....LMB: "Linguistic Drift and the War of Vocabulary"....

May 04, 2002

Recent Israel-Palestine events have reminded me about words, about the maintenance and drift of meaning. Words can shape thought, thought shapes action, and action shapes the world. So it is inevitable that people will fight to control words.

The first incident was just a reminder to me. You may have heard about it, Texas Congressman Dick Armey said that he believes that "the Palestinians should leave" Palestine.

First of all, as this entry is about words, I have to snicker at the Congressman's name. "Dick Armey." Heh. Sorry.

Okay, Rep. Armey said in the interview linked to above that, basically, he thought that the Israelis should keep all the land they currently control (he didn't specify if that meant the areas that Israel "officially" controls, or all of the Occupied Territories which it controls in reality) and that they shouldn't give any of it up for peace. He then commented that maybe a Palestinian state could be carved out of some other Arab nation(s) to give to the Palestinians.

First, a the minor point: this is what Britain did for the Jews, carved out a piece of land to give to them, and it resulted in more tha 50 years of war and conflict. Repeating the process with the Palestinians is perhaps not a good idea.

But here's the larger point: forcing a racial group to migrate out of your country is ethnic cleansing! A violation of the Geneva Convention! A war crime!

That's where my introduction about words and language fits in. Most people, well, American people anyway, have come to think that the term "ethnic cleansing" means "genocide." We think of the Holocaust, or race-based slaughter, or rape camps. But forced migration can be just as effective at "cleansing" your region of a particular ethnicity. That forced migration is a method of ethnic cleansing can either heighten your digust for Armey's plan, or decrease your horror of ethnic cleansing if it includes actions as "tame" as making people move away from their homes.

In Armey's defense (did I really just say that?), he issued a retraction/apology/excuse on his website. He claims that he meant that Israel shouldn't give up any territory to the Palestinians until the terrorist attacks on Israel end. Go ahead and read the interview transcript and see if you get that message.

On to item #2, the Jenin "massacre." War of words again. During the Israeli seige on Jenin, the media was barred from entry, but eyewitnesses claimed that a "massacre" was going on, that the Israeli army was knee-deep in slaughter. Now that Jenin is kind of open to the public again, everyone is asking the question "was there really a massacre in Jenin?" Israelis say there was no massacre. Palestinians insist there was. Journalists count bodies and weigh evidence. Human rights organizations try to piece together history. But all in the name of seeing if that one word applies.

How many people do you have to kill before it's a "massacre"? The number killed in Jenin seems to jump around every day. Tuesday it's 200, the next week it's 40, the next day it's 50. Hell, the Boston Massacre which helped launch the American Revolution only resulted in 5 deaths. But I suppose the great strides made in our death technology, has had an inflationary effect on our lexicons of the macabre. What makes a massacre these days?

Who cares? It seems clear that Israeli soldiers killed dozens of innocent Palestinians and destroyed the homes of hundreds. I'm just fine with journalists telling me what happened and not bothering to give the events a proper "title."

But of course, this isn't about journalism or titles, it's a political battle. If the world thinks that Israel massacred Palestinians, there might be an increase of pressure against the Israeli government. If the world thinks that Palestinians made false claims about a massacre, the world might side more with Israel.

Again, who cares? Israel has clearly killed hundreds in its recent incursion, increased Palestinian hatred of Israelis, decreased its own security, destroyed the Palestinian infrastructure, and has proven that it is not interested in a fair, peaceful settlement. Both Sharon and much of the Israeli populace actually favor Dick Armey's plan.

"Massacre." "Incursion." "Terror." A rose by any other name would smell as much of corpse rot and bone dust.

Posted by Jake at 12:42 AM
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Media News

December 01, 2004

Media Mambo

The Great Indecency Hoax- last week, we wrote about how the "massive outcry" to the FCC about a racy Fox TV segment amounted to letters from 20 people. This week, we look at the newest media scandal, the infamous "naked back" commercial. On Monday Night Football, last week, ABC aired an ad for it's popular "Desperate Housewives" TV show, in which one of the actresses from the show attempted to seduce a football player by removing the towel she was wearing to bare her body to him. All the audience saw, however, was her back. No tits, no ass, no crotch, just her back.

No one complained.

The next Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh told his shocked viewers how the woman had appeard in the commercial "buck naked".

Then, the FCC received 50,000 complaints. How many of them actually saw this commercial is anyone's guess.

The article also shows the amazing statistics that although the Right is pretending that the "22% of Americans voted based on 'moral values'" statistic shows the return of the Moral Majority, this is actually a huge drop from the 35% who said that in the 2000 election or the 40% who said that in 1996 (when alleged pervert Bill Clinton was re-elected). This fact is so important I'm going to mention it over in the main news section too.

Brian Williams may surprise America- Tom Brokaw's replacement anchor, Brian Williams, dismissed the impact of blogs by saying that bloggers are "on an equal footing with someone in a bathroom with a modem." Which is really funny, coming out of the mouth of a dude who's idea of journalism is to read words out loud off a teleprompter. Seriously, if parrots were literate, Brian Williams would be reporting live from the line outside the soup kitchen.

In related news, Tom Brokaw has quit NBC Nightly News, and it appears that unlike his predecessor, the new guy can speak without slurring words like a drunk.

PR Meets Psy-Ops in War on Terror- in February of 2002, Donald Rumsfeld announced the creation of the Office of Strategic Influence, a new department that would fight the war on terror through misinformation, especially by lying to journalists. Journalists were so up in arms about this that the Pentagon agreed to scrap the program.

Don't you think that an agency designed to lie to the public might lie about being shut down, too?

This article gives some examples about the US military lying to the press for propaganda and disinformation purposes.

Tavis Smiley leaving NPR in December- African-American talk show host Tavis Smiley is opting to not renew his daily talk show on National Public Radio. He criticized his former employers for failing to: "meaningfully reach out to a broad spectrum of Americans who would benefit from public radio but simply donít know it exists or what it offers ... In the most multicultural, multi-ethnic and multiracial America ever, I believe that NPR can and must do better in the future." He's 100% correct. NPR is white. Polar bear eating a marshmallow at the mayonaise factory white. And the reason it's so white is that it is trying to maintain an affluent listener base (premoniantly older white folks) who will donate money to their stations. This is a great paradox of American public broadcasting, that they have a mandate to express neglected viewpoints and serve marginalized communities, but those folks can't donate money in the amounts that the stations would like to see.

U.S. Muslim Cable TV Channel Aims to Build Bridges- it sounds more positive than it is "Bridges TV" seems to simultaneously be a cable channel pursuing an affluent American Muslim demographic, and a way of building understanding and tolerance among American non-Muslims who might happen to watch the channel's programming. I was hoping it would be aimed more at Muslim's worldwide, but it ain't. Still, I'd be interested in seeing how their news programs cover the issues.

Every Damned Weblog Post Ever- it's funny cuz it's true.

Wikipedia Creators Move Into News- Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia, created collectively by thousands of contributors. It's one of those non-profit, decentralized, collective, public projects that show how good the internet can be. Now, the Wikipedia founders are working on a similar project to create a collaborative news portal, with original content. Honestly, it's quite similar to IndyMedia sites (which reminds me, happy 5th birthday, IndyMedia!). I'll admit, I'm a bit skeptical about the Wikinews project, though. IndyMedia sites work because they're local, focused on certain lefty issues, and they're run by activists invested in their beliefs. I'm not sure what would drive Wikinews or how it would hang together.

CBS, NBC ban church ad inviting gays- the United Church of Christ created a TV ad which touts the church's inclusion, even implying that they accept homosexuals into their congregation. Both CBS and NBC are refusing to air the ad. This is not too surprising, as many Americans are uncomfortable about homosexuality, and because TV networks are utter cowards. But CBS' explanation for the ban was odd:

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples...and the fact that the executive branch has recently proposed a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast."

Whoa, what? First of all, the ad does not mention marriage at all. Second, since when do positions opposite of the Executive Branch constitute "unacceptable"? This doesn't sound like "we're not airing this because it's controversial", this sounds like "we're afraid of what the President might say."

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