The International Committee of the Red Cross is very serious indeed about its neutrality. There is an obvious reason for this; neutrality underpins its special status, and if its neutrality is compromised, its personnel may be placed directly in danger and its ability to do its job is reduced. In other words, to impugn the neutrality of the Red Cross is a very serious charge indeed, and ought to only be made on the basis of very strong evidence indeed.
So it is perhaps odd to see Australia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer (who comes across as a hell of a moron; could any Aussie readers confirm this?) merrily asserting that the Lebanese Red Cross conspired with Hezbollah to fake an attack on one of its ambulances, seemingly as collateral damage to a broadside against the media for being biased against Israel.
In fact, his source was a blog, “Zombietime“, which has looked through news agency photos of the ambulance and proved to its own satisfaction that they are fakes. I must say that their case seems pretty unconvincing to me, since it appears to be based on some very strong conditional statements about what “a missile” can and can’t do, and “a missile” is a really quite generic category to be making such statements about.
I think that if I was the Australian foreign minister, I would have considered the pros and cons of undermining the credibility of the Red Cross (particularly as the ICRC is an important provider of the humanitarian aid which supports a lot of the things that the USA, UK and Australia want to do in the sphere of foreign policy) and decided that a political slam on the mainstream media was not worth it, particularly since nobody actually disputes that civilians were killed and ambulances were hit during the Lebanese invasion. Blogosphere triumphalism doesn’t really seem all that important compared to the neutrality of the Red Cross.
Of course, we all remember Rathergate, so it is silly to say out of hand that some people working diligently on a blog might not be able to fact check a story, albeit that of course an ambulance is a lot more difficult to assess from photos than a document. However, there is no need to get into the whys and wherefores of the matter at issue, because the IDF did, in fact, admit that they had hit some ambulances.
If there was a conspiracy to make up a fake ambulance, it appears that the IDF press office is involved and are producing propaganda for Hezbollah – pretty exciting if true. Zombietown have some fairly convoluted theories on their blog about how this statement can be made consistent with the hoax theory, along the lines of saying that the IDF regularly apologises for accidental killings first and then investigates later (a practice which would seem to me to be suicidal in a world of personal injury liability, and which was not followed in the case of the Gaza beach blast, for example). But it hardly matters, because at this point the “media bias” and “irresponsible journalism” angles are shot, aren’t they?
If the Red Cross says “an ambulance was hit” and the IDF says “yep, we hit an ambulance”, what on earth should you print? The bloggers and Mr Downer are implicitly saying with a straight face that “responsbible journalism” requires an editor to say “well, the Red Cross say the IDF hit their ambulance, the IDF say that they hit the Red Cross’s ambulance … I’d better send someone down to find out what really happened. We can take Steve and Bob off the newsdesk, it’s not like they are busy or anything, there’s only a war on”. If this were truly “responsible journalism”, then responsible journalists might, if they were lucky, be in a position to tell us that Osama bin Laden was behind the Twin Towers attack, some time around 2018.
Melanie Phillips (by the way, the “Melanie Phillips Naziometer” currently counts 7 mentions of the Nazis on her blog front page) has perhaps gone a step further than Mr Downer and Zombietown, asserting that not only was there a Red Cross conspiracy and that the mainstream media were irresponsible to have failed to uncover it, but that this is evidence of a media conspiracy to promote a Big Lie and smear Israel, because the liberal media are motivated by blind hatred and anti-Semitism.
I was quite surprised to see that this view was endorsed on Harry’s Place, a site which I do not usually regard as a part of the nuttersphere. It takes quite some brass neck to claim that the overall effect of newspaper coverage was to sustain a Big Lie that the invasion of Lebanon caused substantial civilian casualties (it is rather like, in form if not remotely in scale, those websites which make exaggerated claims about the importance of small technical errors in historical accounts of the Holocaust whenever they find one). At the most, the public might have been misled into believing that some vehicles were hit by missiles when they were actually hit by other munitions, or that there were 52 casualties of the Qana bombing rather than 28, for the day and a half it took for the figures to be corrected.
This is a completely unserious charge; the very fact that this ambulance thing is the best piece of evidence the denialists have rather throws into relief the fact that the overall impression given by the media of the Lebanon invasion (that it was completely horrible and Lebanese civilians were the primary victims) is correct.
In general, if you are consistently finding yourself to be more “pro-Israel” than the army of Israel, it might be time to step back and have a bit of a think.
 I actually can’t remember whether Qana was hit by an air raid or by missiles, although if I am wrong I am sure there is a blog out there that can exhaustively prove that it was one or the other and attribute my mistake to anti-Semitism.