Upon hearing a Dutch diplomat recite a dismal litany of statistics indicating the current social and economic plight of most Middle Eastern states, a Jordanian academic heaved a sigh. “This is a triple tragedy,” she said. “Not only are the figures bad, but they have to be collated by foreign agencies while governments in the region keep people in the dark.”
Media coverage of the February 1998 showdown with Iraq highlighted subtle but significant changes in the relationship between the mainstream media and US foreign policymaking. Although the major media — despite some alleged soul searching by media professionals  after the Gulf war — have changed little since the pro-war hysteria of 1991, activists are discovering more ways to obstruct the media juggernaut and influence policymaking — sometimes by actually using the mass media.
The struggle over the historical record and popular memory of 1948 has reached the Internet. A number of websites and posted materials devoted to the Palestinian experience in 1948 known as the nakba (national catastrophe) offer a wealth of information to counter the virtual media silence about the victims of Israel’s independence. Two comprehensive nakba websites have been created by the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem (www.arabstudies.org/mainp.htm) and the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah (www.alnakba.org/), both of which provide historical accounts of the nakba, survivors’ testimonies, chronologies and photo galleries.
What is up in Egypt? In Cairo, Mustafa Bakri, was deposed as editor-in-chief of al-Ahrar following the failure of the mutiny he led in the halls of the Liberal Party to depose of its leader, Mustafa Kamal Murad. Bakri stormed the party headquarters with 600 armed followers and had himself voted president. For a few days, two versions of al-Ahrar competed for space on the newsstands. Bakri’s paper made a vain stab at seeking Mubarak’s support by turning even more obsequious than the state-run press. Meanwhile, deposed party head Murad published his own loyalist edition attacking the Bakri cult of personality before the police finally moved in and ended Bakri’s short reign. What triggered the coup?
“Globalization” is currently fashionable among privileged quarters of American society. It stands as the umbrella term for contemporary trends in culture, production, finance, marketing, technology, consumption, ideas, values and institutions that are variously celebrated, denounced, dissected and deconstructed.
Walk the streets of Cairo or village lanes in Egypt any early evening and you will see the flicker of television screens and hear the dialogue and music of the current serial (musalsal). Read the newspapers and you will find articles and cartoons that can only be understood if one is following these televised dramas. The serials, usually composed of 15 episodes aired daily, seem to set the very rhythms of national life. Extensive access to television and limited broadcast hours and channels mean that the audience can sometimes include a majority of Egyptians.
Hisham Milhem is the Washington correspondent of the Beirut daily al-Safir. Born in Lebanon, Milhem has lived and worked in Washington since 1976. Joe Stork and Sally Ethelston spoke with him in Washington in September 1992.
What are the salient features of the power structure of the Arab media? Who controls it? Who sets the tone?
Any generalization is problematic. We’ve been involved in journalism in Lebanon-Syria and Egypt for more than a century. That is why the Lebanese, the Egyptians and the Palestinians have been predominant in the Arab press.
Network researchers who book “experts” say they look for someone who can “give good bite.” Two of the most conspicuous prime-time sound bite experts during the war against Iraq were Anthony Cordesman and Fouad Ajami. These sketches were prepared by Sandrine Bretonniere.
Anthony Cordesman: “We Must Strike Again”
Anthony Cordesman was ABC’s Gulf war “military expert,” and appeared on other networks as well. At the height of the war, he was the analyst who showed up most often as a network news source — 11 times in 14 days (Extra!, May 1991). Another survey ranked him the most quoted “expert,” with 56 appearances. (Steele, “Enlisting Experts”).
Capital Cities bought ABC, with its 230 affiliated stations, for $3.4 billion in 1986. Also owns: 8 TV stations; 9 dailies, 74 weeklies (Kansas City Star); radio networks with 3,000 affiliated stations; 21 radio stations; a cable programming company; some 60 publications (Women’s Wear Daily, Compute!, Modern Photography). The largest shareholder is Omaha investor Warren Buffett.
Laurence Tisch, owner of Loews Hotel chain (and active in pro-Israel fundraising), bought a controlling share in 1986. Henry Kissinger is a CBS board member. Also owns: 7 TV stations; 21 radio stations; two radio networks.
me•di•a pl. of medium 2. an intervening thing through which a force acts or an effect is produced 3. any means, agency or instrument; specif., a means of communication that reaches the general public and carries advertising.
—Webster’s New World Dictionary
The Persian Gulf crisis received massive and sustained coverage in the American media. As numerous critics have pointed out, television network news in particular largely parroted the Bush administration’s line, accepting and passing on its version of reality as the truth. A study released in March by the Center for the Study of Communication at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst adds a new dimension to our understanding of television’s role in shaping public perceptions of the Gulf crisis and enhancing support for the war.
“This Week in The Holy Land,” ABC Nightline’ week-long series of broadcasts from Jerusalem between April 25 and April 29, 1988, was a major television event. The length of the series (seven hours of air time), its form and content, and its impact across a wide range of opinion in the United States, make it worth a closer look.
William Dorman and Mansour Farhang, The US Press and Iran: Foreign Policy and the Journalism of Deference (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987).
From a comparative perspective, the United States is unusual if not unique in the lack of restraints on freedom of expression. It is also unusual in the range and effectiveness of the methods employed to restrain freedom of thought. The two phenomena are related. Liberal democratic theorists have long noted that in a society where the voice of the people is heard, elite groups must insure that that voice says the right things. The less the state is able to employ violence in defense of the interests of elite groups that effectively dominate it, the more it becomes necessary to devise techniques of “manufacture of consent,” in the words of Walter Lippmann over 60 years ago.
Giorgio Vercellin, Crime de Silence et Crime de Tapage: Panorama des lectures sur l’Afghanistan contemporain (Naples: Institute Universitario Orientale, 1985).
Giorgio Vercellin, of the University of Venice, has undertaken the unusual and difficult task of reviewing the mass of recent published material on Afghanistan in Western European languages and critiquing the ways in which that country has been presented. The title of his study is almost untranslatable—Crime of Silence and Crime of Blather would be a rough rendition. The point he is making, though, is extremely clear and direct: a lot of the recent writing on Afghanistan has been so strident and partisan as to tell us very little about the country itself.
Most British correspondents covering the Falklands war were indignant at the way the Ministry of Defense fed them selected and one-sided reports of the fighting. Supported by colleagues from other countries, they vowed they would never be “used” this way in a war again.
Governments are fond of small, manageable wars, where victory is assured—such as the invasion of Grenada and the bombing of Libya. Such adventures are ideal for revving up enthusiastic media support for its policies. Some “wars” have the added advantage of never being over. The so-called wars on drugs and on terrorism, for instance, are available to justify any manner of intervention. In late July, the Reagan administration dispatched a large contingent of US military to Bolivia, purportedly to smash that country’s cocaine production facilities.
Edward W. Said, Covering Islam (London: Routledge & Regan Paul, 1981).
Edward Said’s Covering Islam is one part of his project to analyze aspects of the Western view of Islam and the Middle East. Orientalism, the first and most substantial of these books, traced the evolution of European attitudes to the cultures of the Middle East from medieval times to the present. It examined specifically how US academics and policymakers adapted the legacy of European orientalism to the needs of US imperialism in the post-1945 era.