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FOX News Uses Unsubstantiated Speculation to Exonerate Israel in Deaths of the Shalhoub and Hashem Families

Reported by Marie Therese - August 1, 2006 -

I really, truly do wonder about the people on FOX News. How do they get up every morning and trot off to work knowing that they'll spend most of their time telling lies and distorting reality? I guess either they are "true believers" or the exact opposite - people with no ideals or principles who'd sell their grandmother for a six-figure paycheck and a chance at the limelight.

Yesterday morning's FOX & Friends was just another in a long series of pro-Israel, pro-war spin-fests delivered with twisted lips and sour expressions, snide innuendo, overdone patriotic chest-thumping and some really sad attempts at humor. The toxic trio of Doocy, Hill and Kilmeade outdid themselves trying to convince the FOX viewers that Israel was and is justified in its total annihilation of the economy, culture, politics and people of Lebanon.

At 6:10 AM EDT, Greg Palkot reported in stark terms about the utter devastation of the town of Bint Jbail, comparing it to Dresden.

PALKOT: "...This town is an absolutely incredible place to see, absolutely flattened by more than two weeks of Israeli bombardment from the air, also from artillery. We've been walking around this town. ... I mean we haven't seen really much of a sign of remains of the Hezbollah militia which were using this place as a node of activity, which is why Israel used this as a place to pound and pound and pound again but we are using this 48-hour break in the Israeli bombardment to get a feel for what is here."

Three women and a child walked into the scene, picking their way through the smashed ruins of buildings.

PALKOT: "Incredibly, ... there are people still trapped in the rubble, people still living underneath the rubble of this town. We have seen at least a half a dozen bodies being (tape freeze) ... seen people who have walked three, four hours from this town to the nearest area of civilization. They say that it was an incredible bombardment, night after night and day after day of Israeli activity here and, again, if there was any Hezbollah here, if there is any Hezbollah here, they are safely tucked away underneath some basement, in some shelters, in some bunkers in the activities but the center of this town, absolutely (sic) devastation. We're watching a family come down here. Looks like a mother, and a child and a grandmother, another woman who is coming here. ... They got the word to evacuate this place over the past week or ten days by the Israeli Defense Force but some have been sheltered, have been protected against this place. But, again, as we drove down from our location in Tyre, Lebanon, the destruction got more and more and more and more. What we hear now overhead - some bombardment by artillery ... and we've been hearing the consistent sound of surveillance drones looking, looking at the scene here.

"We also drove by the town of Qana, which I know you've been talking about, where we were yesterday, where the 50 plus women and children were killed that really, perhaps, to a large degree triggered this cease fire."

Two Lebanese women walked through the frame.

PALKOT: "We're watching these two women here, presumably (tape freeze) ... entire time, and I tell ya' if they were here for this whole time and are alive, it's a testimony to the will of these people to survive because this place is absolutely Dresden."

Back at FOX News Central in NYC, once Palkot had finished his report, the F&F crew launched into Monday's "talking points" straight from the world of the right wing blogs, talking points that consisted of blaming the victims for being too poor to get out of town and absolving Israel of any complicity in the deaths at Qana.

E. D. "EDITH ANN" HILL: It also makes you question why people continue to stay there despite the leaflets.

BRIAN KILMEADE: Well, you know the explanation. That they say that they had no money and no where to go. I mean, and that - and that - and that ...

STEVE DOOCY: A taxi ride would be four, five, six, seven hundred dollars to get out and it's interesting, though, with the momentary suspension of the air strikes, though ....

HILL: Right. Not a cease-fire

DOOCY: Right. It's not a cease-fire. But with the suspension for forty-eight hours, the Israelis have also said "Anybody who wants to get out, get out now because somethin' else could be comin'."

HILL: Also, one thing that he didn't get the chance to talk about and that was - he mentioned coming past Qana. The Israelis are reporting, and it hasn't been disputed yet (my emphasis), that the - that that house that was struck by Israel was struck eight hours before it collapsed.

DOOCY: Midnight.

HILL: Which which - and it collapsed around 8 AM. And so it raises the question of why, after the building was struck, there would be women and children using that for shelter. Perhaps it was just slightly damaged but it also brings up why did it come down then. And some have speculated that it is because of secondary explosions, because we know, from what we have seen on video and from what our reporters have experienced, that frequently Hezbollah has been using houses and the basements to store their own munitions.

DOOCY: Human shields.

COMMENT

Doocy, Kilmeade and Hill got their "facts" from a bunch of right wing bloggers who - in their desperate search for anything to explain away the images of babies on stretchers - latched onto an early report made on the website ynet.com in which IDF Brigadier General Amir Eshel, Head of Air Force Headquarters, played clever word games in a campaign of disinformation aimed at putting the blame on Hezbollah for the civilian deaths in Qana.

The ynet.com "report" was a masterpiece of ambiguity in which General Eshel is quoted as saying "The attack on the structure in the Qana village took place between midnight and one in the morning. The gap between the timing of the collapse of the building and the time of the strike on it is unclear."

In other words, the General basically said he didn't know when the building collapsed.

The ynet.com article went on to say

The IDF believes that Hizbullah explosives in the building were behind the explosion that caused the collapse.

Another possibility is that the rickety building remained standing for a few hours, but eventually collapsed. "It could be that inside the building, things that could eventually cause an explosion were being housed, things that we could not blow up in the attack, and maybe remained there, Brigadier General Eshel said.

"I'm saying this very carefully, because at this time I don't have a clue as to what the explanation could be for this gap," he added.

In that last sentence the General literally admits he hasn't the foggiest idea whether any of his suppositions are true.

Despite this, on FOX News - and all across the conservative blogosphere - this report was picked up and spun as "fact" much the same way the unsubstantiated and undocumented claims made by Canada's Major General (ret) Lewis Mackenzie were taken as "fact" last weekend.

Mackenzie claimed to have received e-mails from one of the UNIFIL soldiers in which the soldier was supposed to have claimed that Hezbollah was using the UN compound as a shield. Despite the fact that the UN consistently denied this and knowing the Mackenzie has never produced a shred of real proof that he received such an e-mail, the right wingers on FOX have consistently used it as a proven "fact".

The blogs that "covered" the "important" but "deliberately overlooked" story about Qana were Michelle Malkin and Free Republic, two of the high-profile RW noise machines. Naturally, all the "little fishies" picked it up as gospel. In an interesting twist, PowerLine, which is run by attorneys, did NOT pick up the ynet.com story. Apparently, they smelled the same rat that I did.

Without exception, both Malkin and Free Republic linked back to the ynet.com article I quoted above. Each one of them accepted supposition and speculation as "fact".

And good old FOX News jumped right in with both feet!

With regard to the attack on Qana, it would seem that IDF Brigadier General Eshel's "speculations" were not provable.

Today, Tuesday, August 1st, Haaretz, a prominent Israeli newspaper, described the attack and their report contained no claims that hidden caches of Hezbollah weapons exploded eight hours after the building was hit.

(August 1, 2006) It remains unclear at this stage why that specific house, which was located at the northern edge of Qana, was targeted in the IAF strike on Sunday.

The Israel Defense Forces' inquiry has yet to establish a connection between residents of the building and Hezbollah operatives who were launching rockets at Israel from the area of the village. The IDF believed the building to be empty, and therefore bombed it.

IDF sources said Monday, however, that the investigation into the incident was still ongoing. The sources added that a large number of Katyusha rockets had been fired at Israel from the area of Qana.

According to survivors of the strike, two extended families had taken shelter in the building. The survivors said that the Shalhoub and Hashem families remained in the building because they were unable to afford the
cost of traveling north. The families also assumed that the Israeli drones that were patrolling the skies above the village had seen that the building was occupied by numerous children.

The survivors spoke of two bombings - one at 1 A.M., and the second some 10 minutes later. However, what appeared to the survivors as a second bombing may have been the sound of the building coming down. None of the survivors said that the building only collapsed several hours later (my emphasis).

Ibrahim Shalhoub described how he and his cousin had left to find help following the strike on the building. "It was dark and there was lots of smoke," he said. "No one could do anything until morning. I could not stop crying; I couldn't help them."

The fact that the Red Cross in Tyre was informed of the incident only in the morning is another reason why assistance was late in arriving. The director of the Red Cross office in the city, Sami Yazbek, said that he received word of the incident only at 7 A.M. The ambulances dispatched to the area were further delayed by the damaged roads, Yazbek said. (Haaretz, 8-1-06)

In a piece of terrible irony, the name Shalhoub is well-known to many in America.

The incredibly talented, Lebanese-American actor, Tony Shalhoub, whom I most fondly remember as Fred Kwan in Galaxy Quest but whom most of our readers will recall as the obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk in the hit TV series Monk. Shalhoub is a winner of a SAG ward, an Emmy and the Golden Globe.

Additionally, Omar Sharif's birth name is Michael Shalhoub, something I only just found out.

Lebanese Americans have risen to the highest levels in American life. They include Spencer Abraham, Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas, Paul Anka, Jamie Farr, Sammy Haggar, Salma Hayek, Casey Kasem, Kathy Najimy, Harold Ramis, Shakira, Helen Thomas, Amy Yasbeck and Frank Zappa, among others.

And, oh, yes, here's a name familiar to all of us: General John Abizaid, the man who told Donald Rumsfeld he'd need a lot more troops to win in Iraq than the Secretary of Defense planned on. Abizaid was told "Don't let the door hit you on your way out!" Rumsfeld should have listened.

You can view an impressive list of other prominent Lebanese Americans at downtownbeirut.com.

One wonders how they feel about FOX News' less-than-fair-and-balanced coverage of the destruction of their ancestral homeland?

UPDATE: Several people have written to tell me that the list of Lebanese-Americans I published contains inaccuracies. I got the names from a kind of Chamber of Commerce "Visit Beirut for Vacation" site whose standards appear to be somewhat lax. I've removed any name that I could not confirm were actually Lebanese and replaced them with others who are of Lebanese descent. - Marie Therese