Tags Posts tagged with "media"



Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. I’m not a fan of quoting cliches, but in these Machiavellian times, few phrases seem to articulate the situation better. Take the case of the recent media campaign praising Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s recently resigned prime minister.

Now it’s very normal to see posters praising politicians hastily strung up on light posts across Beirut. As you would expect, these are usually produced by a PR company or low budget design shop associated with the politician in question and hung up haphazardly by his supporters, illegally, often under the cover of night.

But what if the group putting up the billboards is not loyal to the politician in question, but actually allied with his enemies?

I began to wonder about this when I saw a Facebook post revealing Hariri billboards in or around neighborhoods loyal to his rivals, Hezbollah and Amal.

Mar Elias, photo: Dina J. Salem

The next day on my way to work, I noticed more of the same posters with the same font and message “#We are with you” plastered across many parts of Beirut.

From downtown:

To the corniche:

Bliss street:

And Hamra:

On nearly every light post, as far as the eye could see:

Yet the last few locations are not known to be strongholds of Hariri, but of other parties such as Amal and the SSNP. This was made abundantly clear during the clashes of 2008, when militants from these parties took over the streets fairly easily and strung their flags across these locations.

In the decade since, SSNP flags have appeared regularly across Hamra street and the party’s annual march turned into a military-style parade a few weeks ago that saw hundreds of party faithful take over the entire of Hamra street:

SSNP march, Hamra street, Beirut, Sept. 2017
SSNP march, Hamra street, Beirut, Sept. 2017

I thought about all this when I looked up at one of the posters, which had been put up so shoddily, it appeared to give Hariri a grimacing look:


I asked some tough-looking middle aged men sitting in plastic chairs below the posters if they knew who had put them up. At first one of them, a burly man in his late 40s, answered by saying “the Lebanese people put these posters up” and “it’s natural for a people to support their prime minister.”  Sure, I replied,  there is public support and then there are printing companies that print hundreds of these and distribute them in trucks. He smiled and vaguely suggested it was “political parties… all the parties,” that worked together to install the posters in their respective neighborhoods.

But I pressed him further: “But only certain parties can do that in Hamra.” Finally he conceded. “Yes we are the ones who put those up. The Hezb, the Harake and the Oumi Souryi.” This is shorthand for Hezbollah, Amal and the SSNP.

That’s a pretty savvy, next-level media strategy isn’t it, I replied. “Well the Saudis are donkeys,” he said nonchalantly.

“And what about this one,” I continued, pointing to the grimacing Hariri. What happened there? The man motioned to one of his cohort sitting in a chair behind us. “That’s Ali’s fault, I told him to fix it, he didn’t know what he was doing.” Then Ali shrugged and shot back: “You didn’t give me enough wood to put it up properly.”

I left the bickering men and tried to corroborate the story elsewhere on the block. But most people said they had not seen who had put the posters up because they found them in the morning when they opened their shops. So apparently the operation had happened overnight. But another group of men admitted laughingly that it was indeed the “Hezb, Harake and Oumi.” And they thought it was pretty hilarious too.

If this is true, could the Saudis have ever imagined this outcome? Were they assuming that Hariri’s resignation would have been taken at face value and that his opponents would have simply said good riddance, creating greater division in the country? Could the Saudis have imagined that Hariri’s opponents would be demanding his return even more vociferously than his allies?

Of course this goes beyond billboards: the President of Lebanon and the leader of Hezbollah-traditional opponents of Hariri–have been demanding his return on a near daily basis.  Even the leader of the Catholic church in Lebanon, Cardinal Bechara Rai has demanded his return, making an unprecedented visit to the Wahhabist state.

This spawned some interesting memes. Here the two are speaking in code:

The highlighted letters in the Hariri caption say: “I’m being detained” to which Rai replies: “We all know.”

Perhaps the Saudis had imagined the Lebanese would react in a simplistic “sectarian fashion” where politicians or crown princes prioritize their own sect above all others. I wonder where they got that idea?

Suffice to say, Hariri’s opponents and even internet trolls have successfully thrown the ball back into Saudi Arabia’s court and the Saudi leadership probably didn’t see this coming. But since the Saudi royal court (or whatever is left of it) has effectively declared that Lebanon is at war with them, we can only hope the disintegration of their media strategy will give them pause before pursuing further actions on the ground.

Wouldn’t it be great if all wars were limited to creative media messaging, and the winner could be decided with likes and retweets instead of missiles and bullets?

Via: Abbas Hamideh


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I spoke to Al Jazeera program The Stream this week during a special about how Beirut and Paris have been coping with the devastating massacres of last week. A day after the Paris attack, I wrote widely shared media analysis for Al Jazeera: “Just as Innocent: Comparing Beirut and Paris” identifying not only the wide disparity in the volume coverage between bombings in the two cities, but also deconstructing some of the media narratives that framed the violence in Beirut differently than Paris, where victims were mourned instead of categorized.

But on the Al Jazeera show we focused more on the situation on the ground in the two cities. I was joined by Lebanese blogger Elie Fares (whose post along with that of other Lebanese bloggers, such as Joey Ayoub,   on the lack of global mourning for Beirut victims went quite viral and helped spark much of the Beirut Vs. Paris media debate) as well as activists/citizens Samia Hathroubi and Avi Herbatschek.

Beyond asking viewers to be sympathetic to Beirut, I also tried to highlight parts of Lebanon that often get forgotten by Beirut itself, and the broader problem of the privileged and somewhat oblivious bubbles many of us live in, both across the Western world and in more affluent parts of the Middle East. I argued that beyond sympathy, we should also ask deeper questions about the militarized states we live in, the weapons industry and those who take us to war.

You can watch the full episode here:



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The headline above was published this morning by The Washington Post at 11:05 AM as seen in the timeline.

An hour later (7PM Beirut/12PM US EST) I tweeted my thoughts:

An hour (and around 60 retweets) after that, at 1PM (US EST), the headline was changed:

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There is no explanation for this change. But the paper’s developers even changed the URL from:


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Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 9.45.10 PM

Basically, this means the old story no longer exists online and clicking on the old URL will redirect you to the new story, and new headline.

So what motivated the change? Did the Post editors realize mass killing of Muslims could and should also alarm non-Muslims? Did they see my tweet or did they come to their own conclusion? We’ll probably never know, but not explaining the change seems a bit problematic to me–the idea that a major news organization can just erase its mistakes, instead of think them over. (The same thing happened when I did a post that changed a New York Times headline about a year ago.)

In any case, I am glad I took a screenshot and I urge you to do the same when you see something online that doesn’t seem right. Otherwise there may be no proof that it ever existed.

RIP to the victims: 19-year-old Razan, 21-year-old Yusor and 23-year-old Deah.


Thanks to Jim Clancy for tweeting the original story, which led me to read it.



Local broadcaster LBC chose to air a split-screen live shot today of the Charlie Hebdo rally in Paris (left) and a a man hugging a coffin in Tripoli (right), where at least 9 were reportedly killed by a suicide attack at a cafe yesterday.

In both cases, the attackers are believed to be linked to armed militant groups fighting in Syria. In both cases, people going about their daily business were targeted. But in Paris, this is being framed as an attack on humanity and free speech. In Lebanon, it is viewed simply as part of the war next door. In Paris, a million people came out in support. In Beirut, the streets have been relatively quiet.

Why are the two attacks treated so differently? Are those sipping their coffee in Lebanon less important than the cartoonists in France? Where was the world media attention? Where was the analysis? Where were the pundits clamoring for freedom of speech? Why did they not also demand freedom of movement for the people of Tripoli, freedom to have coffee and conversation? Are these lesser freedoms?

Or is it only newsworthy when Muslims attack Christians and Jews? Is it not newsworthy when Muslims attack Muslims?

Finally, how is it that a news channel in a tiny country can spare some grief for an attack in a much larger country, yet so little reciprocal coverage was offered to the Lebanese people who faced a proportionally greater attack on the same day?

It’s easy to get the depressed with all the violence in the news these days and the knee-jerk jingoism to accompany it. But it’s nice to know love still finds a way in Beirut, somehow.


In a country where FM radio stations often play pop music as gun battles or massive protests rage in the streets, it was refreshing to hear a call-in show actually addressing current events on Fame FM this morning. Rather than ignore the army’s ongoing battle with militants in Arsal, Fame FM show “Hawa Beirut” opened its lines to listeners.

Many were angry, pledging absolute support for the army and offering to join a battle to “clean” the area of militants, who were often labeled as “dogs” or “heathens” by callers. In between calls, the host Sana Nasr (above) seemed to encourage this sentiment by playing loud triumphant music touting the army or romantic ballads waxing lyrically about the beauty of Lebanon.

Here are summaries of some caller comments:

“These are terrorists, these people don’t know God!” 

“Our army is the strongest in the world, despite the lack of support.”

“Politicians need to start supporting the army now!”

“The army should remember it’s martyrs, their blood should be avenged!”

Most of these callers were young or middle-aged men. The host agrees with much of the praise but also challenges a few by underscoring the need to protect civilians and questioning assumptions that there is a conspiracy against Lebanon, that, according to one caller “people are always doing things to attack Lebanon.”

“I don’t know,” Nasr replied. “I think the Lebanese are doing a lot of things to Lebanon. It’s the Lebanese that are voting (for these leaders).

Another young man chimes in:

“I will tell you who is responsible–the president is commander in chief  and he should take a very strong position supporting the army. But there is no president so next in command is the prime minister. The prime minister is a Sunni. No Sunni leader can hold his sect accountable. That’s why we have a Christian president.”

The host seems incredulous: “Really, is that so? Why don’t we wait to hear what the prime minster says before judging him.” (The prime minister actually came out in strong support of the army during a press conference a few hours later.)

Sounding exhausted, Nasr adds. “Can we end the show now? I don’t want to talk anymore. You call me and talk.”

Then an older woman called, sounding distraught.

“Lebanon will never lose! Lebanon is a country of saints. The Virgin Mary and Jesus will guide the army” 

Another young man caller says his political party, the FPM, wanted to donate blood but the army didn’t accept donations from political offices. He asked for the host for help to convince them. Later another caller challenged this:

“Why does he have to announce his donations? Why does he have to politicize it. He should help without advertising himself or his party. Enough!”

Another caller, an elder man, recites a poem about Cedars as a metaphor for the country’s strength and steadfastness. Nasr enjoys the poem and asks him to repeat it.

Finally a caller challenges some of the previous stereotyping.

“The army is not Sunni or Shia, it is Lebanese. We should not let a few bad guys make us demonize  the whole town (of Arsal.)”

Then a caller living abroad weighs in.

“I spent 30 years of my life outside Lebanon. What I have to say is God bless the army. We need military rule in this country!”

At this point I had reached my destination and had to stop listening.

While some of the comments were disturbing, I think it is still important to give citizens a voice. Indeed it is a worrying time for many in Lebanon and many have resorted to panic and paranoia as a way of coping with the frequency of political violence. Instead of looking at the complications of geopolitics, it’s easier to find a boogie man to deposit indignant self righteousness and self gratification. But the reasons for the rise of such groups are many and even opposing parties may have had a role in encouraging their growth.

While Fame FM was right to give listeners a voice, was it right to set a jingoistic tone with battle cry music in between each call? Of course Fame is not alone. Last night, the news anchor at Al Jadeed donned a military uniform in support of the troops:

Lol. Al Jadeed news anchor dons Army uniform in solidarity with Lebanese military fighting ISIS and Nusra. pic.twitter.com/E8uPGmyOmp
— Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) August 3, 2014

But do such gestures drive our understanding or just our passions? If the media is to provide a public service, it needs to take a step back and analyze events dispassionately to provide audiences with the most clear and useful information. What do the attackers say they want? What are they capable of? What is being done to stop them–what is not being done? What is the track record of state military actions during previous insurrections? Does bombing a town solve a problem? Can violence wipe away political allegiances and deep seated social grievances?

If support for the army is unconditional, where do citizens’ rights stand? How does a border village like Arsal cope with unprecedented refugees inflows, marginalization, constant violence and poverty? Unfortunately, the challenges facing this troubled town generate far less attention than its demonization, which had already begun over a year ago, as I reported at the time.

Should attacks on the military be taken seriously? Of course. But our reactions to those attacks may be equally informative and should also be taken very seriously.


Source: The Washington Post

By now much of the world has heard about at least 16 Palestinians killed when a school was shelled yesterday in Gaza. Far less clear for American readers is who did the shelling. While foreign papers like The Guardian said the shells clearly came from Israeli tanks, US news organizations such as AP and The Washington Post have been very careful not to assign blame to the Israelis, extensively entertaining Israeli theories that Hamas had killed its own people. Of course anything is possible, but let’s look at how the Post investigated this issue.

In its article yesterday, the paper actually gave Israeli officials 12 times more space to express their opinions than Hamas officials. Let’s add them up, line by line.

1.) A senior Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said Thursday night that “there was a possibility” shells from Israeli forces­ struck the U.N.-run school in the Gaza Strip. 
2.) But he also suggested that Hamas mortars or rockets could have been responsible. 
3.) The Israeli army was investigating the incident “to see what exactly caused the deaths and injuries,” he said.
4.) Early Friday, an Israeli military spokesman said as many as 10,000 protesters “were rioting violently.” 
5.) They hurled “burning tires, molotov cocktails, rocks and even fireworks” at soldiers and border police. 
6.)After riot-dispersal measures failed, the spokesman said, the soldiers fired live rounds into the crowds, killing at least one protester. 
7.)The spokesman said the military was looking into the report of a second death.

Finally, half way through the story, we get one quote from a Hamas official to balance all the above, suggesting Israel was guilty not Hamas and that it had attacked the school:

1.) Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhum called the attack a “war crime” and said it showed that even U.N. shelters “are not immune to Israeli aggression.”

But then it is back to Israeli officials:

8.)The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released a statement Thursday evening that helped explain why its forces might have hit the UNRWA shelter.
9.)“From initial inquiries done about the incident, during the intense fighting in the area, militants opened fire at IDF soldiers from the school area,” the statement read. 
10.)“In order to eliminate the threat posed to their lives, they responded with fire toward the origins of the shooting.”
11.) “Hamas prevented civilians from evacuating the area during the window that the IDF gave them,” the Israeli military countered.
12.) If some of the militants’ mortars aimed at Israel fell short, as Israel has suggested, they could have had “devastating” impact on the ground, said Miri Eisen, a retired Israeli military colonel and former military intelligence officer.
So why is this story so unbalanced? Many readers will walk away thinking Israel was the rational actor here, perhaps even the victim. But what if a large number of Israelis had died, would we hear 12 times more quotes from Hamas suggesting the Israelis had killed their own people? Would we hear anything from Hamas at all if Israelis were killed instead of Palestinians?
Speaking at the American University of Beirut a few years ago, a great Washington Post national reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Dana Priest told Lebanese students: “Good journalism gives a voice to the voiceless.” But when it comes to Israel, it seems the Post and other US papers are focused on giving a voice to the powerful–in this case, one of the most powerful militaries in the world.

Lebanese TV channels are often at war with one another and the battles go far beyond ratings. They range from routine verbal insults and propaganda attacks to actual war as some channels were physically shut down during the 2008 clashes between rival forces allied to various stations. 
That’s why it was really surprising to see all 8 Lebanese channels united in a call for solidarity with the people of Gaza, with nearly 600 now killed as a result of Israeli bombing, shelling and neighborhood pulverizing.  The broadcasters aired coordinated video packages and read a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
It was especially surprising to see the arch rivals Future TV and Al Manar TV in a side-by-side anchor reading session: 

Future TV was actually burnt and shut down by supporters of Al Manar during the 2008 Beirut clashes, as I reported for Variety at the time.
Burnt Future TV offices in 2008. Photo: Menassat.

Gunmen with Amal, which is associated with NBN TV, take over Future TV offices in 2008. See full post.
Watch yesterday’s rare joint solidarity broadcast here.

Violence toward Palestinians continues to be downplayed or completely omitted by “The Paper of Record,” i.e. The New York Times. 
Yesterday, I reported how dead Palestinians have no names in the Times’ coverage, in contrast to dead Israelis who are described in personal, humanizing detail including ages, full names and schools they attended. 
But today, the six dead Palestinians and 400 arrested, had no mention at all in a piece by the same author, Elizabeth Kershner. Instead we are vaguely told about “clashes” and “the killings on each side” which dilutes any specific responsibility in the Palestinians deaths or arrests:  
Contrast this to the very specific naming of the killed Israelis once again today:
Why does the Times have so much difficulty naming dead Palestinians? 
Why do Palestinian deaths and arrests fade so quickly from the headlines, while Israelis ones remain, week after week?
We are told in a subsequent paragraph that “Hamas said seven of its militants were killed” but the paper does nothing to verify any details about these deaths, including the age of those killed or what they were doing at the time despite a total of five Times reporters working on this story. By simply identifying them as “militants” their deaths are made inconsequential. 
Even worse is that the Times reporter downplays violent Israeli language, after a police spokesman shockingly calls the brutal murder of a 16 year old an act of “nationalism”
The reporter goes so far as to explain away the very violent language as a technical reference to a previous killing.
Can you imagine if a Palestinian police spokesperson called the killing of an Israeli child a “nationalistic” killing? Can you imagine the headlines and demonization that would generate? One can even imagine talk of sanctions against the Palestinian government. 
I wonder if Kershner would have explained it away. Would she have written that labelling the killing of a Jew “nationalistic” as an innocent reference to previous events?
Finally Kershner further whitewashes the idea that violence toward Palestinians could be widespread in Israeli society. Instead, again she invents a more innocent reference, calling Israeli violence marginal, part of a “nationalist fringe”
But as the writer Ali Abunimah pointed out, the violence toward Palestinians is not marginal in any sense but spoken loudly by members of the ruling party in Parliament who have incited hatred and legitimized killing. These include Knesset member Ayelet Shaked who advocates war against “the entire Palestinian nation” including women and children, whom she references as “snakes.”

Of course anyone who has studied the living conditions of Palestinians will know that violence is pervasive and daily under military rule, from the brutality of soldiers to armed settlers to the speeches produced by the office of the Prime Minister, which trickles down to very popular hate pages in Israeli social media as also pointed out by Abunimah’s work.  

So how does the world’s most famous newspaper pick its editors and reporters? Do they research the context of the countries they report on? Or does it pick the type of people who omit deaths based on ethnicity, fail to see a system of daily violence and injustice, explain away hate speech as marginal– and worse still– accept terms heard with their own ears from police spokespersons like “nationalistic” murder. 


By now the whole world knows the names of three Israelis killed in the West Bank last week. And thanks to yesterday’s New York Times (as seen above), we also know their family names, their ages, what they where doing at the time and even what type of religious school they were attending. But why did the Times fail to report anything personal about six dead Palestinians mentioned in the same article? (see right column). Why do dead Palestinians not have names?

When the three Israelis were first abducted, the story made international headlines for weeks. But when 400 Palestinians were abducted, this was just a detail, barely a one sentence footnote buried in the bottom of an article for background.

Double the number of Israelis killed, over 100 times the number of Israelis kidnapped. How many more  multiples of Palestinians need to die or become abducted to cause the New York Times to print their names, ages or anything humanizing about them?