Forensic journalism – a new tool in the battle for truth?

fo·ren·sic
fəˈrenzik,fəˈrensik/
adjective
  1. 1.
    of, relating to, or denoting the application of scientific methods and techniques to the investigation of crime.
    “forensic evidence”
noun
  1. 2.
    scientific tests or techniques used in connection with the detection of crime.

We’ve all heard of forensic medicine.  Patricia Cornwell’s crime series about the forensic pathologist and Medical Examiner from Richmond, Virginia is one of my favorite chill-out books. She knows how to weave a tale applying medical knowledge to the investigation of a crime, particularly in establishing the cause of some gruesome and mysterious death.

Of course, forensic medicine is not just the stuff of fiction, but a recognized science accepted in many courtrooms as evidence to establish or disprove a crime.

I’ve learned about forensic architecture in recent years, after viewing a video of the digital re-creation of Israel’s bombardment of Rafah in 2014 — known as Black Friday because of its ferocity and lethal consequences in the very dense urban community in the southern Gaza Strip.

Now that we’ve entered a new era of killing (forget your outdated notions of the infantry in WWII) with drones, and hi-tech “smart” bombs, and the theatre of combat has shifted to neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and mosques, I suspect the need for forensic architecture is going to grow rapidly.

Forensic Architecture is a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London.  It includes a team of architects, scholars, filmmakers, designers, lawyers and scientists to undertake research that gathers and presents spatial analysis in legal and political forums.

We provide evidence for international prosecution teams, political organisations, NGOs, and the United Nations in various processes worldwide.  Additionally, the agency undertakes historical and theoretical examinations of the history and present status of forensic practices in articulating notions of public truth.

Well, I have an idea.

Maybe we need forensic journalism to use scientific methods to analyze the media (in all venues – print, video, TV, radio, including social media) leading up to military operations.

Forensic journalists would catalogue how the major actors and events leading up to the military assault were portrayed in the media (or more accurately how the media was used and manipulated) to create the conditions necessary to justify the initiation of military operations. Leaders can’t go to war without convincing their people of the righteousness of their decision to put their young men and women in harms’ way. The media is their unwitting accomplices. And the digital tracks remain for all to see and analyze months and years afterwards. The evidence doesn’t disintegrate like it probably does in forensic medicine/pathology.

Think of President George W. Bush and the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

Now think of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the weeks leading up to Operation Protective Edge in 2014 when Israel slaughtered (yes, “slaughter” is the correct term when the vast majority of the victims are unarmed civilians taking shelter in hospitals, schools, homes and UN facilities) — 2,256 Palestinians in 51 days in Gaza.

Forensic journalists would probably begin their examination with the abduction of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Netanyahu immediately blamed Hamas without providing any evidence but the media didn’t mind. Then he launched an extensive search and crackdown in the West Bank, ostensibly looking for the three teens. Remember the #BringBackOurBoys campaign on social media? I think I recall that the mothers of the three teenagers even went to the United Nations looking for help in finding their sons.

bringbackourboys2

There would be alot of evidence for the forensic journalists to sift through because the local and international media covered these events daily for weeks.  Few in the West know about Israel’s gag law that prevents journalists from disclosing information that the government tells them they can’t.

Sadly, Netanyahu and his military chiefs knew from the first day that these boys were very likely dead because one teen had managed to dial for help on his cellphone when the gunshots rang out. But the media played along with Netanyahu’s pretext, whipping up public furor against Hamas and in favor of launching a military operation in Gaza.

Weeks later, the truth would come out. Even the New York Times (which rarely deviates from Israel’s party line) had to admit that the evidence didn’t support Netanyahu’s assertions. That was OK, Netanyahu must have been thinking, because by that time Operation Protective Edge was well underway and public opinion supported the government use of force.

Journalists on both sides of the Atlantic played into Netanyahu’s carefully crafted messaging, however faulty and distorted it might be.

In hindsight, can forensic journalists now map the digital path that led up to the horrors perpetrated on thousands of innocent men, women and children in Gaza that summer?

More importantly, can a pattern and practice of media manipulation be documented in order to identify future transgressions before they happen?

Shouldn’t the unsubstantiated “news” stories flying around the planet at break-neck speed this past week about the alleged Hamas use of humanitarian donations from World Vision, UNDP and others be a signal that Netanyahu may be laying the groundwork to justify another military operation in Gaza? Nearly every major media outlet is accepting Netanyahu’s assertions without question. At least the Seattle Times included a voice of reason in their version of the story.

“I think the world should be very skeptical about his (el-Halabi’s) arrest and suspect of Israel claims,” said John McKay, a former U.S. attorney for Western Washington who spent two years in the West Bank while serving in a U.S.-sponsored rule-of-law program.   McKay said the Israeli government has  sometimes denied legal rights to detained Palestinians, with charges not always supported by evidence. He  also said there has long been friction between the Israeli government and international aid agencies that seek to act  independently in Gaza.

And what should we make of Netanyahu’s attempt to rebrand himself as the loving father-figure for the Palestinians?  Is this relevant information in a forensic examination?

Until we have a better grasp of how journalists are strategically manipulated by the government in a very deliberate fashion to support the use of military force, we’ll have no chance of calling their bluff when they try to do it to us again … and again … and again.

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3 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Media, People, Uncategorized, Video

3 responses to “Forensic journalism – a new tool in the battle for truth?

  1. Yes, an excellent tool for reconstructing the crime scene. Why not use it for journalism as well? For what Wikileaks does now is what mainstream news use to do everyday.

  2. Reblogged this on nasreenebrahim and commented:
    Well said.

  3. D. Marez-Baca

    Journalism with this specific aim would be revolutionary and sadly now so needed

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