The MidEast PR machine: from Assad to the Palestinians
Is it any wonder that Assad believed the Western media could be manipulated to serve the regime? Not if one considers that the same methodology has been applied by Israel’s enemies for years
Israelis are often, and sometimes with justification, criticized for their inability to get their message across in the media and to the world at large.
But what about Israel’s neighbours in the Middle East?
The leaking of hundreds of emails from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s office by the "Anonymous" hacking group revealed, amongst other items, a document preparing Assad for his December 2011 interview with ABC's Barbara Walters.
This crib sheet of talking points shows that the Syrian regime fully understands how the Western media can be manipulated by pressing all the right buttons. Of course, no amount of PR is likely to mitigate the effect of events on the ground being brought to us through YouTube videos recorded by civilians in Homs or by Western journalists operating beyond the reach of their Syrian government minders.
Nonetheless, someone in the Syrian government has picked up some useful tips for crisis communication and public relations, including how to manipulate the American and, by implication, the broader Western psyche:
"It is hugely important and worth mentioning that “mistakes” have been done in the beginning of the crises because we did not have a well-organized “police force”. American Psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are “mistakes” done and now we are “?xing it”. It’s worth mentioning also what is happening now in Wall Street and the way the demonstrations are been suppressed by police men, police dogs and beatings."
The talking points even recognize the importance of social media such as YouTube and Facebook for an American audience as well as the comments sections below the articles:
"The comments that follow any article in the American Media are a very important tool to use in the interview. The Americans now believe that their government has failed two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are asking their government to stop interfering in other countries businesses and sovereignty and to start taking care of the American internal issues."
Is it any surprise that Assad believed that the Western media could be effectively manipulated to serve the regime? Not if one considers that the same methodology has been applied by Israel’s enemies for years.
Yasser Arafat perfected the technique of telling a Western audience one thing in English while saying the precise opposite to the Palestinian people. So a Western media unprepared to see Palestinians as anything other than victims of Israeli “occupation” were only too happy to promote a narrative of peace-loving Palestinians driven to desperate measures to force out Israelis from the Palestinian homeland.
This continues to the present day as Palestinians feed Western journalists with the sound bites they want to hear. Palestinian terrorists become “activists” or “militants”; Israeli self-defence is portrayed as aggression, and Palestinian Qassams become “homemade rockets”. The list goes on. And all as incitement in mosques and on television screens goes unreported.
Not everyone in the Middle East, however, is a PR guru. If you thought Israel has trouble selling itself to a Western audience, consider Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. While he won’t be missed when he steps down from the presidency, there are sure to be many involved in Israeli advocacy who will quietly shed a tear.
After all, who can keep a straight face when Ahmadinejad claims, before Columbia University students, that there are no gays in Iran? Looks like someone should have borrowed Assad’s media advisor. And when it comes to Israel, unlike the Palestinians, Ahmadinejad makes it perfectly clear where he stands – advocating for the destruction of the “Zionist regime”, much like the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei who only days ago announced that Iran would support any nation or group that attacks the “cancerous tumor” of Israel.
However, before writing off Iran as a rank amateur in the field of propagandist sophistry, it is worth noting that the regime has found a way of getting its message across in a far more subtle manner. Iranian funded Press TV, recently removed from the UK’s airwaves, tries to sell itself as a credible media outlet, all the while manipulating the viewer to see the world and Israel through the distorted lens of Iranian anti-Western doctrine.
Recent events in the Arab world, in Egypt, Libya and Syria, have rightly led the Western media to actively question the statements coming from the regimes in charge. Why then is there a moral blind spot when it comes to Israel?
Is Israel really equally capable as the Syrian regime of shelling a hospital or indiscriminately bombing civilians? The propagandists say yes, but sober analysis proves beyond doubt that that is false.
Why are official Israeli statements treated in the same way as the wholly untrustworthy statements of its corrupt Arab neighbors? And why do Palestinian spokespeople get a free pass with the media when it comes to making dubious and sometimes outrageous claims against Israel?
Or is it just that Israel’s enemies understand the audience better than we do?
Simon Plosker is the Managing Editor of Honest Reporting
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