The ambulance chasers in the media might have gotten away with the Red Ambulance hoax – in Australia at least – were it not for Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer who delivered a speech to Australian publishers on Monday 28 August 2006 highlighting the Hizbullah propaganda campaign of media manipulation.
Australia’s only national newspaper, The Australian, which had generally been applauded for its non-partisan news reporting on the Lebanon conflict but criticised by some for its pro-Israel editorial stand sent reporter Martin Chulov on an errand to check out his story which originally appeared on 26 July.
This was an unfortunate decision as it would surely have been more appropriate to send someone other than the original reporter to review the story if the objective was to determine whether he and the Australian newspaper were the victims of a fraud as alleged.
The result of Chulov's "investigation" was a pathetically self-serving piece that appeared on 31 August 2006 DOWNER'S UNFOUNDED FAITH IN THE INTERNET. The Australian backed up its reporter with an editorial RED CROSS ROCKET SNARES DOWNER that fully supported Chulov's "findings" and claimed that its reporter stood by his original account.
Chulov does nothing of the sort. He deals only with a portion of the hoax allegations, some of his explanations simply do not make sense and part of his original narrative has been altered dramatically.
Chulov explains that he visited the scene with photographer Stewart Innes on 24 July and they inspected both ambulances, "whose mangled roofs were not rusting at the time". He adds that by the time the photos used to mount the case for the ambulance hoax were taken, "rust had appeared. But this is entirely normal in Lebanon's sultry summer climate, where humidity on the coast does not drop below 70 per cent."
Unfortunately, Chulov fails to present photographic evidence of the roof without rust even though his photographer was there with him. A picture would have been worth a thousand words here but the only photographs we have are those taken a few hours later of an ambulance roof that had suddenly and magically become infested with rust. The problem with this is that while visitors to this part of the world might agree that it's humid around the coast, it never rains there in July and there's very little dew about either - not in the late morning or early afternoon. The sudden rust story simply doesn't sit well anyone who has experienced local conditions in this part of the world.
The ambulances are not the only things that have undergone sudden changes. When Chulov revisits the scene the Apache Helicopter of the original version has mysteriously transmogrified into an "unmanned Israeli-made drone". The sudden change might deal with the criticism that an Apache would most likely have vaporised the ambulances in question as well as their occupants but not with the puzzling question as to why they were riddled by bullets of three different calibres.
Chulov goes back to the original source of part of his story, the ambulance driver, Qaseem Shalin who is now telling a totally different story to that published in Chulov’s original article. Shalin was no longer in the ambulance at the time. Now, the ambulance was stationary and not moving. Now, he was protected from the blast because he was "outside lifting the rear lamp".
Oh, for heaven’s sake. Haven't any of these people read Sir Walter Scott?
"Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive." (Marmion, 1808).
Shalin is a liar, Chulov swallowed his story whole and inadvertently added another chapter in the story of the media's disgraceful reporting of the conflict between Israel and Hizbullah. Little wonder that the media's credibility on the events in Lebanon is in tatters.
I applaud the Australian for at least making seeking to investigate the story but in doing so it shot itself in the foot. Still, one can fully expect someone in the media to revisit the scene very soon to seek assistance from Mr. Shalin as to how to sheet home the blame on the Israelis for that damage as well!