Monday, April 02, 2007


The NYT, having published last week an exaggerated account suggesting there were real prospects for a meaningful deBaathification law, today prints a matching and equally over-wrought report about the demise of those prospects. The excitement last week in the NYT and elsewhere was part of the up-beat Western press converage congratulating Khalilzad on the conclusion of his highly successful ambassadorship. Local Baghdad coverage was minimal. Same for the disappointment today. I mention this in order to illustrate what I mean by "volatility".

Another current example: A Newsweek writer says "word spread" last summer that the Saudi regime was ready to take agressive action against Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, but more recently it has become apparent that was completely wrong and that the Saudi king's approach is actually at the other extreme of the spectrum of human attitudes. This in a story based on the theme of a heroic and peace-loving king entitled "Can the Saudi king save the Middle East"? Volatility.

These are small examples, but the principle is the same what you see in the great war-mongering campaigns. Certainly the lies in and of themselves are important, but equally important is the news-approach that eliminates local background, making people tend to accept cartoon-like lack of background as something perfectly normal.


Anonymous gj said...

What you are seeing in both instances you quote is what is called in journalism a "beat up". You also see beatups on TV network and cable news all the time. Media manufactured news. It's pathetic. Speaking as an ageing 1960s journo I put it down to post modernism!

btw - the "US is trying to overthrow Maliki with Allawi" story was also a beat up, so the syndrome is not confined to western media.

11:20 PM  
Blogger badger said...

You missed the point. The Allawi story in Arab reports came, and comes, with lots of background. I'm talking about trans-national cartooning. The stick-figure approach I'm talking about is something you only get where the audience is largely ignorant of the other culture to begin with, and instead of trying to remedy that, the media organization exploits it instead.

7:04 AM  
Anonymous gj said...

I wasn't meaning to suggest that the Allawi story was an example of "cartooning", but that it was a "beat up" - ie where the writer chooses an angle and exaggerates its effects for maximum alarmist impact. This was revealed when the story so quickly fell apart, as most beatups tend to do.

In much western reporting the cartoon effect and beat up goes hand in hand, as it did in the NYT de-Baathification stories you quote.

Another good example is the so called Iran hostage crisis. Very little commentary that I ever read paid attention to the Iranian "hostages" being held by the Americans in Iraq. Even today, the news that one of the hostages has been released and the others granted consular access is being buried because it does not suit the simplistic narrative the western media adopted during the "crisis".

Cartoonism and beatup has historically been the sole preserve of tabloid journalism. Unfortunately the advent of the info revolution and post modernism has forced the so called quality media to take a similar approach.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Reidar Visser said...

I am glad you put that sensationalist NYT headline about Sistani in context. These “advisers” and “aides” of Sistani are just rank and file members of his bureaucracy – many of them may have closer ties to the political parties than to Sistani himself – but journalists like to call them “key advisors” whenever they manage to land an interview with them. They contradict each other all the time; the important thing to look for when it comes to Sistani is not the rumours but the fatwas and pronouncement which he actually issues via his office.

Also thanks for great coverage of the national reconciliation process (or the lack thereof). It is a sad fact of this “process” that the media makes much of even the paltriest of steps forward, while less attention is accorded to the measures that could have brought some real rapprochement. Hence, we hear a lot about “meetings”, “contacts”, “conferences” and bills that are on their way through the governmental machinery. What really counts, however, is actual introduction of bills into parliament for adoption, and, of course, progress on the constitutional revision track.

4:59 AM  

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