‘Hizbullah Press Pass’

Jesus Christ.

On several right-wing blogs, including the National Review Online, a comment I made about Hizbullah’s security measures and their “hassling” of journalists has been taken to mean that we’re all Hizbullah stooges here … or something. This is not true.

What I wrote was this: “To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.”

Let’s set aside that the Lebanese Internal Security also has photocopies of our passports. The reason for the hassling and the threat was that a reporter had filmed or described either a launching site or Hizbullah positions. (I’m not sure which.) To the best of my knowledge, that’s been the extent of the hassling. I’m going to get in trouble for this, but I think it’s a reasonable restriction. This is the exact same restrictions placed on journalists by the Israeli army and by the Americans in Iraq. I don’t think threatening journalists is cool at all, and it certainly doesn’t endear me to them, but that has been the extent of Hizbullah’s interference in our coverage.

Why do I think it’s a reasonable restriction? Because I believe in staying neutral as a journalist. It’s not my job to help out the IDF or Hizbullah. Just as I wouldn’t give away Israeli positions, I won’t give away Hizbullah positions. By doing either, I threaten the neutrality that we depend on here for our access and our credibility. Morally, I also think by giving away positions that could get people killed, whether they’re Hizbullah or IDF soldiers, is to aid in the possibly killing of another human being. I’m really not comfortable doing that.

This is mostly academic, however. Most of the time, we never even see Hizbullah. They keep a very low profile and only come out when something happens, such as a bombing. Then the boys with the walkie-talkies appear and wave their arms and yell and generally push the reporters back until the firemen come in and put out the fire or recover bodies. That’s been the extent of my dealings with Hizbullah, and it’s been the case with probably 95 percent of the reporters here, too.

I do not have a Hizbullah “press pass,” as one commenter suggested. They do not hold my passport (they have a photocopy, presumably.) I have neither sought nor received permission from any Hizbullah people to cover anything. No one has prevented me from covering anything. The Palestinians in Rachidiye Refugee Camp did prevent me from taking pictures of their gunmen, although I could still interview them. Everything I’ve reported I’ve either seen with my own eyes, or it has come from trusted non-Hizbullah sources. Like the ambulance story. I spoke with the drivers and I saw the very ambulances. It was not faked, and it was definitely an Israeli missile of some kind that destroyed the ambulances.

What a bunch of morons. This is a fundamental misunderstanding the right wing has always had about journalism, and it’s become more critical and stupid in the past six years, when they weren’t just impeaching a president for a blow job but were sending troops into harm’s way. I think because so many on the right (fewer on the left, though they do exist) see everything in such stark ideological terms that they simply can’t comprehend the idea of a neutral observer in any situation. They could never pull themselves out of the political foxhole and just look around them and observe, without their conservative-commentator blinders, so they assume everybody else operates the exact same way.

A huge amount of actual, non-political (non-election-coverage, I mean) journalism is very, very simple. You go someplace, you look around, and you write down everything you see. You talk to everyone you see, and you write down what they tell you. The more charged the situation, the simpler your role becomes.

Embedding journalists may have complicated some facets of war coverage, but I’m not among those who thought embedding was an automatic way to get sympathy for the troops or that every embedded reporter was an American military stooge. The coverage that did fall into that trap was the fault of the reporters and their editors, not the embedding process itself. Rick Atkinson at the Post was my favorite reporter to read during the first months of the war, because he just told you what he saw, going on around him. What people said to him and to each other, what it looked and smelled and sounded like. That kind of embedded coverage was fascinating, and it didn’t affect my views on the propriety of the conflict itself one bit. It simply told me what it was like for one group of soldiers in the midst of the conflict.

So this bullshit people are giving Allbritton (a man much closer than almost all of them will ever get to actual combat) is not only wrongheaded, it exposes the slender suspensions of their disbelief. If the 101st Fighting Keyboarders are so sure that Hezbollah are monsters and that their evil is obvious to all, then there’s no need to demonize journalists covering Hezbollah’s operations. After all, if you’re secure in the righteousness of your chosen side, no reasoned observation will be able to shake your soul.