“Al-Jazeera? They show beheadings, don’t they?” – Anatomy of a myth 10 April 2007Posted by foray in al-jazeera, beheadings, media, myth, myth watch, myths.
Al-Jazeera has never shown footage of a hostage being beheaded. So why do so many believe the station has broadcast such barbaric scenes from Iraq and Afghanistan?
The false decapitation reports started creeping into media stories about al-Jazeera as its international influence grew, and – much to the chagrin of the network’s media department – kept getting recycled.
So prevalent has the myth become that some al-Jazeera insiders wonder if it’s part of an intentional smear campaign against their channel.
The matter wasn’t helped when US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seemingly endorsed the story in June 2005, as he told a security conference in Singapore:
I think the United States is well aware of the fact that its circumstance and its position is such that there is going to be criticism and I suspect that from time to time the criticism is merited. But I also know that if anyone here lived in the Middle East and watched a network like al-Jazeera day after day after day, even if you were an American, you would begin to believe that America was bad. And quite honestly, I do not get up in the morning and think that America is what’s wrong with the world. The people that are going on television chopping off people’s heads is what’s wrong with the world. And television networks that carry it and promote it and are Johnny-on-the-spot every time there’s a terrorist act are promoting it.
Not true, al-Jazeera replied in a diplomatically-worded statement on the same day.
Here’s a select chronological list of incidents where the urban legend has been reported as fact in recent years. It includes numerous media outlets you’d think would know better:
- ‘Terror: beheading a new means of propaganda’, ANSA, 24 June 2004
- ‘Capital Report’ programme, CNBC, 29 June 2004, [Host Alan Murray says to former CIA psychiatrist Dr. Jerrold Post, “…but these beheadings are so terrifying that no one airs them on television, on cable television, for instance. So, they don't really get the mass media.” Dr. Post replies: “Well, they surely were broadcast on Al Jazeera. They're widely circulated in the Arab world.”]
- ‘Where’s the Arab Media’s Sense of Outrage?’, The Washington Post, 4 July 2004
- ‘Al-Jazeera grabs spot in FleetCenter skybox’, Boston Herald, 21 July 2004 (correction published on 22 July)
‘Beheadings on TV’, Sunday Times (Perth), 5 December 2004
‘Al-Jazeera in Plain English’, The New York Sun, 9 November 2005
‘Gagging for the truth’, The Guardian, 24 November 2005 (correction published on 30 November)
‘Fanning the flames?’, The Toronto Star, 17 February 2006 (correction published on 18 February)
‘24/7: The rise and influence of Arab media’, Stanley Foundation radio documentary, April 2006 [US military spokesman Captain Eric Clark says “They [al-Jazeera] no longer show beheadings and things that would turn the stomachs of a normal person on the street of the Pan-Arab community or America or Europe”]
- ‘Live aus dem Schlachthof’, Die Weltwoche, 4 May 2006
- ‘A mouth too big for state’, New York Post, 28 October 2006