Tuesday, April 19, 2005


(Hat TipCallimachus)
Freedom Vanishes

Pulse of Freedom is a new blog put out by pro-democracy protesters camped out in Beirut. Michael J. Totten at Spirit of America/Democracy in Lebanon blog has the story behind this effort. A few days ago, the Totten noted that the Lebanon drive for freedom seemed to have fallen off the news cycle.

The Cedar Revolutionaries briefly lost their focus after the million-person demonstration in Martyr's Square. They weren't sure what to do next, exactly, aside from setting up a tent-city next to Rafik Hariri's grave site. Some dissidents felt like they had already won - when they clearly had not. Others were worried they would never be able to bring yet another million people down to the square for demonstrations.
This is half the story the other half is how quickly the media channels here eagerly dumped the story of a will to democracy in an Arab country, perhaps because it validates modern neo-con beliefs which are an anathema to prevailing editorial opinions.

How bad is it? I did a search of the Associated Press photo wire tonight for "Lebanon." Got 184 hits, going back to March 30.

Here's how they broke down -

  • Syrian soldiers: 53 pictures, by far the largest single group of pictures. They all show the Syrians pulling back. In some cases, they wave to Lebanese civilians (not shown), or smile and flash the "V" sign. The impression is of the Syrians all cheerfully obeying U.N. resolution 1559 and going home, waved off by a loving Lebanese populace.

A typical caption from this group -

A girl sits in front of the mural featuring Lebanese and
Syrian flags, reading 'Bashar al-Assad, with you forever' near Anjar, eastern
Lebanon, Wednesday, April 6, 2005.

  • Politicians: 26 pictures, including three of former Prime Minister-designate Karami (pro-Syrian), 10 of current PM-designate Mikati, and 12 of U.N. special representative Roed-Larsen. Only two pictures show "opposition legislators."
  • Observances of the 30th anniversary of the start of the Lebanese civil war: 22 pictures. This was on April 13. Crowd shots, some speeches and events. Mostly politically neutral.
  • Scenes of the bomb explosion at Broummana shopping center: 19 pictures, mostly straight-up news photos of destruction and aid to the injured.
  • Lebanese mourn the death of Pope John Paul II: 5 pictures.
  • Various anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian protests: 5 pictures.
  • Miscellaneous: 15 pictures. Artsy shots of architecture or domestic scenes, without political content, for those editors who want to go with the more featury look.
  • Anti-U.S. protests: 37 pictures. The events are dated March 30, April 1 and April 5. Most seem to have been photographed right outside the U.S. embassy in Beirut. Some mention Hizbullah as the organizer, many do not.

This caption, for instance:

  • Anti-U.S. Lebanese protestors set fire to a U.S. flag during a demonstration near the U.S. Embassy in Aukar northeast of Beirut, Lebanon, on Friday, April 1, 2005. About 2,000 students marched on the U.S. Embassy attacking American interference in Lebanon Friday, chanting "Death to America" and calling on Washington to stay out of Lebanese affairs.

  • Or this one:

  • A Lebanese anti-U.S. protester beats with his shoe a cartoon image of U.S President George W. Bush during a demonstration near the U.S. Embassy in Aukar northeast of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday April 1, 2005. About 2,000 students marched on the U.S. Embassy attacking American interference in Lebanon Friday, chanting "Death to America" and calling on Washington to stay out of Lebanese affairs.

Or this one:

Lebanese anti-U.S. protesters carry a mock coffin covered by an American flag with an arabic word writtin on it reading "The Democracy" during a demonstration near the U.S. Embassy in Aukar northeast of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday April 1, 2005. About 2,000 students marched on the U.S. Embassy attacking what they called American interference in Lebanon, chanting "Death to America" and calling on Washington to stay out of Lebanese affairs.

Now, what about the pro-democracy, pro-free-election voices among the Lebanese people? How many photos did AP devote to them, to balance the 37 pictures of pro-Syrian, anti-American demonstrators?

One. One picture?

It was an odd shot of a boy with a scared look on his face, in front of a mock ballot box that some protesters somewhere were using to demonstrate their passion for free and fair elections - online here.

.... Based on the AP's coverage, I would have no idea there were any pro-democracy events going on anywhere in Lebanon today.

There are more pictures on the AP news wire of Cookie Monster (three) than of pro-democracy Lebanese.

Three other pictures in this set seemed to me to have an obvious pro-democracy aspect in their content. But they were presented with that content drained out of them. Two bore this caption:

Lebanese gather in downtown Beirut, Lebanon Saturday, April 9, 2005. Several thousand people gathered in the area as part of attempts to restore life to the once-vibrant area in the wake of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination.

The other was this picture, which bore this caption -

Lebanese girls Linda Arnaut, left, and Suzan Bou Shamha put hand prints onto a white cloth in downtown Beirut, Saturday, April 16, 2005, during a gathering near the grave of slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Not long ago, Totten recounted a conversation with one of the (invisible to AP) pro-democracy people in Beirut. She told him:

"If we didn't think we had American support we would never have done this. They would kill us. We need you. It is just a fact."

I read that, and then I look through the AP's selection of Lebanon coverage, and I shudder for that woman.


The single biggest media disaster in the world right now is the Western reporting from Lebanon.....

It is impossible for me to describe how infuriating it is for me to read that post while hanging out with, and writing about, the democratic opposition here in Beirut.

All the more reason to help the opposition's new Web site Pulse of Freedom get as much attention as possible. If the media won't report what they have to say, they are just going to have to say it themselves.


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