‘There are two wars – the real war and propaganda war.’ (Hirst, 1967). His article went on to describe ‘fierce rhetoric pouring in’ from Arab radio stations, and ‘Arabic counterblast from Israel’ (Hirst, 1967) – the Jewish State, then not even two decades old, already adept and using the language of its foes to fight the media battle. If this process of Arab-Israeli propaganda war did not exactly begin in 1948, Hollingworth’s experience shows that it was at a highly significant point during the last days of the British Mandate – already established as one of the enduring elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the journalist which chronicles it.

(to be continued)

I will publish the full references with a future extract. In the meantime, please feel free to comment here; email me at reportingconflict.com; Tweet @jmacrodgers. If you have read Headlines from the Holy Land, thank you — and please do consider writing a review on Amazon.

 

Journalism, separation, and independence: newspaper coverage of the end of the British Mandate for Palestine, 1948

For the first time, I am publishing some of my academic writing on this site. This entry is the abstract, or summary, of the article, followed by the first part of the article itself. It was published online last month by ‘Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism’ ahead of future print publication. The article builds on my research for my 2015 book Headlines from the Holy Land.

Abstract: This article examines the reporting of the end in 1948 of the British Mandate for Palestine, in both British Newspapers, and the New York Times. The research is focused on 50 news items from the last weeks of the Mandate, especially on or around 14th May 1948. The article seeks to explore the relationship between correspondents, the British Authorities, and the people then living in Palestine. The article will argue that, despite various factors which might have influenced their work, the correspondents still struggled for, and achieved, a degree of independence in their reporting. In addition to these more overt influences, the article will also discuss whether correspondents may have been influenced by a broader mindset prevalent at the time in the society from which they came. In doing so, it will employ Edward Said’s work on Orientalism, especially where Orientalism, ‘connotes the high-handed executive attitude of nineteenth-century, and early-twentieth-century European colonialism.’ (Said, 1995: 2). The coverage reveals much about the way that Britain’s role in Palestine was portrayed to newspaper audiences at a time when Britain’s influence in the wider region was in decline. In conclusion, the article argues that, for all journalism’s association with political elites, the best reporting from that time provided its audience with valuable insight into the likely consequences of the end of the Mandate – insight which remains valuable today: especially in a year, 2017, which will see both the centenary and the 50th anniversary of, respectively, Balfour Declaration and the Six Day War.

 

A CENTURY AFTER THE BALFOUR DECLARATION, and half a century after the Six Day War, history continues to have great influence over the narratives of conflict in the Middle East. As Ilan Pappe wrote of his experience of teaching a class, at Haifa University, which included Palestinian and Jewish students, ‘both groups regard history as just another prism through which to view present rather than past reality’ (2006: 1).  Outside the region, news reporting contributes to much of western understanding of the conflict – although the historical role which Britain in particular played in the region features less frequently in public discussion. This article will argue that news reporting of the end of the British Mandate is a valuable source for understanding the relationship between correspondents and Colonial power then, and, that despite both the pressures placed upon them, and their close relationship with the Colonial authorities, journalists achieved a degree of independence in their reporting. In doing so, the article will also seek to determine the nature and extent of that independence.

THE BRITISH MANDATE IN PALESTINE 1917-1948 (E 31973) Blowing up the King David Hotel, Jerusalem 22 July 1946: People run for cover as the King David Hotel, Jerusalem blows up. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196554

By late 1947, Palestine was becoming increasingly ungovernable. Thirty years had passed since General Allenby took possession of Jerusalem from retreating Ottoman forces, an episode of British colonial history captured for global distribution using the latest technology: film (Colonial Film, 1917). Humbled, even as a conquering imperial hero, by the sanctity of the city, Allenby famously dismounted and entered on foot (Mansfield, 1992: 159). Three decades later, at the end of a period during which, ‘The purpose of the Mandate was never entirely clear to those serving in Palestine,’ (Shepherd, 1999: 5), British authority in Palestine was coming to an end. The final days of the Mandate were the subject of unusually extensive media scrutiny. In his diary, the last Chief Secretary of the Mandatory Government, Sir Henry Gurney, noted that there were ‘120 Palestine newspapers’ and ‘about 70 foreign correspondents who send out a continual stream of facts or misstatements, according to whom they get it from.’ (Golani, 2009: 70). This ‘continual stream’ seems to have been a consequence of the fact that Mandate affairs were followed closely far beyond the borders of Palestine. ‘Perennially the focus of Parliamentary questions, journalistic scrutiny, often partisan international attention from press and politicians, the Mandate was never a quiet backwater, much to the chagrin of local officials.’ (Sherman, 1997: 32). Dealing with propaganda was part of the job of Mandate officials. They also faced impossible competing demands from Palestine’s Jewish and Arab populations, and daily personal danger. Gurney’s predecessor, Sir John Shaw, had left Palestine in 1946, ‘unable to continue in office because he was under certain threat of assassination.’ (Golani, 2009: 4).

The corridor used by the bombers (picture from 2014) © James Rodgers

Shaw’s departure followed the bombing in July 1946 of a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which then served as headquarters for the Mandate authorities. Ninety-one people were killed in the explosion (Shepherd, 1992: 225). Peter Duffield, then correspondent for The Daily Express, was in another part of the King David when the bombers – Jewish fighters seeking to drive the British from Palestine, and hasten the creation of a Jewish State – hit their target. His account of the attack was carried in the next day’s newspaper, along with material – relating to a meeting in Shaw’s office – which had obviously been prepared before the explosion. Duffield picked out one detail which seemed to sum up the conflict. ‘That Palestine scene – with its fierce hatreds, its distortions and mutilations of the truth – is visible in Shaw’s wastepaper basket. Into it each day, after perusal, go thousands of words of propaganda, pleading, demands and threats.’ (Duffield, 1946). The extent and efficacy of this ‘perusal’ is perhaps questionable. As Sherman has pointed out (1997: 27), ‘Since few British officials knew Hebrew, the complex political and ideological controversies that agitated the Jewish community, reflected in lively press and public debate, were unknown to all but a few’. In terms of communication with the peoples of Palestine, in fact, it has been argued that the British Mandate authorities spoke more than they listened. ‘A discourse appealing to the desirability of uplifting social evolution via the technology of benevolent colonial rule and industrial capitalism was deployed mercilessly and aggressively.’ (Ghandour, 2010: 3).

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The corridor used by the bombers of the King David Hotel (picture from 2014) © James Rodgers

The present article considers some 50 news and other items from newspapers published on or around May 14th 1948. The Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, and The Observer were the main British newspapers selected, partly because their use of bylines – not then a universal convention – allowed the work of individual correspondents, especially Clare Hollingworth, to be followed. The Manchester Guardian and The Times were also considered, although are cited less here principally because their lack of bylines meant journalists’ work could not be traced in the same way. The New York Times was selected for its long tradition of international reporting in order to provide contrasting perspectives – not only politically, but also, as will be demonstrated, because its correspondents enjoyed better access than their British counterparts.

The correspondents’ world: colonialism, and Orientalism?

Like journalists in any age, the correspondents in Palestine then were surrounded by factors which were potential influences on their reporting. The wider global political situation is significant. This was the period immediately following the Second World War, during which ‘political leaders were gratified by how uncomplainingly editors, reporters and film-makers lent their talents to the war effort’ (Caruthers, 2011: 90), and when ‘BBC Staff felt themselves to be in the front line,’ (Briggs, 1985: 194). Given their proximity to the colonial elite – one thing which comes through the coverage of the bombing of the King David Hotel is the number of reporters, in addition to Duffield, who were themselves nearly killed or injured – the correspondents shared some of the dangers which officials faced, and so may have come to share their viewpoints. Views of the inhabitants of the Holy Land then were not necessarily antagonistic, but nor were they always realistic. ‘Upon the Arabs of Palestine […] the British tended to project expectations and feelings absorbed largely from a romantic literary tradition of Orientalism,’ wrote Sherman (1997: 25).  Certainly, his Mandate Days: British Lives in Palestine 1918-48 provides plenty of material to support his statement. Yet the Orientalism of the Mandate was more than that ‘romantic literary tradition’. In as much as they thought of it at all, the correspondents then would have understood Orientalism to signify, in addition to that artistic and literary genre, ‘the scholarly study of the languages and cultures of ‘the Orient’: a geographically nebulous region comprising North Africa and the present-day Middle East, ranging through South Asia and extending as far east as Japan.’ (Teo, 2013: 2). Today, any assessment of the word must include discussion of Edward Said’s Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (1978), and later writings – especially such characterizations as, ‘What we must reckon with is a long and slow process of appropriation by which Europe, or the European awareness of the Orient, transformed itself from being textual and contemplative into being administrative, economic, and even military.’ (1995:  210). The British Mandate for Palestine was obviously one of the latter cases. The correspondents were naturally expected to follow the activities of the political and military leadership of the Mandate. In other words, they and their reporting were part of the ‘administrative, economic, even military’ construct which was the British Mandate for Palestine. Orientalism, therefore, provides in some respects a useful way of characterizing the body of British correspondents’ work in Palestine in this period. However, it is not a complete explanation. To this theoretical approach must be added a recognition of practical factors: particularly language barriers, and physical ones of access. Nor were these factors for British reporters alone. They may have been allowed into Irgun news conferences from which British correspondents were banned, but life was not all easy for correspondents from the United States either. A footnote to a Daily Express article from the time reported, ‘Transjordan has warned the U.S. government that no visas will be given to American correspondents because it cannot be responsible for their safety.’ (Footnote to Grey,1947).

The day after the bombing of the King David, Barbara Board, of the Daily Mirror, told readers of the way a military policeman at the hotel entrance had thrown her to the ground and  shielded her with his body. (Board, 1946). The correspondents were there too when British soldiers dug through the rubble in search of survivors, and dead. ‘In broad daylight, dozens of Jews, Arabs, and Britishers, were murdered in cold blood by the notorious Jewish terrorist organization, Irgun Zvai Leumi’ ran the commentary on a contemporary newsreel. (Imperial War Museum Films, 1946). Having themselves been in personal danger, the journalists may well have been more likely to identify with the colonial officials who were the target of the attack. Another correspondent, Clare Hollingworth, could not overcome her anger even decades later. One of the group behind the bombing, Menachem Begin, was a future Israeli Prime Minister. ‘When Begin rose to power in the late 1970s I often found myself in his presence. But I never greeted him. I would not shake a hand with so much blood on it,’ she wrote in a later memoir (1990: 141). Such a response is understandable, given the danger in which Hollingworth had found herself. It also casts doubt on the efficacy of part of the Irgun’s strategy, given that, ‘Much of the terrorist campaign of the Irgun was directed at the British media. Begin himself recognised the importance of that factor in the various meetings of the High Command.’ (Zadka, 1995: 178). In the King David attack, ‘the terrorist campaign’ seems, if anything, to have driven the British press into the arms of the Mandate authorities: in Board’s case, literally so.

The importance of the press

Yet there were divisions between the political elite and the correspondents. Close as they may have been in outlook, and in physical location, the journalists were also kept at a distance – even as their potential power was understood.

(To be continued)

I will publish the full references with a future extract. In the meantime, please feel free to comment here; email me at reportingconflict.com; Tweet @jmacrodgers. If you have read Headlines from the Holy Land, thank you — and please do consider writing a review on Amazon.

WHY THERE’S SO MUCH FAKE NEWS NOW — AND WHY THAT MAY NOT LAST

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The ‘March for Europe’ London, 25th March 2017. In the UK’s Europe debate, both sides have accused their opponents of misleading voters

Earlier this month, this article was published on The Conversation. You can read it here, and a version follows below.

STORYTELLING IS A KEY part of human culture. Where politics and power are concerned, stories become something not only to be told, but to be shaped and influenced – so that, in many cases, they are used to mislead or deceive. Recent research for a lecture on “fake news” led me to wonder if there was a reason why it seems to spike at certain times. I came to the conclusion that three main factors seem to create the conditions for fake news to surge: a step change in communication or communication technology coupled with political uncertainty and armed conflict.

There’s no doubt that the world is still learning to adapt to the impact of social media. Twitter was a fledgling platform ten years ago, now it’s the way the president of the United States talks to the world. It allows him to feel in control of his message. Political power has always wanted to do that: from the battles of the ancient world right the way through human history. In Britain, one might think of the Tudor dynasty’s attempts to control what was at the time new media – the printing press – to consolidate their initially tenuous hold on the English throne in the late 15th century.

This was a time of both political uncertainty and armed conflict – and the printing press played its major role in creating that conflict and instability.

With the benefit of hindsight, Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in Russia is remembered as a military disaster – but it didn’t look like that to begin with, as the Grande Armée advanced on Moscow. The Russian commander, Marshal Kutuzov – facing questions over his tactics – made sure that when the tide started to turn his way, he made the most of it. Battle trophies were shown off to the soldiers. “Whatever his limitations as a tactician, Kutuzov was a master when it came to public relations, and his troops’ morale,” wrote Dominic Lieven in Russia against Napoleon.

Few in the rank and file of Kutuzov’s army would have been able to read or write. The only accounts of the action would have been from official dispatches, or officers’ diaries and letters. The message was fairly easily controlled.

Russia’s war against France, Britain and Turkey, later in the 19th century was a different matter. The Crimea of the 1850s is remembered in journalism history for the debut of the “miserable parent of the luckless tribe”, as William Howard Russell – usually considered the first war correspondent – described himself.

His pioneering reporting had influence long beyond his era. The British government was not just worried about the enemy when World War I broke out. They were worried about the press. Soaring newspaper circulations and literacy rates which had greatly increased as the result of widening education – not to mention the huge ambitions of the press barons of the age – meant that the newspapers were credited with unprecedented influence. Strict legislation was passed to ensure they did not use it in a way likely to contradict the government. Some did try to report freely, but were stopped. At least one, Philip Gibbs, who later toed the government line, was threatened with being shot.

Those who were allowed to report sent uplifting accounts that soldiers did not recognise. There were infamous atrocity stories, too – one of the most shocking being that the Germans were boiling down human corpses for soap. It was fake news of the worst kind.

The next time Europe went to war and dragged in large parts of the rest of the world, radio dominated. Never before had the human voice had the ability to be a simultaneous, mass medium. Its novelty spawned new propaganda opportunities. Among the most infamous exponents was William Joyce, known as “Lord Haw-Haw” who broadcast Nazi propaganda in English. The nickname was an attempt to undermine him. He was taken seriously enough, though, to be hanged as a traitor after the war.

The Cold War – a time of massive political tension, and proxy wars – produced fake news that grabbed global attention. Among them: the KGB-inspired canard, Operation INFEKTION, which tried to convince people that the AIDS virus was a product of US biological warfare experiments. There was an uncanny contemporary echo of this when RT seemed to give credence to stories that the US Department of Defense might be to blame for Ebola.

So “fake news” is not new. What arguably is new is its scale, and participatory nature. Today, anyone with access to social media can join in. Political instability and war – such as the world is plagued with today – create the incentive for governments and individuals to do so, and new technology and uses of that technology have made it easier to spread.

If there is good news in the age of fake news, it is this: previous fake news eras have come to and end. Politicians and publics have become familiar with the way new media work and have done so in the eras of journalism from printing to mass circulation newspapers to broadcasting and now social media. Journalism regained trust and credibility after World War 1. It can again.

FACING THE FACTS: REPORTING WITH RESTRICTIONS

Reuters’ Editor-in-Chief’s message to staff, ‘Covering Trump the Reuters Way’, raised  plenty of questions about how journalists should work with the new U.S. administration. I took on some of them for a piece this week on The Conversation

IT WAS HIGH SUMMER ON THE EDGE OF SIBERIA and suddenly there came the hardest question of a tough assignment. I had travelled to Yekaterinburg for a story about the spread of HIV. The city’s location made it a crossroads for the trade in many goods, including heroin. As a result, HIV infection rates were rising frighteningly rapidly among drug users. The trip involved encounters with sources, many of whom were distressed – some of whom who were frankly scary. But it was questions from the journalism students who were with us that really stumped me.

The questions – including the size of my salary – were largely predictable. One was not: “What do you do when the governor does not like a story you have written?”

The obvious answer from a Western reporter might have been something about the noble notion of the fourth estate speaking the truth to power. But I knew that such an answer would not work in the lawless Russia of the post-Soviet era. Journalists – especially those who uncovered incompetence or corruption among the powerful – could find themselves in serious, even mortal, danger. So I offered a reply which blended the ideal with a more realistic point

You can read the rest of the piece here

Reflections on 2016, and 1991: two revolutionary years

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A monument to Vladimir Lenin, USSR, 1991 ©James Rodgers

‘DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE USSR WAS?’ asked the Ukrainian I had got talking to in London.

The USSR was many things to me — although I think it has taken a quarter of a century for me fully to understand something of what it was to others.

‘Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven!’ wrote Wordsworth in ‘The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement’. That is how it felt to me to be in Moscow in 1991. I was in my 20s, and on my first foreign assignment as a TV producer, for the Visnews agency.

Russia’s post-Soviet revolution was ‘at its commencement’. For someone of my generation, who had spent their teenage years worrying whether the acceleration of the nuclear arms race in Europe was going to lead to conflict, the end of the Cold War between East and West was indeed blissful. The excitement of being on assignment in Moscow as a young journalist ‘was very heaven’. The world as I had known it all my life was changing forever, and I was there to see it.

What I — and the other young western journalists I met, and who were in some cases to become lifelong friends — saw that summer seemed good. Especially in the Soviet capital, we saw a population enthusiastic for change — brave enough, when the time came, to stand with sticks against tanks to defend it. They faced down a coup attempt by hardliners in August 1991 . Later that year, and 25 years ago this month, the Soviet Union formally ceased to exist. Back in London, I was in the newsroom on Christmas Day when Mikhail Gorbachev went on air in Moscow to resign, and the red flag was lowered from the Kremlin.

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The Kremlin, summer 1991, with the Red flag of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics flying. © James Rodgers

For some Cold Warriors in the west, that was victory. For one prominent American academic, this was — absurdly, it is now clear — the ‘end of history’. For those of us who spend a lot of time reporting from Russia in the 1990s, it came to be something else: the beginning of an age of great hardship, uncertainty, and humiliation for millions of people in Russia, and other parts of the former USSR.

‘We keep on failing to understand the nature of the trauma that hit all Russians in 1991,’ Sir Rodric Braithwaite, the last British Ambassador to the USSR, told an audience at Chatham House 20 years later. Policy makers did not understand well the possible political consequences of that trauma either — at least until it was too late.

For it was in those days that the wrath of post-Soviet Russia was being nursed. It came to adulthood in the annexation of Ukraine, and, on the wider global stage, in the Middle East. The end of history mindset seemed to have prevailed among policy makers, too — again until it was too late. When relations with Russia turned bad, there were not enough people who understood why. ‘What’s really lacking in all these theatres is sufficient people who are deep experts on the language and the region to actually produce the options to ministers,’ complained Rory Stewart, then Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, in a 2014 interview with Prospect Magazine , as Russia cemented its hold over Ukraine.

Experts: in 2014, a senior Conservative politician said they were lacking; in 2016, another, Michael Gove, said Britain had ‘had enough’ of them.

Many disagreed — but enough were persuaded to accept the case made by Mr Gove and his fellow ‘Leave’ campaign leaders that Britain should leave the European Union.

That is one of the ways in which 2016 has helped me understand 1991. Now, in middle age, I have a perspective on how it must have felt for Russians in their 40s and 50s to see their country go to hell, taking with it all they had known.

This year, it has been the turn of my country to have a revolution — for that is what ‘Brexit’ is — and head off in an unknown direction. Not even those who most fervently sought this turn of events can claim that it has been adequately prepared for.

As a foreign correspondent in the 1990s and 2000s, I saw other people’s political systems fall apart. Both in the former USSR, and in the Middle East, this led on occasion to wars which cost countless thousands of lives. There is no prospect now of war in Western Europe, although that was the way we chose for centuries to settle our disputes. It is not simply coincidence that the era of the European Union has also been an age of peace.

The signs of other times are still there to see. As a frequent visitor to both Scotland and Denmark, my seaside walks lead me past Second World War fortifications scarring the beaches on the North Sea coast.

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World War Two defences on the coast of East Lothian, Scotland, October 2016 ©James Rodgers

Will Europe ever be as divided again in my lifetime? As Christopher Clark wrote in the introduction to his excellent 2014 book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to War in 1914, ‘what must strike any twenty-first-century reader who follows the course of the summer crisis of 1914 is its raw modernity.’ He continued, ‘Since the end of the Cold War, a system of global bipolar stability has made way for a more complex and unpredictable array of forces.’

That’s why we need good journalism. Those of us western journalists who lived in Russia in the 1990s understood very well the reasons for Vladimir Putin’s rise to power (I wrote about this at greater length in a recent piece for The Conversation).

So, yes, I did know the USSR. A quarter of a century later, I know this, too: like the USSR,  nothing lasts forever. Blissful dawns do not necessarily lead to sunny afternoons, or peaceful evenings. The demagogues who have tasted victory in 2016’s tumult would do well to remember that.