Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The sunset of American news media

Biased on the liberal side, tainted on the conservative, US news media is facing an unprecedented crisis, writes Hany Ghoraba

A man rapidly getting up from sleep at 1:15am rushes towards a telephone after calming his alerted wife. He contacts the newspaper he works for and tells them about possible discrepancies in the numbers and percentages he provided for a story that is about to be printed in a few hours in the famous Maryland daily Baltimore Sun. His editor calms his fears; that he just had the traditional nightmare that many dedicated journalists get when working on a big story.

That was an extremely memorable scene from season five of one the greatest acted and written American TV series of all time, The Wire. The actor/director Clark Johnson plays the fictional journalist Augustus “Gus” Haynes. The simple yet complicated scene displays a kind of dedication rapidly on the decline in the American press and media. That decline is shifting the mission of the profession of journalism from one of truth seeking to that of writing innuendos, hearsay, stereotyping and playing on prejudices. That sort of decline cares less about the truth but more about the sensationalism a story may cause.

 

LIBERAL MEDIA BLUNDERS: The American media was for decades the guiding light for others around the world to follow while great democracy in the West couldn’t have flourished without a dedicated, professional free press and media. Alas, the world is witnessing the sunset of that era and as a new era of online media has dawned. Instead of blazing the trail for infant online journalism, with its numerous drawbacks that include subjectivity, bias and shallowness, it has actually contracted the same diseases that have marred the online media for years. These negative traits have been recently manifested in the coverage of the trip of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to Washington in April 2017 to meet his US counterpart Donald Trump.

Reviewing coverage and headlines of the US liberal media on the Trump-Sisi meetings illustrates the deep detachment of that press and media from reality. Many of these media outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post seem to cringe at the thought of any Egyptian-American rapprochement. They are still fixated on the false idea that President Al-Sisi attained power as a result of a coup d’état, ignoring major events that reshaped Egypt’s history in the past five years that include:

- Mohamed Morsi annulling the constitution in November 2012 in the first step of its kind since 1952, which inherently rendered his presidency unconstitutional and unlawful from that day onwards to his ouster 3 July 2013.

- The Muslim Brotherhood killed civilian protesters who demonstrated against the Islamist laws that the Brotherhood insisted on inserting in their short-lived 2012 constitution. They even managed to blatantly rig the 2012 constitutional referendum in a similar manner that was done recently in Turkey in the April 2017 constitutional referendum.

- The Egyptian court indictment of Morsi (during his presidency) for colluding in and orchestrating his breakout from jail along with Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Tora Prison where he was imprisoned before January 2011. The result was the escape of 26,000 inmates, many of whom are still on the loose to this day.

- Massive protests that were started from December 2012 as a result of the annulment of the constitution leading to the biggest uprising in recorded history in June 2013.

- The press ignored the one-year term interim presidency of the honourable judge Adli Mansour who took the helm from June 2013 till June 2014.

- Al-Sisi running for president against leftist opposition leader Hamdeen Sabahi and winning a massive landslide amid the supervision of 100,000 independent electoral monitors.

- The Muslim Brotherhood war against the people and the state that included assassinations, bombings, random killings and arson. This rendered the group a designated terrorist organisation since the December 2013 bombing of the police headquarters in Mansoura along with hundreds of smaller scale bombings.

- President Al-Sisi was elected on the basis of Egypt’s new constitution of 2014 that modified the Islamist constitution of 2012 into a more secular one. According to that constitution, a president can only be elected for two consecutive terms of four years each without any possibility of further extensions. This is an ironclad clause in the Egyptian constitution that cannot and should not be ever modified. It entails that President Al-Sisi has a little more than one year or a maximum of five years left in power should he be re-elected in 2018 for a second term. The president is quite aware of that fact and has spoken about it frequently.

Most of the mass media in the United States — especially those who falsely label themselves “liberal media” — ignore such critical details in their reports about Egypt. Instead they insist on being the Islamists’ mouthpieces to poorly informed readers and audiences as they utilise words such as “tyrant”, “dictator” and “authoritarian” to describe the Egyptian president, which resonates with their audience and readers.

Despite Al-Sisi winning the 2014 election fair and square, they are still unconvinced about the true popularity of the Egyptian president amongst his people. In 2014, Al-Sisi could have had more popularity than all Egypt’s presidents since 1952 combined. The fact that his status has been growing stronger internationally, and he has established his name as a reliable head of state for Egypt, is driving many media outlets into a bigger frenzy.

In many cases, once prestigious publications such as the Washington Post and the New York Times are fixated on pro-Muslim Brotherhood propaganda that they seem to copy and paste in their publications. For example, most of their analysis about Egypt is through the likes of Shahid Hamid, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood writer who fails to hide his infatuation with the terrorist group no matter how he tries. Often they would actually utilise the services of Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad Al-Haddad who is usually given ample space to sugar-coat the terrorist activities of his group in Egypt.

One fact they ignore in all these schemes is that there is nothing “liberal” or honourable about whitewashing the crimes of the Muslim Brotherhood and dubbing those who are fighting them as tyrants and authoritarians. These news media outlets and their administrators will never be more Muslim than the majority of Egyptians who categorically condemned the group, revolted against its leaders and rebuked its radical rhetoric. In many cases, the Washington Post and New York Times go as far as frequently blaming the government and the people of Egypt for the violence done upon them through Brotherhood terrorist attacks.

Moreover, headlines for articles such as “Why Arab leaders love Trump?” which appeared in the liberal online magazine Slate 3 April 2017 entails a high degree of prejudice, bigotry and stereotyping about the region and about an ethnicity they pretend to care about. The shoddy article even included a classical yet clinically insane quote from none other than Hamid, which is: “Arab governments are kind of anti-Muslim in a number of different ways.”

Furthermore, the New York Times currently utilises the services of the one and only Patrick Kingsley, who is the champion of superficial and biased analysis about Egypt and the Middle East region. The once writer about strip club laws was appointed as the UK-based correspondent for Egypt of The Guardian, post-January 2011. At the time of the January 2011 Revolution Kingsley was 22 years old and The Guardian, in its infinite wisdom and definitely for low budget reasons, appointed him its Egypt reporter and expert. Kingsley is one of many other hipster-cum-pundits and backpacker reporters in the region who seem to misguide the opinion of American and Western readers and audiences about events in the Middle East in the past period.

 

FOX NEWS SCANDALS: The “conservative” media, meanwhile, has seen an incredible amount of scandals in recent years. Fox News presented itself as the bulwark of the conservatives in the United States. Indeed, for years, the famous cable network garnered major successes within conservative ranks and became the favourite platform for propagating family values and other conservative causes in the United States. However, the vanguard of the conservatives was crumbling from within as the network was dealt two consecutive blows in a short period.

The first included the gruelling details of the sexual harassment case of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who was accused and convicted of sexual harassment by two prominent news hosts, Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly. The scandal forced the founder and chairman of the network to step down after an ultimatum was issued by owner Rupert Murdoch. The second blow came as Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly found himself in the same exact spot — charged with sexual harassment. It was reported that the top-rated host cost the network a sum of over $13 million in settlements in five different cases.

As the news surfaced over 50 advertisers withdrew their ads from the network, signalling the imperative of a prompt reaction. O’Reilly was fired immediately. Some may believe that these personal scandals should not be considered as a reflection of the network’s credibility. However, for a network that advertises itself as the vanguard of conservative values in the United States, it is destructive to its credibility to have both the founder and CEO of the network along with its top-rated anchor branded as sexual harassers while propagating morals and family values to the rest of the American nation. This scandal has left Fox News battered.

 

CONCLUSION: I do myself a greater injury in lying than I do him of whom I tell a lie.

— Michel de Montaigne

While some in the American news media accord to the higher values of the journalistic profession and pay the price for it, others appear to believe in detestable Soviet propaganda tactics, which they themselves criticised for many decades but are not shy of using now. In 2003, they were banging the drums for war on Iraq and justified the invasion of a sovereign country while only a few years later they criticised the leaders who got the United States in this mess, which they themselves vehemently promoted.

The same pattern continues to occur even recently when news media applauded the missile attack on Syria ordered by President Trump. They continue to utilise the same props and cheap ploys whenever they are preparing to enter a new war in the Middle East. An example of this is the alleged Twitter account of a seven-year-old Syrian girl, Bana Al-Abed. There is no tangible evidence that the administrator of this account, who is supposedly the mother of the girl, is the actual writer of the tweets from Aleppo, nor any evidence of the authenticity of the information they contain. Moreover, the same mother, for some odd reason, seems to be more articulate in English than the editors of many American news media outlets who are quoting her. Without any form of authentication, the news media treats this Twitter account as Gospel about the situation in Syria and utilises it to fuel a possible upcoming war against the country.

Many countries seem to be a fair game for the American news media to bash at will while many other countries are off the table, such as China that seems to escape American media claws recently. These outlets that bash Egypt for what they deem human rights violations, mainly against terrorists, seem to view the Chinese record on human rights as exemplary. It is pure double standards that govern most of the mainstream media in the United States as they operate as profit-oriented businesses. They can’t afford to lose the Chinese market under any circumstances, so they remain silent and find easier and less costly countries to criticise.

In a tough business world, many of the major names in the field, such as the Washington Post and New York Times, found it hard to keep up with the growing trends of online journalism. Eventually, they succumbed to what they resisted and mocked others for doing, which is sensationalism and trivial news. These publications and many other have chosen to play along with the growing trend and provide shallower coverage and analysis of complicated world issues.

Even the American president expressed his disdain towards American news media such as CNN by calling them purveyors of “fake news”. The situation got even more complicated when the White House banned The Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC, The Daily Mail and a few others from White House briefings in February 2017. The ban, though seemingly excessive and uncalled for, signifies that many Americans, including the president, are irked by the lack of credibility and shoddy reporting offered by many news media outlets in the United States.

With conservative news media outlets such as Fox News tainted and the liberal media cozying up to the likes of Muslim Brotherhood terrorists while labelling them “freedom fighters”, the American media is witnessing the sunset of its glorious days of global domination and credibility. The competition with other major news media such as Sky News, Russia’s RT, Deutsche Welle and France 24, has crippled the American news media’s ability to affect world events as they used to decades ago.

Despite economic hardships and global competition, major US news networks and outlets will continue to thrive for years, but their great influence locally and globally is likely to recede should they continue in the same pattern. A serious revision of current US news politics is in order to contain the damage done to the American news media as more audiences and readers become aware of the truth distorted by them. The truth always finds its way out eventually.


The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and Winding Road for Democracy.

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