Warped Coverage of the Middle East

Dear Scott Simon and all Weekend Edition Sat folks:

Weekend Edition Saturday in general and Scott Simons hosting and essays in particular have been among my favorite news experiences for many, many years. But in recent years, and as I have learned more from non-US sources about events in the Middle East and elsewhere, my enthusiasm has come to be tempered with frustration and deep concern.

Saturday’s show was a case in point. Scotts interview with Beirut editor Rami Khouri was supposed to be focused on reactions across the Middle East to Zarqawis death. Mr. Simon began asking Mr. Khouri to gauge the effect (of the killing) elsewhere in the region.Mr. Khouri responded that Zarqawis death is seen as changing little because he was only a symptom and symbolof the dissatisfaction with US policy in the Middle East. He then went on to cite Jordanian Security officials to the effect that Israeli policies and actions toward the Palestinians and US support for those policies and actions, as well as the invasion and destabilization of Iraq, are the underlying realitieswhich are the basis of anti-American feelings. Because these realities had not changed, Mr. Khouri suggested, Zarqawis death would change little. Mr. Simon said Hmm- then quickly changed the subject to recent Iraqi cabinet appointments.

I have come to expect reactions like Mr. Simon’s whenever an interviewee suggests to a US reporter that the terrible situation in the Middle East and the hatred of the US by Muslim’s generally is directly related to US policy and actions toward Israel and Palestine. Such suggestions are almost universally treated by American reporters as hot potatoes; there is the moment of silence, then they are hurried into obscurity as quickly as possible.

A seasoned reported would have been expected to seize on Mr. Khouri’s tantalizing suggestion and dig deeper in order to decipher and report just what specific policies and actions Mr. Khouri and the Jordanian security officialsbelieve are the bedrock cause of the symptom and symbolphenomenon like Zarqawi. But not on THIS issue.

The question is why. Why is it that otherwise savvy reporters run like frightened chickens whenever it is suggested that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general and US policy in relationship to that conflict in particular is central to US problems in the Arab-Muslim world?

I would like you Mr. Simon and you the WE Sat editors and producers to answer that question. I challenge you to face the issue and to respond.

I have reached my own conclusions. I’ve taken note of what happens when an NPR or any other US reporter or academic suggests such a connection. I have noted, for example, how quickly and pointedly NPR issues a correction when a reporter (inadvertently or not) describes an incident or condition in a way not acceptable to the American Zionists and their allies. Any reporter statement on any aspect of Israeli-Palestinian relations that does not fall comfortably within the confines of the Zionist-defined narrative immediately triggers massive and relentless reaction, attack and pressure both direct and subtle, inside and outside, designed to force the reporter and the organization back on the reservation. Like virtually all other mainstream US news organizations, NPR scurries back into line.

The problem with this sort of reporting, of course, is that it helps create a US citizenry that is out of touch with realities which folks most other places in the world understand as matters of fact. Combine the myopia of the US citizenry with the global reach and force of US power and you have a situation which is prone to manipulation, abuse and disaster. Ergo Iraq!

Blind adherence to and even promotion of the Zionist narrative on the Middle East by the US Media has been going on for so long and has been so effective that it is emulated and reproduced by others who seek to control the American People through the media. American journalists have become so conditioned to accept such narratives that they unconsciously censor out connections and facts which contradict them. Thus the view of world events that Americans receive from the media is fundamentally different than the view citizens in the rest of the world receive.

So it was that Scott Simons otherwise excellent essay Saturday on US atrocities in Iraq failed to connect the dots linking those atrocities and the refusal of U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada earlier in the week to deploy to Iraq. For the first time since the start of the war, a commissioned officer is refusing deployment. Lieutenant Watada’s courageous stand was announced on Wednesday; a search today of NPR for the past week returned no hits.

I am not surprised. A reminder that the occupation of Iraq is illegal is not within the mainstream narrative and therefore does not garner NPR coverage. Mr. Simon was probably not even aware that a US officer had done that very week what he was suggesting refusing to obey illegal orders. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Simon ethical integrity is what we should expect of our troops. But Mr. Simon extended the logic only to the atrocitiesthereby ignoring the most illegal of orders the order to deploy and serve in an illegal war.

To some extent all our thinking is influenced by the defining narratives, the defining myths, perpetrated by those who control messaging and by the accumulation of messaging we call culture. At its most effective such control produces the sort of group mind that lead the American People to ignore key discrepancies and accept the myth that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to our security and therefore must be taken out. But it is precisely the likelihood that the rich and powerful would seek to control what information and which narratives reached the People that prompted the Founding Fathers to elevate the Fourth Estate as an essential check on control of defining narratives by the rich and powerful. And it is why Thomas Jefferson as president defended and protected the press even when it attacked him ruthlessly and without just cause.

Today the Fourth Estate has lost sight of its essential function in this Republic. In loosing its way the media has also lost its stature with and importance to the People. Increasingly journalists are seen as entertainers, not as central defenders of the People and promoters of the Republic. Sadly, NPR News must be included in this generalization. What a long, slow fall it has been!

FELICE PACE served for fifteen years as Conservation Director of the Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) where he now volunteers as a senior counselor. While working for KFA from 1989 through 2003, Pace spearheaded numerous administrative appeals and several lawsuits to protect forests from logging and road building. He was a presenter at President Clintons Forest Conference in Portland and an early champion of efforts to put timber folks to work restoring forests and streams. He can be reached at: felice@jeffnet.org



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Felice Pace is a longtime environmental activist in northern California. You can find his writings online at Bearitude in Black.

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