It’s about TIME

By Jim Miles

For the past several months I have been receiving TIME magazine. The subscription originally started as a gift from someone unknown, with my last name spelled wrong, lasted for a year. When it came up for renewal, I stalled until the price came down to fifty cents a copy, a much more reasonable price for the quality of the magazine (I could have had another half year free if I had stalled about a month longer). I finally renewed, not because I admire the quality of the magazine but because, even though it is the “Canadian” edition (it has some Canadian advertising in it) it provides a good snapshot of Middle-American thinking.

On a different note, at least to start, I have read and am reading a series of books on how American news presents a biased content on foreign affairs. [1]  Natural for sure, but it is also surprisingly vacant of critical analysis of what the Washington “sources” and the Washington “experts” are saying, with the same applied to Israeli sources and experts.

In general the criticisms of American media representation can be divided into several categories. First is the lack of context: news is provided that catches the attention, but seldom if ever provides background information to indicate why that particular activity is occurring. Along with a lack of background is the lack of what could be called foreground analysis, a critical commentary or questioning of the validity of sources and the manner in which their information is worded. Another feature is the choice of language, choices that make Americans almost always the rational modern mind with the ‘other’, whomever they are, being the irrational, fanatical, backward mind. Finally is the tricky concept of balance: while writers try for balance, their choice of whom they speak with on both sides of the issue often destroys any true balance in the reporting. 

Leading from the latter statement is the idea of objectivity, an ideal that truly cannot be achieved as the very choice of ‘facts’ will determine the outcome of the argument.  No writer can avoid that, and no writer should pretend that they can. It would be better to acknowledge the limitations in all reporting and accept that balance-objectivity is very difficult to attain. It is the force of well-referenced argument that makes for the best critical writing, with the writer hopefully willing to accept a change in viewpoint as different ‘facts’ and ideas are presented.

Now let me tie this mini-thesis on biases in writing with the renewed TIME subscription. The current edition contains two articles on Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which demonstrate the above bias concerns. 

Hamas in Palestine

The first article by Joe Klein [2] in its overall summation is reasonable in that it calls for the current crop of presidential candidates to talk to Hamas as “…there is a need to keep all [communication] channels open in that insanely complicated region.”

But if that is put into context, one has to consider also that “dialogue” in the form of negotiations has been ongoing for decades, and has done no more than allow Israel time to continue with its occupation to the final goal of establishing colonial settlements in Palestinian territory and reducing the demographic threat of a large and growing Palestinian population. Further favourable context could introduce the idea of the so far limited success, but success none the less, in South Africa and Northern Ireland. 

The latter idea reflects also on Klein’s statement “This [talks] is not to suggest that Hamas is even vaguely reputable, even if it did win a fair and free election.” The reader then needs to consider the American election of 2000 for some context and comparison of “repute” and “free and fair” as well as consider the history of Hamas.  Hamas’ origins were mainly civic, as they provided for education, health, employment and other social services and infrastructures when Israel as an occupier provided none and the Palestinian Authority was being less then effective.   

Klein then continues to argue that talks “should be a reward for good behaviour” a rather disingenuous statement considering they did win the election fairly, had them abrogated by all the Western “democracies”, and have held to several long truces that the Israelis did not respond to. His next statement speaks to that: “good behaviour” is “a real cease fire – for starters, the end of rocket attacks from Gaza.” This statement is either wilfully ignorant or simply ignorant. Hamas has at times offered a truce (hudna) to Israel and has been consistently rejected. [3] 

Further, while rocket attacks on civilians are terrifying, in context they are an asymmetrical response to the Israeli attacks of occupation and suppression using American missiles and aircraft and other war craft that are supported by a $3 billion dollar a year “aid” package. Perhaps to be a “real cease fire” the IDF should also disengage from both Gaza and the West Bank and actually cease construction of settlements as they often promise in their “dialogue” with the Americans. Sure, the IDF withdrew from Gaza, but they remain omnipresent along all borders and in full control of air, sea, and land space, as well as controlling water, food, and fuel resources.

In sum, Klein’s article carries a valid point for the U.S. domestic election process but presents Hamas very much out of context – with a strong bias in favour of Israel – in its foreign policy. The next article on Hezbollah carries the same imbalance.

Hezbollah in Lebanon

Andrew Butters writes an article that reaches a fair summation in its header caption, that Hezbollah’s “easy victory in the battle for Beirut leaves the U.S. yet again on the losing side of an Arab conflict….” [4] Once again in context though, that statement conceals the very obvious idea as to whether the U.S. should even be there in the first place, and it also tends to support the idea that the U.S. is not concerned about whether it supports a democratic society or not as long as the U.S. “wins”, however one might define a win.

This article is even more biased than Klein’s Hamas position. In consideration of balance, Butters describes Hezbollah’s victory using “Shi’ite militiamen who number in the thousands and are armed by Syria and Iran.” He continues saying they “survived” a battle against the much larger Israeli army which itself is supplied and armed in large portion by the U.S. as indicated above. For comparison and context, he does admit that the U.S. provided $300 million to the police and military in Lebanon, but that pales in comparison again to the annual support provided to Israel.

An article on Hezbollah [5] would not be complete without a discussion of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, their “fire-breathing leader”. For context, I may as well add Muqtada al-Sadr and Mamoud Ahmadinejad to make it a trio – certainly lots of rhetoric, but also lots of flexibility and clever manipulations, and yet none of these people has ever attacked a country in a pre-emptive manner or in any manner with the idea of conquest in mind. Hezbollah, as with Hamas, rose from the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon, eventually driving them out of the country. Similarly, Hezbollah provided civic structures that the Lebanese government obviously could not and the Israeli occupiers had no intention of doing. Certainly Hezbollah contains “militants” but then so does much of American society, with its global spanning military and nuclear pre-emptive war policies – not to mention Hilary Clinton – the wannabe “fire-breathing leader” of the Democrats promising to obliterate Iran in a nuclear holocaust (a statement that surely excited the American Jewish lobby as well as the Christian apocalyptic right.)

Nasrallah has been described as “spoiling for a fight” (“Bring ‘em on,” says Mr. Bush) and that “Israel…was drawn into a war with Hezbollah that cost 1,600 lives mainly on the Lebanese side.” Context? There have been ongoing Israel intrusions across the border ever since their retreat in May of 2000 and background reading on the 2006 war clearly demonstrates that Israel was quite ready to find a pretence to attack and was not “drawn” into anything – what they were not ready for was the organizational skill and armaments that Hezbollah had mustered. As for the casualties, mostly civilian in Lebanon, mostly military in Israel, the implication is that it is Hezbollah’s fault – after all Israel was “drawn” into this war – but the reality reflects again Israeli brutality against civilians, civic structures, and the use of advanced weapons systems supported by the U.S.

In an attempt at balance, Butters does quote significantly from Bilal Saab, “a Lebanon expert at the Brookings Institute”. One of his quotes is interesting as a matter of context and comparison, “They’re [Hezbollah] in control in Lebanon without having to actually run the state,” as if the U.S. does not apply the same policy in its imperial militancy around the world. The Israeli Vice Premier is also quoted, using the expected language of “terrorist organization” to describe Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon, saying as well “its government has become irrelevant.” Some observers might think he was talking about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The final quote comes from a Lebanese ‘survivor’ Walid Jumblatt, initially in opposition to Nasrallah.  What is missing for context and a true balance is a spokesperson from Hezbollah, not Nasrallah, and not one of the more intense street fighters, but someone from the organizational level within Hezbollah. 

Read Critically

If Klein and Butters were attempting to truly place their stories within the proper context, they did not succeed. Their opinions represent for the most part the standard view of the Washington consensus that in simplest terms sees Israel as a heroic and brave victim, under attack from Hamas and Hezbollah as full on terrorist organizations. Neither recognizes American financial aid and armaments aid to Israel; neither recognizes the severity of the Israeli occupation of Palestine or previously of Lebanon; and neither recognizes the civic structures and organization that created both groups under Israeli occupation, an occupation illegal under the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions.

It might be asking the average reader a bit much to read through TIME with a critical thought process, especially if all other news sources carry the same bias, as they tend to do with the American media conglomerates. The use of language, the consideration of context, the appearance of balance, the comparisons that can be made against the U.S.’s own actions and foreign policy should all be part of a reader’s active engagement in reading the news from any source.

-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.


[1] See Noam Chomsky/Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent (1988); Richard Falk/Howard Friel, Israel-Palestine On Record (2007); and Marda Dunsky, Pens and Swords (2008).
[2] Joe Klein. “Hamas Hysteria,” TIME Canadian Edition, May 26, 2008. p.12.
[3] see Mishal and Sela, The Palestinian Hamas (2006) and Tamimi, Hamas, A History From Within (2007) for further background material on this topic.
[4] Lee Butters.  “Welcome to Hizballahstan,” TIME Canadian Edition, May 26, 2008.  pp. 20-21.
[5] see Miles, Entangled Insurgencies – Hezbollah and Hamas, Palestine Chronicle, June 18, 2007.

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