A raucous echo of last summer's war in Lebanon came to the library of the U.S. Embassy's American Cultural Center here today, as Israelis and an American journalist argued vehemently about the accuracy of network coverage of the Israeli invasion.
Before today's battle was over, the American director of the library grumbled that he had been "sort of sandbagged" by the affair, and Paul Miller, bureau chief of NBC News in Israel, scheduled himself for his own rebuttal presentation in the library Friday.
The fuss was over an hour-long film called "NBC in Lebanon: A Study in Media Misrepresentation" that accuses the network of deliberately distorting its coverage of the war in order to damage Israel. Produced by an organization called Americans for a Safe Israel, the film was shown at the cultural center this morning under the sponsorship of the Israeli government press office.
As several people in the audience booed, Miller strode to the front of the room and described the film as "99 percent falsehood, complete propaganda."
"This film basically should not be believed," he said. "Come back tomorrow. I will prove to you that it is just a propaganda film . . . . I will show you how they have manipulated this worse than any television journalist ever has."
Then the arguing began in earnest. Bert Zweibon, who identified himself as the general counsel of Americans for a Safe Israel, began shouting that Miller and other NBC officials should be called before a congressional investigating committee.
"You won't do it before a committee with your license on the line," he shouted. "We want to know what induced the media to do what it did. We want to know what induced you to lie."
By this time, the battle had spilled out into the cultural center's main reading room where Barry Jacobs, the cultural center's director, looking bewildered, tried to calm the atmosphere.
"This is my library," he said over the general din.
Jacobs said he had not seen the film until last night and was not aware that it was to be shown today until shortly before the screening, by which time he said he felt it was too late to "back out."
"I don't mind the controversy, but I do mind that I was sort of sandbagged," he said.
In a telephone interview, Miller said he was not not aware of today's screening until he was called this morning by another journalist based in Jerusalem.
"It seems to me there should have been a special invitation to the NBC bureau chief if the network is going to be dragged through the mud," he said. "This film is so full of holes I have no trouble shooting it down. This film is poisonous and phony."