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July 02, 2008


By: Donald Johnson

There needs to be a term for what the New York Times does in their Monday editorial, "Israel's Diplomatic Offensive." Perhaps it should be "Arguing to Lose."

When you are ATL, you start by granting every premise of the people with whom you're arguing. In this case, the NYT begins like this:

Few countries can afford the luxury of limiting their diplomacy to friendly countries and peace-loving parties. National security often requires negotiating with dangerous enemies.

That sets the tone. By implication, Israel is peace-loving and its enemies are dangerous, whereas Israel is not dangerous and its enemies are not peace-loving. Of course, reality demonstrates both sides are dangerous, and neither is particularly peace-loving. Israel's love of peace has led it to steal Palestinian land and then negotiate over how much it can keep. Like many conquerors, they would love it if the conquered's response were peaceful.

A little further on, there's this:

There are clear risks. Hamas may not respect or enforce the cease-fire; there have been almost daily violations.

This suggests that Israel is doing its best to abide by the ceasefire, but Palestinian terrorists just keep violating it. But that's at best a half-truth. As always, the media rule seems to be this: a truce which is holding is one where all the violence comes from the Israeli side. A truce is violated when Palestinians are violent.

If one were unfamiliar with NYT editorials, it would be remarkable to see alleged liberals arguing for peace by repeating the kind of one-sided nonsense one normally would associate with warmongers, Presidential candidates, and government spokesmen. Of course, anyone familiar with NYT editorial won't find it remarkable at all. But this still leaves the question: why is the NYT always ATL?

I don't know what goes on in their heads, but they seem to have a policy of always portraying "the West" in general as having good intentions, though of course there may be individual leaders who fall short of our usual high standards of decency. (They love that term "the West", though it does not appear in this particular piece.) Arguing to win would require them to acknowledge "the West" not only isn't always in the right, but quite often is in the wrong. If they have to chose between that and losing the argument, they'll chose the latter every time. So this is part of the usual pattern. Maybe it is all quite consciously done, or maybe it is unconscious bias or some mixture of the two.

In this case one can be more specific about the pattern. The "peace process" with Israel/Palestine has a way of turning into another war, and so what I think the NYT is doing is establishing the "correct" narrative if Israel invades Gaza again. Just as they did with the 2000 intifada, they are going to give us a storyline where the Israelis have done everything they could for peace and yet those crazy Arabs just can't get their act together. It's important to omit facts as needed, to get the picture firmly planted in everyone's head, before the ratio of dead Palestinians to dead Israelis goes even higher. Similarly, unless I've missed it, the NYT never refers to the evidence that the fighting between Hamas and Fatah was instigated by the US, even though it's easily available in Vanity Fair and other places. Rather, the NYT storyline is that Hamas was solely responsible, with no complicating factors.

So maybe this is wrong, and the correct term for what the NYT is actually up to here isn't ATL. What they're doing is writing morality plays where the good guys (the West) try to bring peace, but are hobbled both by the weakness of their non-Western allies and the perfidy of their non-Western enemies. ATL is just a byproduct of the main process of generating the morality play via deception, like CO2 is a byproduct of the main process of generating energy via burning gas.

—Donald Johnson

Posted at July 2, 2008 04:36 PM

WE are already PAYING all three sides to kill each other. To get the quality propaganda to go along with it costs extra. (Halliburton needs the cash more than WE do)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 2, 2008 06:06 PM

Truth in advertising--if you find any cleverly worded phrases in this piece they are probably Jonathan's. In particular, "Arguing to lose" was his--I was struggling to think of something clever and accurate which described how the NYT makes the case for diplomatic solutions in ways that actually support the views of people who think that "The West" is good and our enemies can't be trusted to adhere to agreements anyway. "Arguing to lose" sums it up nicely and that comes from Jon.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at July 2, 2008 07:07 PM

'National security often requires negotiating with dangerous enemies.'

Surely national security should, if you have dangerous enemies, be aimed primarily at turning those enemies into friends, or at the very least neutralising the threat they pose. And just as surely, the only way to do either of those things is to talk to said enemies. If you don't talk to them, how can you even be sure they're enemies?

'Few countries can afford the luxury of limiting their diplomacy to friendly countries and peace-loving parties.'

Actually no country can, at least for very long. No country can be an island, so to speak.

'Like many conquerors, they would love it if the conquered's response were peaceful.'

Or grateful, even. I often find myself amazed by the impatient, affronted Zionist attitude toward Palestinians.. you know - 'how dare you be upset that we've stolen your land!' Almost as if they're angry that someone else is allowed to be angry, affronted, oppressed, which they see as their inalienable right, and no-one else's.

'So maybe this is wrong, and the correct term for what the NYT is actually up to here isn't ATL'.

I call it 'propaganda'.

Posted by: Glenn Condell at July 2, 2008 10:35 PM

Yes, omission of inconvient facts and presupposition of the Party Line again confirms the Herman-Chomsky propaganda model:,7340,L-3560972,00.html

UN records 7 incidents of IDF soldiers attempting to drive Palestinian farmers away from border fence by shooting at them. Only one offence marked against Palestinians for firing on Sderot; report does not include most recent rocket fire

Posted by: Aditya at July 3, 2008 12:48 AM

Ole Cheap Ass Propaganda, ain't even the good kind with the almost believeable lies.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 3, 2008 04:13 AM

Right turn here on the Roadmap there, drive thru downtown Jerusalem or take the bypass around. ALL THE WHILE its just a game so's more people get killed. And WE ARE playing both sides against the middle, like ALWAYS. PAYING AND PLAYING to pack a bunch of people in a sardine can 'till it explodes. Livin' the lie, all along, one half of the country (USA) wouldn't give a tinker's damn if the Palestinians died the other half (USA) wouldn't cry if those Zionist Jews died, but in reality 99% of this country (USA) wants somebody dead. (usually ANY ONE will do) NOW perhaps YOU can see why the BETTER quality propaganda, with the niftier lies costs a little more, and an over-priced ten cent rag like the NYT is just not going to GIVE that away to the TAXPAYER.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 3, 2008 04:33 AM

I don't think "to steal Palestinian land" is an adequate description of what has been going on there. Typically people call it "ethnic cleansing", some call it "genocide"; the "land-stealing" euphemism doesn't seem too far from what the NYT is doing.

Posted by: abb1 at July 3, 2008 04:01 PM

" "Genocide" seems wrong to me--I don't know if it could be made to fit, using the original definition, but we're not talking about tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths, which is what I think most people think of when that word is used.

"Ethnic cleansing"--well, that's uncontroversial for the events of 1948 (or ought to be uncontroversial). Sometimes people talk about slow motion ethnic cleansing now. But the inflammatory word that I would be comfortable using for the events now would be "apartheid".

Posted by: Donald Johnson at July 3, 2008 06:27 PM

Apartheid and occupation sum it up. The former is on the money, up to and including degrees of purity -- the more orthodox the Jew the better the treatment, I understand many Isralies complain. Shades of black, colored, and white (pun intended). Occupation covers the land-stealing bit. Genocide, where attempted, is a side-effect of the other two.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at July 3, 2008 08:36 PM

According to wikipedia:

While precise definition varies among genocide scholars, a legal definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article 2, of this convention defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."[1]

I don't insist on classifying it as 'genocide', but "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" seems right on the money, and not in 1948 but right now, today.

All I'm saying is that 'land-stealing' sounds like something completely different, much less sinister than what's really going on there. As if I moved the fence between our properties 2 feet into your yard in the middle of the night.

Posted by: abb1 at July 4, 2008 09:59 AM

I've always heard lefties say (accurately) that Europeans came over and stole the land from the Indians, so the phrase doesn't have the mild connotation for me that it has for you.

As for genocide, I'm aware that the official definition is rather broad. I like the casual definition better for that reason--the casual definition is that it involves mass slaughter of a large fraction of group X. If it means killing members of a group because they are members of the group, then both sides in the I/P conflict are guilty of genocide. The Israelis kill more, but I suspect that some of the Palestinian factions would kill many more than they do if they had the ability to do so.

The Israelis also make the lives of Palestinians miserable in many other ways, but that's all under the heading of "occupation" and if one wants a harsher-sounding term, once again, "apartheid" probably does the job.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at July 4, 2008 04:45 PM

I read an interview with some high-up Hamas functionary in Gaza at the time when the settlements were being dismantled. He was asked if he would allow settlers to stay in Gaza under Hamas jurisdiction. He said there was no problems whatsoever for them to stay, but they would have to buy land and comply with the laws like everybody else.

So, I don't see how any of the the major entities on other side of the conflict can be blamed for anything even remotely resembling genocide; they are fighting Zionism. Zionists are not a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, it's an ideology and political movement.

Posted by: abb1 at July 5, 2008 03:49 AM

I've read similar things. But they also blow up civilians, including children, simply because of who they are.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at July 5, 2008 09:20 AM