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"We're press! Don't shoot!"
April 3, 2002 10:08 AM   Subscribe

"We're press! Don't shoot!" Isn't PRESS on a flak jacket like painting bullseyes on your butt? The Israel Defense Forces have declared Bethlehem, Qalqiliya and Ramallah officially off-limits, and journalists will either be forcibly removed or in some cases shot on sight. The Committee to Protect Journalists is just one of many organizations speaking out against the unethical treatment of First Ammendment fighters throughout the world. Like this is gonna help. Should enemies of freedom be expected to 'play fair' or should we just accept that some journalists are going to die? Is it possible to investigate the truth right now in the West Bank, or are journalists needlessly putting their lives on the line for nothing?
posted by ZachsMind (37 comments total)

 
Do I really need to point out that the first amendment is a social construction here in the United States (and a few other places in the world) and, no matter anyone's opinion of whether this is a good thing, not a universal constant?
posted by luriete at 10:17 AM on April 3, 2002


Is it possible to investigate the truth right now in the West Bank, or are journalists needlessly putting their lives on the line for nothing?

Why are these mutually exclusive? It's quite possible to report from that general area without intentionally Geraldoizing yourself and putting yourself directly in front of soldiers that you have been told ahead of time will attack you if you go there. But hey, gotta get the cool video, right?

Oh, and what luriete said. The First Amendment stops at the US border, whether the person crossing said border is an American or not.
posted by aaron at 10:24 AM on April 3, 2002


Do I need to point out that the concepts dictated in the Constitution are inalienable rights for all human beings which America has pledged to protect? The right to free speech is not limited to Americans. All human beings have that inalienable right. Inalienable rights are universal constants. Every human has the rights of life, liberty and happiness.

Thomas Jefferson merely put those rights into words, but they've always existed. They exist even when taken away at gunpoint.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:27 AM on April 3, 2002


luriete: Well, there is the UN declaration of human rights, which includes some bits about speech -- not that that is globally supported.

On the topic, how is the ANY different from what the US did with reporters in afganistan? The pentagon learned their lesson in vietnam, and they keep reporters on a very tight leash.
posted by malphigian at 10:29 AM on April 3, 2002


Monday's OpinionJournal ("Best of the Web") included an item that perhaps accounts for some of the difficulties here:

Buried in a Jerusalem Post report about the shooting of a Boston Globe reporter by Palestinian Arabs in Ramallah is this shocking detail:
The IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] arrested a delegation of some two dozen foreigners, journalists and suspected Palestinian fugitives, on suspicion they tried to help the fugitives escape the Palestinian Authority's Mukata compound in Ramallah yesterday.

The army declared the area a closed military zone, but the journalists forced their way past tanks and soldiers, into the headquarters to support beleaguered PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.

"The reporters ran inside the building, and the soldiers did not want to shoot at them," said OC Planning Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland. "When they came out, there were double the number that had gone in. Some [of those coming out] were wanted fugitives. They used Israeli openness." The army arrested all the journalists and suspected fugitives for questioning, Eiland said.
We certainly hope it turns out to have been the left-wing nuts and not the journalists who were helping the fugitives escape.


I don't often agree with OpinionJournal's slant, but the facts here seem compelling -- the Israeli army can't afford to ignor or trust people just because they represent themselves as journalists. And standing on the sidelines arguing about what soldiers should and shouldn't do in the midst of fighting is a rather naive game to play.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:30 AM on April 3, 2002


I've never understood journalist's belief that they can just walk anywhere, no matter how dangerous, and not be hurt, just because they're carrying a camera. Kinda like when reporters were surprised after getting attacked during the LA Riots. "Pardon me, mind if I watch you loot that?"
posted by emptybowl at 10:36 AM on April 3, 2002


I don't really care about first amendment rights for journalists overseas.. what I care about is that if this kind of crackdown on the press was happening anywhere else, there would be a hell of a lot more official condemnation.

Why should journalists be targets by official military troops? In a supposively democratic country? Have Palestinians posing as journalists attacks soldiers or acted as suicide bombers? Not as far as I know. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

I don't think it's 'Geraldoizing' oneself. By that kind of thinking, we would never have the kind of reports on Vietnam we do, or disturbingly revealing pictures like the Vietnamese general shooting someone in the head on the street.

These situations are where the press is desperately needed - to provide information to the world what is really going on, not what official releases tell people what is going on.
posted by rich at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2002 [1 favorite]


Do I need to point out that the concepts dictated in the Constitution are inalienable rights for all human beings which America has pledged to protect? The right to free speech is not limited to Americans. All human beings have that inalienable right. Inalienable rights are universal constants. Every human has the rights of life, liberty and happiness.

When, exactly, have we invaded foreign countries in order purely to protect their citizens's inalienable rights to free speech? Or even lodged a particularly strongly-worded protest? Even Canada and the UK have censorship laws strong enough to make First Amendment absolutists have coronaries.

You can make semantic arguments about the ideas behind the Constitution all you like, but the reality is that it does not legally apply to non-US citizens, and the US government has no right or reason to enforce it beyond American borders. Which is why we don't.
posted by aaron at 10:48 AM on April 3, 2002


It is my understanding that soldiers, CIA spies, etc are NEVER supposed to represent that they are press. That way press corps personnel can be protected wherever they go. Not sure where I got that understanding. I'll have to check that out.

If Israel is our ally, a "free democracy" that we're so hot to stand up for, why are they shooting our press? Why is it that journalists who want to get the true story, or at least someone else's side other than the ones winning the current battle, are labeled as trouble? Guess I answered my own question there...

What the US is doing to the press (Afghanistan etc) is wrong. We are having the ugly truths held back so that we'll be more supportive of government actions. It seems that we're getting so much more propaganda these days.

As for what the Israeli army said about the reporters and the extra 'reporters' that emerged with them - I suggest you read Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Lebanon for a perspective on the army's record of veracity.
posted by Red58 at 10:48 AM on April 3, 2002


I am happy to learn that Jefferson, a slave owner who begot a child with his slave, decided that the freedoms we enjoy (sometimes) applies to all peoples everywhere. Can he point to the source for this insight?
I would like to know what if any restrictions there might be upon American journalists in Afghanistan. Seems to me that I see a heck of a lot more of battles in the Middle East than I do in Afghanistan, except for footage released by the Pentagon.
posted by Postroad at 11:03 AM on April 3, 2002


Postroad, yes I'm fully aware that old Tommy was a slave owner. I tire of this argument. Jefferson may have not thought through his statements to their logical conclusion, just as many today still can't see that not only blacks, women, homosexuals, and any living person in America have those inalienable rights, but also any living person on this planet. In truth and practice, we restrict our own rights and liberties by allowing rights and liberties to be restricted by anyone. If you live behind the barrell of a gun, your protection is limited to only what you can accomplish with that gun. You restrict not only the inalienable rights of your victums, but of yourself as well.

Red58: "If Israel is our ally, a "free democracy" that we're so hot to stand up for, why are they shooting our press?"

As others have pointed out in this thread, the Israelis feel they have no choice. There are journalists who, ini the heat of the situation, take off their journalist cap for a second and try to help. And it's understandable. If you're behind a camera and day after day you're seeing what is obviously from your perspective blatant injustice and you are in a position where you might could help, odds are you would. There's also people on all sides of the battle who, whether they are legally or ethically allowed to do so, will pose as journalists to accomplish their goals hoping that will decrease their chances of getting shot, and once the other side gets wise to this tactic they are forced to not give any journalists the benefit of the doubt.

Back in some previous wars, medical corps were required to wear a red cross on their clothing, so from a distance they'd be seen by the opposing side as nontargets. It was part of the agreement between battling nations. Sometimes this agreement was not upheld, but all sides were aware that if they started attacking the opposing side's doctors, then their own medical personel would be put in jeopardy, so through mutual need and agreement, medical personel were usually allowed certain levels of free access.

In more recent wars these agreements have been less dependable, especially now that the enemy has become less civil and in constant search for advantages that "playing by the rules" simply do not offer. In a world where your enemy fights with air strikes and other forms of warfare that make it impossible for you stuck on the land to find a face to shoot at, you're going to turn your attention on the faces that you do see, and that includes the journalists.

Malphigian: "The pentagon learned their lesson in vietnam, and they keep reporters on a very tight leash."

So is it really possible to get the truth anywhere? Even in America there's corporate editorial pressure. Most of us here in MeFi have at one time or another pointed out or commented on examples where the press has published what they claim is 100% truthful but other resources prove otherwise.

Journalists today in the Middle East are metaphorically like a parent coming home to her house. The house has caught on fire in some rooms, the furniture is demolished, all the appliances are broken and it's a mess everywhere. It looks like a party has happened but the only evidence she has is a house that's no longer livable, and two sons who are both obviously lying, telling her that the other one started it. Would a parent sit there and listen to their lies, or disown them and have them thrown in jail for destroying the house?

Can I really learn what's going on in Ramallah without putting on a bullet proof vest and getting on a plane to go there myself? And let's be honest, if you found yourself in a bullet proof vest in Ramallah and people with guns are shooting at you, could you really get to the truth? What do actual journalists hope to accomplish there? The video is supposed to not lie but even that's unreliable in today's cgi world. We get watered down information sometimes, and sometimes the story is one sided, but in the present situation it's worse than ever before.

The Israelis don't want the world to know the entire truth. The Palestinians don't want the world to know much of anything. There are no good guys in this war. No one's wearing a white hat, but they all want the world to think they're wearing the white hat and they can only do that if they control the content of (mis)information leaving the West Bank.

Should we even bother to listen to them any longer?
posted by ZachsMind at 11:15 AM on April 3, 2002


Thomas Jefferson merely put those rights into words, but they've always existed.

Well, they've always existed since someone came up with the idea that they've always existed, anyway. But they didn't always exist before that.
posted by kindall at 11:16 AM on April 3, 2002


TJ wrote the Declaration of Independence, but was not invited to the Constitutional Convention, so he really had nothing to do with the Constitution. I can't link to my high school history class, but I trust my teacher. Unless maybe you mean the period between the convention and when it was ratified by the states when the Bill of Rights was added?
posted by LionIndex at 11:17 AM on April 3, 2002


Well, Zach, I intended my question to be rhetorical. I think we all understand that Israel is working very hard to hide exactly what it is they are doing. I am very skeptical about their stories of press aiding their enemy. Very skeptical.

War is ugly. Both sides have plenty of culpability for what is happening, has happened, and sadly, what will continue to happen.

I just don't think we should be supporting either side with guns or money. Just in peace negotiations.
posted by Red58 at 11:23 AM on April 3, 2002


I'm not sure I see a question here. They're violently taking an area. They have the guns. They have repeatedly shown that they are willing to shoot you if you don't GO AWAY.

to recap. You (the journalist) have a a flak jacket and a camera. They have a flak jacked and a fully automatic rifle.

If they tell you to go away or they will open fire and you fail to go away, well, that's Darwin for ya.
posted by Nauip at 11:29 AM on April 3, 2002


Kindall: "Well, they've always existed since someone came up with the idea that they've always existed, anyway. But they didn't always exist before that."

Do you mean to tell me that the world was flat until human beings realized that the Earth was round? Or that atoms didn't exist until we decided that they did?

There are rights and there are privileges. All living things have the right to live. They have the right to live without restriction, and they have the right to persue their destiny. This isn't something I believe. It's something I know. This even extends beyond humanity, but since we're at the top of the food chain (usually) we're the ones dictating what is allowed to exercise those rights.

If inalienable rights didn't exist, they wouldn't be there to be taken.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:33 AM on April 3, 2002


This is a public service announcement
With guitar
Know your rights all three of them

Number 1
You have the right not to be killed
Murder is a crime!
Unless it was done by a
Policeman or aristocrat
Know your rights

And Number 2
You have the right to food money
Providing of course you
Don't mind a little
Investigation, humiliation
And if you cross your fingers
Rehabilitation

Number 3
You have the right to free speech
As long as you're not
Dumb enough to actually try it.

Know your rights
These are your rights
All three of 'em
It has been suggested
In some quarters that this is not enough!

--your inalienable rights, courtesy of The Clash
posted by dogmatic at 11:51 AM on April 3, 2002


"Have Palestinians posing as journalists attacks soldiers or acted as suicide bombers?"

It's not unheard of for suicide bombers to pose as journalists. Have Palestinians tried it? I don't know. Do you think the Israelis are willing to risk assuming they won't?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:06 PM on April 3, 2002


Wow. Much more anti-media sentiment than I'd given this crowd credit for. Funny that y'all didn't learn too much from the death of Daniel Pearl.

Reporters know the danger of a war zone. They do their jobs so you can know what's going on, rather than the government's preferred position.

The media (television, newspaper or internet) must be allowed to do this, whether it's in a war zone or at a basketball game. The only lesson the gov't learned during Vietnam is that they couldn't lie quite so easily on television. So did they reciprocate by telling the truth more often? Nope -- they restricted reporters' access to the field instead.

And that is the troubling thing about Israel restricting this access -- that there are things going on in Ramallah and other territories that are likely brutal, and the government wants no record of them on the evening news or in the New York Times.

Don't take the anger out on the media -- take it out on the governments that restrict your right to know what's going on.
posted by krewson at 12:16 PM on April 3, 2002 [1 favorite]


LionIndex: Thomas Jefferson was *not* invited to the Constitutional Convention (as you say so empatically, as if he were blackballed)? He was the American ambassador to France at the time. Couldn't make it. The case was the same with John Adams, only he was ambassador to England. There was no special reason for their not being "invited," as it were, except ones related to practicality.
posted by raysmj at 12:29 PM on April 3, 2002


Just to clarify, the Declaration of Independence states that it is "self-evident" that "all men" are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". Authorship of the Declaration is attributed (with little dispute of the matter) to Thomas Jefferson, although the ideas were hardly original with him. Among the precedents are the Virginia Declaration of Rights authored by George Mason which states that the representatives of the "good people" of Virginia declared that "all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." The inability to "by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity" is a long-winded way of saying that the rights were unalienable - alienability being a legal term pertaining to inheritance of rights. (In case you are interested, Anthony Trollope's "The Eustace Diamonds" turns on what sorts of property were alienable at common law.) The origin of the language of these famous passages is a matter of a lot of tedious scholarship - you could start with Garry Wills' "Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence".

The US Constitution does not refer to unalienable (or inalienable) rights, and in fact one understanding of the Constition is that the people have the power to amend the Constitution and add or delete "rights" as they see fit. The idea that there is some profound distinction between "rights" and "privileges" is generally associated with Wesley Hohfeld (you can find a summary of his views buried in here and here), although, again, he was not the first to expound the idea. I don't think anyone has seriously suggested that Jefferson authored the First Amendment.

"Freedom of the Press" is a hazy concept, and pretty much boils down to the right to publish free of censorship. It does not confer a right to enter other countries and do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it.
posted by nobodyknowsimadog at 1:30 PM on April 3, 2002


nobodyknowsimadog: Um, freedom of the press would fall under that bit about "liberty." Talk about long-winded - and also beside the point.
posted by raysmj at 1:38 PM on April 3, 2002


Seems to me that there are a couple of questions here that should be better defined before we can argue about them. First, do we (noncombatants) need newspeople in a war zone? I would say, yes, it is in our best interest to find out what's going on from a relatively unbiased source. Any "official" sources of information are immediately suspect, and that includes private reporters with an axe to grind.

Secondly, can newspeople venture into "hot" areas without running the risk of injury or death? No, they cannot. They run the same risk as a soldier, like it or not. We can pressure the "good guys" to not shoot the press, but only if they care about international opinion. And even then, that concern might not trickle down to the guys in the trenches with the guns.


Yes, the military will attempt to control journalists, and journalists will attempt to circumvent those controls. But the Israelis have to deal with the fact that they are perceived to be the superior force in this situation. Forbidding access by foreign journalists just reinforces the perception that they have something to hide. When shots are no longer being fired, the Israeli government will once again turn to the US for assistance and support. Pissing off the representatives of our major news media isn't a particularly good way to ensure that support.
posted by norm29 at 1:39 PM on April 3, 2002


Anyone who cites the First Amendment as a basis for the within-described conduct is, well...lets just say, to be nice, wrong.

Beyond the fact this isn't American soil, free speech clearly can be controled and limited on American soil when an imminent danger is at hand. Guess what's at hand?

No one should be outraged if peaceniks or journalists are shot in the West Bank. That would have been true in WWII, and it's a 100 times more true in a war wherein the enemy is using ambulances as a delivery device.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:56 PM on April 3, 2002


Forbidding access by foreign journalists just reinforces the perception that they have something to hide.

Only if, initially, you don't get that the Israelis are good, and the terrorists are evil. Which means you are hopeless.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:58 PM on April 3, 2002


I think our lessons about press and war came less from Vietnam (though I don't totally discount that) but from the Gulf War.

"Yeah Bob, those SCUD missles have not hit any US positions. They're landing about 3 miles North West of our position. Back to you Bob."

Why the f*ck don't you just give the grid coordinates, jackass! Who needs forward observers when you can get targeting information on CNN?

I have conflicting views on the press and their role in combat areas. While I appreciate the fact that they provide a more accurate picture of what is and is not happening, they are also idiots who could get people killed. I wonder how much freedom of the press you would care for when the CNN reporter is giving coordinates on your or your child's position so the enemy can better target their missles or mortar. I'm sure they don't do it on purpose, they're just stupid. Listen to a press conference sometime. The whole press conference, not just the soundbites. Some of these reporters are completely clueless.
posted by billman at 2:03 PM on April 3, 2002


Do you mean to tell me that the world was flat until human beings realized that the Earth was round? Or that atoms didn't exist until we decided that they did?

Do you mean to tell me that an abstraction such as a "right" has objective existence outside of the minds that can conceive of it?
posted by kindall at 2:09 PM on April 3, 2002


Oh well. When and if you mega-opinionated anti-press mofos are shut down - on a site dedicated to an open exchange of ideas, already - or told to shut up at gunpoint, etc. those of us in actual favor of freedom of expression will still be there to argue in favor of your freedom, as well as our own. Even if you don't care for that right yourselves, particularly.
posted by raysmj at 2:30 PM on April 3, 2002


It's not so much the anti-press feeling that's bugging me, by the way (anti-press is fine and even healthy), so much as this anti-liberty vibe.
posted by raysmj at 2:35 PM on April 3, 2002


[dogmatic, Very nice clash post.]

spies, i do believe, are required to pose as art students, fashion models, or terrorists, though there is the photo-journalist spy as seen in Spy Game.

free-speech is something we should all be concerned with, whether or not we think the israelis or the palestinians are 'bad guys' or 'good guys'.
posted by th3ph17 at 3:34 PM on April 3, 2002


I'll say that quotation-mumbo-jumbo apart, I certainly agree with Zach that free speech is one of those inalienable rights, and that I prefer to think of rights as something inherent and not magnanimously granted by a piece of paper. See especially Amendments IX and X.

So the principle of free speech certainly ought to be defended everywhere. I don't believe, though, that free speech means I can go anywhere. I can't wander onto a nuclear power station, or the grounds of the White House. In the West Bank, of course, we are talking of public areas -- but we are also talking of a zone of military operations that is inherently dangerous. Having journalists there is dangerous both for the military (interference, or disguise, or distraction), and for the press, who could catch crossfire as much as anything deliberate. I believe the IDF is correct in simply stating that if journalists enter a closed military zone, they should expect to be hurt or killed or treated as potential combatants, no matter what they paste on their flak jacket. I don't see any other way to sensibly operate. Given that apparently scores or even hundreds of journalists are getting in anyway, and yet most of them are not actually getting shot and killed, we can hardly say there's a flat IDF policy of killing journalists.
posted by dhartung at 4:01 PM on April 3, 2002


I don't believe, though, that free speech means I can go anywhere.

In fact, it's not free speech at all, but assembly. Or commerce or "movement," as they say in the EU. None of which are absolute.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:17 PM on April 3, 2002


I generally subscribe to Dhartung's point of view. However it should be added to the discussion that there is a pattern of Israeli shootings of journalists even in non-closed areas. There is also a general perception in Israel that the Western Media portrays them too often as "the bad guys," which is bound to color the military's reaction to journalists, especially those operating in areas they have specifically been asked to avoid.
posted by cell divide at 4:24 PM on April 3, 2002


Do tell! I mean, link.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:30 PM on April 3, 2002


Just some observations:

1. I don't think anybody has been anti-free speech here. But it is a simple reality that people in other countries don't enjoy the same freedoms we do. Would it be nice if that were different? Yes. But it's not and most of the posts have simply pointed out that distinction.

2. There's a difference between free speech and appropriate speech. The courts have ruled that yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre is not protected under free speech. There's also speech which is protected but simply unwise. For instance, one is free to wear a White Power T-Shirt but the wisdom of doing so while strolling down the street alone in the Crenshaw District at 2am seems like something most people would call into question.

3. The military is under no obligation to protect journalists in combat zones. Once a reporter steps onto the battlefield, they are responsbile for their own safety.

4. Journalists who involve themselves in a conflict by aiding one side or the other, are no longer journalists. They are aiding the enemy. A reporter who helped someone escape from police custody in the US would be held accountable under the law and in a battle situation, you are very likely to be labled enemy.

5. Anytime the US is engaged in military action, the military has the right and obligation to protect its soldiers. If that means, not allowing reporters free reign in a combat area, then reporters should not be given free reign in a combat area. There is simply no need, nor does it infringe on the rights of the press to prevent (via jamming signals, denying access, etc.) live news coverage from combat situations. If the concern is over censorhip, a reporter can just as well file their report after the bullets have quit flying as they can while people's lives are still at risk. The issue is not free speech but ratings and there is no part of the Constitution that gives anyone rights to ratings.
posted by billman at 4:48 PM on April 3, 2002


Paris, an exhaustive list of attacks and harrassment can be found here

Also, here's a story about allegations of the IDF pattern of shooting at journalists. A short excerpt:

"However, last July (2001), Daniel Seaman who runs the Israeli government office that oversees foreign press conceded there was a problem and faced reporters. In his statement he said: "Threats, injury or harm to members of the media whether intentional or by error are unacceptable. The State of Israel regrets any injuries caused to journalists as a result of actions by our forces or by individuals within our forces."

Meanwhile the PA has also been cited by journalists as threatening them and/or denying them access to various areas.
posted by cell divide at 5:16 PM on April 3, 2002


Kindall: "Do you mean to tell me that an abstraction such as a "right" has objective existence outside of the minds that can conceive of it?"

Yes. Yes I do. Ignorance is not a defense.

Dhartung: "I prefer to think of rights as something inherent and not magnanimously granted by a piece of paper."

Thank you for putting so eloquently and in so few words what I've been trying to say.

Billman: "The issue is not free speech but ratings and there is no part of the Constitution that gives anyone rights to ratings."

I cannot argue any of your astute observations, and I repeat your above words because I particularly do agree with those. Yes today's reality includes the fact that there's humans out there trying to take rights from some people and want more privileges for their peers or superiors. There are people (on all sides of the battlefields) who use guns and bombs and fighter planes today just as neanderthals used clubs millenia ago, and prove that despite our progress in so many ways, deep down we're still throwing rocks at each other.

Would it be nice if things were different? I say it will be nice when things are different. Perhaps we can't see that possibility today. I refuse to give up on that future, because the only alternative is humanity will become the instrument of its own demise.

We must achieve that different reality, when no human raises a weapon at a fellow human. The alternative is death. If reporters in the West Bank today will help us achieve that future, I'm all for it, but if they're only there for ratings, I say they do us all a favor and just go home and avoid the lead poisoning.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:48 PM on April 3, 2002


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