The assault against the Arab/Islamic media
By Ray Hanania
We often compare the Iraq War to the Vietnam War. Slowly, maybe too slowly, many Americans have come to accept the comparisons based on government lying, military efforts to silence the media, and persistent stories of American soldiers committing war crimes. A key player in defining this new reality is the news media. During the Vietnam War, the mainstream American media helped show Americans the truth about the Vietnam War. Tragically, the media covering the Iraq War is far from the noble or principled media that exposed Vietnam War atrocities and crimes. Images from Vietnam were an ugly truth. A shocking truth. Innocent Vietnamese civilians were murdered, often recklessly by our soldiers, far more often than the public wanted to believe. The South Vietnamese government was corrupt and controlled by the American government.
We didn’t want to believe that not only did we not have the support of the South Vietnamese Army, the South Vietnamese people were not our side either.
There was nothing noble about the Vietnam War. And there even less noble about the Iraq War.
The erosion of journalistic principle is subtle but clear. Today’s media has allowed itself not only to be controlled and influenced by the government and the military, while the media covering Vietnam waged its own war to be independent and free.
It’s not about whether war crimes have or have not been committed. They have. The Iraqi “My Lai” involves Marines who raped and murdered a young Iraqi girl. To cover-up their war crime, they murdered the girl’s family.
The media reported on the murders, but not with the same commitment to truth that drove journalism during the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam media did not have the ghost of Sept. 11, 2001 looking over its shoulder, an attack that shocked Americans so much so that it redefined the definition of “patriotism.”
During the Vietnam War, the American news media engaged in a noble journalism struggle. They stood for principle, even when that principle resulted in news that was disturbing and questioned American policies.
Media reports of war crimes have come mainly as a result of American soldiers with a conscience who could not live with the lies and who told the truth, not reporters doing their jobs.
It wasn’t the American news media that challenged assertions of Weapons of Mass Destruction, but the political movement. The media only jumped on the story when they received the “all clear,” that the American public now believes that the Bush administration lied.
The American news media has never been an objective partner when it comes to truth in Iraq. To allow yourself to be “embedded” was an embrace by the media of the ideals that drove the war. Being “embedded” is a scar on journalism principles.
You still have to ask why reporters today so easily allow themselves to be manipulated by the government. The Middle East is a different story from Southeast Asia.
There is an unresolved conflict that exists in the American and Western subconscious between Islam and Christianity that lingers from the Crusades.
Americans are not just fighting an “enemy,” in Iraq. They are “defending” a core value of Western civilization.
It’s one reason why the American media is filled with stories demeaning the Arab and Islamic media as “unprofessional.”
The most recent is reflected in a story published not by the American “Far Right,” but by the American “Left.” The Nation Magazine this week launched a scathing attack against the core belief that Arab World and Islamic World media can be professional.
Author Kristen Gillespie (”The New Face of Al Jazeera”) argues al-Jazeera, the most professional of all Arab and Islamic World media, is biased.
Gillespie notes that al-Jazeera has both Arabic and English language broadcasts, and that the English language broadcast “gives no evidence of sectarian tendencies.” It’s not a compliment, but a part of the slander.
Gillespie writes that reports from correspondents in the field “is where the reporting has frequently turned away from international standards of journalism and toward a sensationalistic and Islamist bias. The field reports are overwhelmingly negative, with violent footage played over and over, highlighting Arab defeat and humiliation. And there’s a clear underlying message: that the way out of this spiral is political Islam.”
In addition to smearing al-Jazeera Arabic, Gillespie is saying is the Satellite news station is duplicitous, giving English speaking audiences one face while giving Arab speaking audiences another.
They are not just getting the story “wrong.” They are doing so intentionally.
The same criticism was leveled at Dan Rather and other media heroes of the Vietnam War, journalists who braved harsh criticism to expose the ugly, painful and sometime repulsive truth of Vietnam in persistent news reports. But the criticism didn’t come from journalists. It came from the government and the military.
The fact “field reports are overwhelmingly negative” would be a badge of honor for the Vietnam War media.
Today, though, it is disreputable and shameful for a media to challenge the deceitful conduct of our government and military in Iraq by flooding the broadcast airwaves with field reports that are “overwhelmingly negative.”
Field reports will be “overwhelmingly negative” when in fact the events are dominated by negative images and events — American soldiers brutalizing Iraqi civilians, the Bush administration manipulating and controlling the alleged independent and Democratic Iraqi “government,” and the whitewashing of Blackwater crimes.
Al-Jazeera is one of the only major media reporting the harsh realties of the Iraq War accurately.
The American news media is incapable of accurately and fairly covering the Middle East because its journalists have a cultural bias against the Arab and Islamic Worlds.
That cultural bias is hastened by an inherent fear of covering the politically explosive Arab-Israeli conflict objectively. To do otherwise would be career-ending. And it is a cultural bias singed by an inherent Western disdain for a religion that lingers from a Centuries ago conflict.
Hardest for the American media to accept is that the coverage of Iraq and the Middle East by al-Jazeera, English and Arabic, have put the mainstream American media to shame.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. Copyright Arab Writers Group, http://www.ArabWritersGroup.com).