The Boston Phoenix October 12 - 19, 2000

[Don't Quote Me]

The image makers


by Dan Kennedy

On October 10, Nightline broadcast a town meeting from Jerusalem that brought together all sides in the conflict -- a follow-up to a similar session the program had hosted in 1988, in the midst of the intifada. This time, the show almost didn't come off: two Israeli officials arrived with armed guards, and the Palestinians threatened to walk out if the guns weren't left behind.

It was a classic television moment. Arguments. Tension. The hint of violence. And, squarely in the middle, Nightline host Ted Koppel, who brokered a compromise under which the Israelis would leave their guns outside if everyone else were to leave the building and re-enter through a metal detector. "I made a proposal which has been accepted, and I think we have a solution," Koppel announced, as the audience applauded.

The reality was that an important dialogue could take place, led by one of television's finest journalists. But the virtual reality communicated a different, cruder, simpler message: the image of a media star, stepping in and resolving a dispute between inscrutable foreign adversaries.

No doubt the last thing Koppel intended was to turn this moment into yet another image -- produced by, and ultimately about, the media. But it's inescapable. Because, in the end, the images are what stand out: a dying boy, a terrible lynching, a revered broadcaster -- the Walter Cronkite of his day -- calming an angry crowd.

The problem with these images is that they mean everything and nothing simultaneously. They enable us to see the horror, yet fail to help us understand it. They make us feel, not think.

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Read more about the Middle East in Talking Politics

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