So this is pretty awful. David Frum, alongside a blogger named Thomas Wictor, are accusing the press of publishing fake photos that purport to showcase injured or traumatized Palestinians. In particular, Frum points to a photo of two young men in which one of them has blood on his arms. In a second photo appearing elsewhere, however, the same man no longer has blood on his arms. Q.E.D. conspiracy, amirite?
Except there’s a very easy explanation for why the young man has blood on his arms in one photo, and no blood in another:
Photographers had gathered at the building, according to The New York Times’ Sergey Ponomarev. Photos appear to have been captured and used by some of the world’s top news gatherers, including The Associated Press, Reuters and The New York Times.
While their father was admitted, the brothers, drenched in blood, were given a chance to clean themselves up. Ponomarev said, “I saw his brother take him to a nearby room and he must’ve washed him off because afterward there was no blood on his face and his hands were clean. He was sitting on the chair and seemed calmer, and that’s when I took the photo.”
So the two photos look different because—wait for it—they were taken at different points in time. The second photo was taken after one of the brothers had an opportunity to wash his father’s blood off his hands and face, which I’m sure he was anxious to get off his body.
One of the most useful skills for a public intellectual to develop is to exercise a greater degree of care when investigating stories that confirm your biases vs. those that don’t. We are already naturally predisposed to exercise additional scrutiny to stories that don’t support our political beliefs. But when we see stories that seem to confirm our beliefs, we’re more likely to accept them at face value because they feel correct.
That’s why Frum’s claim is shockingly unreflective for someone who pretends to be a public intellectual. Is it really fair to jump to the conclusion that a photo was staged because the two individuals pictured look different in each photo? Particularly when a legitimate explanation is easily arrived at? Of course not.
On another note, Frum is not the only person looking for an excuse to minimize Palestinian suffering or pretend it doesn’t exist. I wrote this morning about an article written by Avi Issacharoff, who wrote that the Israeli government’s siege in Gaza was ”nonexistent,” which is pure fantasy. I personally have a law school friend who used to jokingly refer to Gaza as “beachfront property,” suggesting that life there was not nearly as bad as Palestinian activists claim it was.
It would be one thing if this was propaganda being handed down by a tyrannical government. But it’s not. These are journalists and opinion leaders whose words have a lot of purchase in the public sphere. This is why, as I mentioned this morning, many people choose to focus on the Israeli government over more oppressive regimes in the Middle East. Nobody is pretending that the those regimes don’t oppress people, but a lot of people pretend that Israel doesn’t. And there’s no better way to erase the suffering of a people than to convince the international community that it doesn’t exist.