BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Throughout the war in Iraq, debate has raged over our government's real reason for invading that country. But when it comes to Israel's campaign in Lebanon, the controversy has been about tactics. Few would dispute what it is Israel is trying to do - secure its borders by wiping out Hezbollah once and for all. Israeli officials invoked that goal again last week when their war planes took out two TV towers containing transmitters for the popular Lebanese stations LBC and Future TV. The Israelis said they also contained relay stations for the Hezbollah station Al-Manar, as well as critical infrastructure for cell phone communications by the guerrillas. It's hardly the first time media have been caught up in the fighting, but this marks a new phase, says Lawrence Pintak, director of the Adam Center for Electronic Journalism at the American University in Cairo. Pintak was a Middle East correspondent for CBS back in the '80s, and sees what he calls a new weaponization of media - that is, media used both as a target and as a weapon.
LAWRENCE PINTAK: What has changed in recent years, and this really goes back to the years after 9/11, is that while it has always been dangerous for reporters to be in combat situations while television stations run by, quote, unquote, "enemy agents" have always been fair game, what has changed is that reporters, individual reporters, are being directly targeted both by governments and by insurgents of all stripes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Give us a for instance in the current conflict.
LAWRENCE PINTAK: You look at the fact that the Al-Jazeera correspondent (and Al-Jazeera, parenthetically) has always operated very freely in Israel - but the Al-Jazeera correspondent has been twice detained by Israelis. An Al-Jazeera cameraman was wounded in Gaza. I mean, this certainly goes right back to the U.S. attack on Al-Jazeera in Kabul, which initially was said to be a mistake but later came out it was actually targeted.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Where did that come out? Because the U.S. military is not admitting that.
LAWRENCE PINTAK: Well, the U.S. military in Kabul initially said it was a mistake. Then they said that it was going after a specific al Qaeda individual, and we got him. Then a few weeks later, they announced they got the guy somewhere else later. And then in a recent book by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, about the secret war, he quotes CIA officials as saying that after the bombing there was great relief at CIA headquarters, and in the White House that they had sent, quote, "a message" to Al-Jazeera.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You're quoting from Ron Suskind's book, The One Percent Doctrine.
LAWRENCE PINTAK: Correct.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So why then the change? Does it reflect the growing importance of information, especially of TV?
LAWRENCE PINTAK: I think it reflects two things. One is the power of satellite television. If we look at the Middle East, until Al-Jazeera came along, the idea of television journalism was an oxymoron. So suddenly you had semi-independent, let's say, journalism going on. Then at the same time, media on both sides, in my view, have weaponized themselves. The American media was waving the flag, the Arab media was taking a mirror image approach to the conflict, and each lost this, at least, fa硤e of independence and objectivity. Go back 20 years to Lebanon. We as journalists could quite literally spend the morning in the bunkers with Hezbollah and the Shia, who were facing the U.S. Marines, and spend the afternoon in the bunkers with the U.S. Marines facing Hezbollah. And everyone accepted the fact that we were doing that, because we were semi-independent, anyway, reporters. Now we are seen as representing American policy, supporting American policy. So the next logical step would be, well, if we go into the bunkers with Hezbollah, we're going to go back and report to the Marines where Hezbollah is, which is something everybody knew that we didn't do. So that has dramatically affected how reporters can move around, how reporters can function.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How much of a problem do you think last week's air strikes really created for the TV networks that were hit? I mean, aren't they mostly distributed by satellite? Weren't they back up on the air pretty soon?
LAWRENCE PINTAK: This is the irony, and it underscores the fact that at a certain level, governments still don't get the idea that you can't stop this flow of information. But it is possible to have a dramatic impact on how the media can cover a conflict. On both sides - we're not hearing this - but on both sides, reporters were operating under severe constraints. In Israel, they're operating under military censorship. In Lebanon, all journalists are pretty much at the mercy of Hezbollah, to be brought around to places, to be safe as they get to those places, to see the things that Hezbollah wants them to see and perhaps not see the things that Hezbollah doesn't want them to see.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think that the spin has gotten more sophisticated now, too; that journalists are being used more effectively by various sides in the current conflict?
LAWRENCE PINTAK: Yes. I think everyone is getting more and more media-savvy. Now, that doesn't mean that they weren't years ago. I look back at Hezbollah's role and Amal's role in the TWA hijacking back in the mid-'80s that I covered. It was carefully crafted, it was carefully manipulated, with ABC being given access to the American hostages at seafront restaurants, all looking wonderful and happy and comfortable. Day to day they dragged out the story. They made sure that we were fed bits and pieces. But now, everyone is media savvy. Look at what's happening in Iraq. One of the reasons that even the Arab media can't operate very effectively in Iraq is that the insurgents have set up their own media operations. They are shooting their own footage, they are doing post production, they are putting out press releases, they are handing these packages to foreign news organizations, saying, this is what you have to use, which, again, is why journalists are being attacked who try to report independently.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lawrence, thank you very much.
LAWRENCE PINTAK: You're quite welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Lawrence Pintak is the author of Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam and the War of Ideas. He spoke to us from the Sonoma Valley.