Most people will be familiar with Joseph Goebbels’ famous line: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Yet what they may not know is how the late Nazi Minister of Propaganda advised to deliver the message: “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”
Propaganda is as old as war itself and the media play an essential role in the battle for ‘hearts and minds.’ One way to prepare the public for a justifiable future war is to create an image of evil through a constant flow of negative information. Ever since the days of bows and arrows, enemy troops have been accused of killing women and children, a strategy that still proved effective in the run-up to the 1990 Gulf War.
Then, nearly all American media ran the story that Iraqi troops had stolen incubators from a Kuwaiti hospital, while leaving the babies for dead. Only after the war ended did it become clear that the story was false and had been scripted by Hill and Knowlton, a public relations firm hired by the Kuwaiti government to help prepare America for a “just” war.
Seeing this and other examples, not in the least the US invasion of Iraq, the media should be aware of the fact that the powers-that-be have an interest in playing them “like a keyboard.” Yet in their eternal race for scoops and ratings, the media are often all too willing to swallow the sensational.
Take for example the flurry of articles regarding Hezbollah that have appeared over the past year. If we are to believe every single report, Lebanon’s Party of God smuggled missiles to Gaza, plotted to bomb Egypt, established terror cells in Venezuela and is part of the Columbian cocaine mafia.
Among more recent reports was a May 24 article in Germany’s Der Spiegel which claimed — based on anonymous investigative sources — that Hezbollah was involved in the killing of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The news was trumpeted by media opposed to Hezbollah, even though the international criminal court denied having talked to any journalists and the same accusation had already been published by Le Figaro in 2006.
The article’s author, Erich Follath, who in 1983 wrote a book on the Mossad, even had Hezbollah’s fiercest opponents laughing when he claimed that the motive for the murder was the fact that “the billionaire [Hariri] began to outstrip the revolutionary leader [Nasrallah] in terms of popularity.”
In March, the media reported that Israeli jets and drones had, in January, bombed a convoy in Sudan which was allegedly smuggling rockets and missiles into Gaza. Anonymous Israeli security sources accused Iran and Hezbollah of being the masterminds. Israel did bomb Sudan, not once but three times, yet so far no proof has been given that Hezbollah or Iran were indeed involved.
This news had hardly gone quiet when the Egyptian government on April 10 announced it had arrested 49 members of a “Hezbollah cell,” including three Lebanese nationals, that planned to attack the Suez Canal, the Gaza border and tourist resorts in the Sinai. One Egyptian newspaper reported that two Palestinians amid the 49 detainees had confessed to being members of Hezbollah. Yet what are these confessions worth, seeing Egypt’s proud reputation in the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’?
If we are to believe the media, Hezbollah is not just a regional threat. The Los Angeles Times on August 27, 2008, quoted anonymous American defense sources who claimed that Hezbollah was one among many “anti-western organizations” that had moved “people and things” into Venezuela. According to the source, the development was closely linked to the partnership between Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Iran.
The same newspaper was at it again on October 22, 2008 when it reported that Columbian authorities had arrested members of a drug cartel, including the Lebanese “kingpin” and “world class money launderer” Chekry Harb. He allegedly had close links to Hezbollah, yet called himself “Taliban.”
The Hezbollah-into-cocaine story returned in April 2009, when an English language website in Holland reported that Dutch authorities had arrested 17 suspects from a cocaine gang. The report rather vaguely claimed that the gang maintained contacts with “other criminal networks, which in the Middle East support Hezbollah financially.” It also said that the suspects, mainly South Americans, invested their profits in property around the world. No further details regarding Hezbollah or properties being bought were given.
Hezbollah is certainly a force to reckon with, but it is hard to believe that Lebanon’s Party of God is a global threat. Most stories seem to have been spoon-fed by governments and security agencies interested in blacklisting Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the media forgot to ask questions — happily played as a keyboard — and instead complained that people do not read newspapers anymore.
Peter speetjens is a Beirut-based journalist