While I'm on the subject of media coverage of the Israel-Party of God war, here is a very revealing excerpt from CNN's Reliable Sources, July 23rd:
KURTZ: All right. I want to go now to CNN's Nic Robertson, who joins us live from Beirut.
Nic Robertson, we were speaking a moment ago about the way journalists cover Hezbollah and some of these tours that Hezbollah officials have arranged of the bomb damage in the areas of Southern Lebanon. You, I believe, got one of those tours.
Isn't it difficult for you as a journalist to independently verify any claims made by Hezbollah, because you're not able to go into the buildings and see whether or not there is any military activity or any weapons being hidden there?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Howard, there's no doubt about it: Hezbollah has a very, very sophisticated and slick media operations. In fact, beyond that, it has very, very good control over its areas in the south of Beirut. They deny journalists access into those areas. They can turn on and off access to hospitals in those areas. They have a lot of power and influence. You don't get in there without their permission.
And when I went we were given about 10 or 15 minutes, quite literally running through a number of neighborhoods that they directed and they took us to.
What I would say at that time was, it was very clear to me that the Hezbollah press official who took us on that guided tour — and there were Hezbollah security officials around us at the time with walkie-talkie radios — that he felt a great deal of anxiety about the situation. And they were telling him — I just listened to an explosion going off there, coming from the southern suburbs. They were — they were telling him — a second explosion there. They were telling here — rumbling on — they were telling him get out of this area, and he was very, very anxious about it.
But there's no doubt about it. They had control of the situation. They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn't have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath.
So what we did see today in a similar excursion, and Hezbollah is now running a number of these every day, taking journalists into this area. They realize that this is a good way for them to get their message out, taking journalists on a regular basis. This particular press officer came across his press office today, what was left of it in the rubble. He pointed out business cards that he said were from his office that was a Hezbollah press office in that area.
So there's no doubt that the bombs there are hitting Hezbollah facilities. But from what we can see, there appear to be a lot of civilian damage, a lot of civilian properties. But again, as you say, we didn't have enough time to go in, root through those houses, see if perhaps there was somebody there who was, you know, taxi driver there...
KURTZ: So to — so to what extent...
ROBERTSON: ... of access, Howard.
KURTZ: To what extent do you feel like you're being used to put up the pictures that they want — obviously, it's terrible that so many civilians have been killed — without any ability, as you just outlined, to verify, because — to verify Hezbollah's role, because this is a fighting force that is known to blend in among the civilian population and keep some of its weapons there?
ROBERTSON: Absolutely. And I think as we try and do our job, which is go out and see what's happened to the best of our ability, clearly, in that environment, in the southern suburbs of Beirut that Hezbollah controls, the only way we can get into those areas is with a Hezbollah escort. And absolutely, when you hear their claims they have to come with — with a — more than a grain of salt, that you have to put in some journalistic integrity. That you have to point out to the audience and let them know that this was a guided tour by Hezbollah press officials along with security, that it was a very rushed affair.
ROBERTSON: That there wasn't time to go and look through those buildings. The audience has to know the conditions of that tour. But again, if we didn't get all — or we could not get access to those areas without Hezbollah compliance, they control those areas.
ROBERTSON: And I think to bring the audience the full picture of what's happening in Beirut, you have to go into those southern suburbs.
KURTZ: All right.
ROBERTSON: Because that's where the vast majority of bombs were falling.
KURTZ: I understand.
ROBERTSON: Again, they come with a health warning that we cannot vouch for everything that Hezbollah is saying. And I think the audience is sophisticated enough to appreciate that, Howard.
UPDATE: For those who may be curious, below "the fold" is the report Robertson gave after his tour. He makes it clear that Hezbollah organized the tour, and implies that Hezbollah controlled access to the relevant neighborhood, and doesn't mention that he wasn't permitted to walk around on his own, only that he was given "exclusive access" to the neighborhood "with security". I also don't see the "health warning" he mentions above. I wonder to what extent, if any, other correspondents have made any of this clear in their reports.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all for being with us.
Tonight, an exclusive in our top story coverage — for the first time, we're going to take you into Israel's top priority target, the Beirut neighborhoods where Hezbollah is now in control.
Before we go in depth, though, here's where the crisis stands at this hour.
Just into CNN, word of a major change in policy for Americans stuck in Lebanon — CNN has just confirmed that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided that all evacuees will not be asked to sign a promissory note to reimburse the government before they will be evacuated.
Only 350 of an estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon have helicoptered out so far. Two cruise ships are expected to dock tomorrow.
Israeli jets continue hitting Beirut — the latest explosions lighting up the skies just a short time ago. Israeli leaders say they're prepared to fight Hezbollah for weeks, and may even send in ground troops into Lebanon.
Hezbollah is vowing to keep fighting as well. Rockets are still thundering across northern Israel, hitting, among other places, the city of Haifa.
President Bush and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah spoke just a short time ago, both expressing concern about the humanitarian situation in Lebanon.
In our control room, we have correspondents on the front lines, in Beirut, along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
And, on the home front, Deborah Feyerick joins us from Dearborn, Michigan, tonight.
The most dangerous place in the world tonight is probably southern Beirut. That's where our top story coverage begins.
For the first time in the fighting, Hezbollah is allowing a CNN crew into this tightly controlled area, literally the top priority for Israeli attacks.
Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins me from Beirut with his exclusive report — Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, there have been explosions here.
Just a little over an hour ago, two very large, huge, thunderous explosions sounded as if they were bunker-buster-type bombs. There have been attacks all over Lebanon today. We were given exclusive access by Hezbollah, by their media office, with security, into an area of southern Beirut where they were expecting the possibility of Israeli airstrikes at any time.
They wanted to show us that their civilians are being caught up in this conflict. When Israelis say that they are targeting the leadership of Hezbollah, when they say they're targeting the military of Hezbollah. Hezbollah wanted to show us, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, densely populated, that this area is an area where civilians are getting caught up in the conflict, that the bombing has been all over Lebanon today.
ROBERTSON: Where are we going now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we are moving to where Israeli jet fighters bombed what it called Hezbollah headquarters. I am going to show you on the ground that this is — these are buildings inhabited by civilians, innocent civilians.
ROBERTSON: We are moving around very quickly here, I noticed. Are you concerned that there could be strikes at any times?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never know when Israeli jet fighters come and hit any target in this area. So, now we are objected to any fire from Israel.
ROBERTSON: It could come down right here at any moment?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, right here. There's now jet fighters in the sky.
ROBERTSON: There's jets in the sky right now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. So, you never know when they hit this area.
ROBERTSON: And what happened here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the bombs that fell. And look what happened to this building, which is all, like, inhabited by innocent civilians living there, people who are just working, like everybody else, no military bases, nothing, no anti-aircraft fire, just building, people living there.
ROBERTSON: How many people were — were killed and injured in this particular attack here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks God, people evacuated these buildings early. And, luckily, no one was killed in this — in such attacks.
But I want to tell you something. Where is the international community? Where is the Security Council? Where is the United Nations? Where is the whole world? We are under fire.
ROBERTSON: You are really worried about another strike here right now, yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, of course.
ROBERTSON: How dangerous is it in this area at the moment?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is very, very dangerous. It's — we are now the most dangerous place in the most dangerous moment.
ROBERTSON: In civilian housing.
Well, what — what — what was here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just look. Shoot. It is civilians, buildings. Look at this building. Is it a military base? Is it a military base, or just civilians living in this building?
ROBERTSON: Now, that tour we had was a very brief tour.
But, in that time, all the evidence that we saw, everything we saw around us, looked like civilian buildings. We didn't any military hardware lying around. We didn't go into the buildings and look. But all the belongings that you could see pouring and strewn out of the buildings into the rubble all looked like that they were fallen out of regular, normal civilian housing — Paula.
ZAHN: Extraordinary pictures. None of us have seen anything like that before, clearly, Nic.
Now, at the top of your report, you were reminding us that, just about 20 minutes before you went on the air with us here, there were more airstrikes. Can you give us an update on what you think was being targeted then and how far those strikes were away from where you are standing right now?
ROBERTSON: You know, what we saw in southern Beirut were areas of civilian housing that had been targeted, collapsed buildings that have been leveled to the ground. Those big booms that we heard a little earlier sounded like bunker busters. And I say that because there was a sort of a — an initial thump, and, then, after, a huge boom right behind it.
It is not clear exactly where those bombs were striking. We heard the Israeli aircraft overhead a little bit before. It won't be until daylight, I think, that we can get a — a better analysis of what has been hit. But, again, the Israelis say they're targeting the military infrastructure of Hezbollah. Hezbollah doesn't have barracks. It doesn't have places where it — it houses its — its armed wing. It makes it very, very difficult for anyone wanting to target that military infrastructure — Paula.
ZAHN: So, how much did you trust the man who was taking you on the tour, if, in fact, Hezbollah blends in so seamlessly into this civilian infrastructure there?
ROBERTSON: The area we were in was absolutely deserted.
The — the houses that we could see that were broken apart and the — and the belongings strewn out of the side of the buildings into the road, all were civilian possessions. I — I have been in bombed- out areas where there has been military equipment before.
It gets lying — it's laid around in the road, in the rubble. Nobody had been tidying up this area. I was also very struck by the fact that the people we were with, despite the fact that they said morale was very high, that they would fight to the end, that they weren't afraid of dying, were very concerned about being in that precise area, very, very concerned.
The young man we were with seemed very agitated. There were other people around who were clearly in touch with a situ — with a bigger situation, who were telling him: You know, get out of this area. Get out now very quickly.
So, I — I believe that what we saw there was civilian housing. And, again, we did not see any sort of military infrastructure whatsoever in that brief time — Paula.
ZAHN: Nic Robertson, thanks so much for the update.
UPDATE: Kudos to Richard Engel of MSNBC, for actually doing some investigative reporting. Strata-sphere has some more photos from Qana that appear staged, and a generally reasonable perspective on the matter.
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