Blaming journalists is no solution to the Egypt crisis

Los Angeles is approximately 7,600 miles away from Egypt.

Yet, I’ve been feeling connected to these demonstrations. As someone intending to pursue a career in journalism, how could I not?

Much has been made of President Hosni Mubarak’s decision to shut down internet and cell phone services, but recently the press has focused on the dangers both Western and Arabic journalists face upon entering Egyptian borders.

Mubarak’s National Democratic Party recently claimed the Western media and Al-Jazeera are, more than anyone else, responsible for the recent violence. And, somehow, people buy it.

As Mubarak’s regime has vilified journalism, reporters have become the primary targets of NDP supporters. Much of this began with Al-Jazeera Cairo, which continued to broadcast the protests long after the station was supposed to have been cut off.

In response, the dictatorship shut down Al-Jazeera’s office, which was later broken into and torched by angry vigilantes.

Pro-Mubarak protesters also recently attacked CNN’s Anderson Cooper, while CBS’s Katie Couric and ABC’s Christiane Amanpour were threatened and warned to stop broadcasting.

The demonstrations have already claimed one journalist’s life: Photographer Ahmed Mahmoud was shot by a sniper while filming a conflict between Egyptian riot police and pro-democracy demonstrators from the balcony of his own home.

This was just the start. There were 101 reported instances of such violence in the last week alone.

It’s remarkable just how easily the media can be made a scapegoat. If the people you would normally receive your information from aren’t acting in your best interests, your only choice is to believe whatever your government tells you.

Looking back, I can see a parallel between what the current events in Egypt and the chaos surrounding WikiLeaks.

The way the government and television media responded to the unauthorized release of controversial information  was revolting.

The leaks themselves were not the news — it was the guy who leaked it, Julian Assange. By being exposed to all the dangers that occurred because of the leaks, and not the content of the leaks, the public was distracted from the real news.

It was a very media-friendly topic: Assange became America’s real-life Bond villain.

The sex allegations, the use of buzzwords like “hacker,” “anarchist” and “high-tech terrorist,” Sarah Palin’s public statement that he ought to be hunted down like bin Laden —everything came together to produce hours of primetime broadcasting that entirely missed the point.

As all this was happening, tensions were growing in Spain over a particular set of WikiLeaks cables that focused on the 2003 death of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso, who died while standing on the balcony of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.

The building was full of journalists from around the world risking their lives, not unlike Cooper and Couric, to publicize the truth from the ground in Iraq. Couso’s death, along with numerous journalist and non-journalist casualties, was the result of American tank fire, according to the cables.

The event went virtually unnoticed by the American media, only revealed seven years later by a WikiLeaks embassy cable.

As it turns out, the Couso family had tried to sue, but the U.S. ambassador to Spain manipulated, on orders, the Spanish judicial system into dismissing the case, according to the Spain Review. It would have been bad press for the United States for the same reasons that we are up in arms today about Mubarak.

That was in December. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, who cared? Who even knew?

I certainly didn’t. All I knew was that Julian Assange was being accused of sexual misconduct in Sweden.

This frustrated me at the beginning of the new year. Now, looking at CNN’s dramatic footage of Anderson Cooper being assaulted, I’m furious. And I’m scared. The scapegoating of journalists is becoming an international trend.

We look down upon it when the free flow of information does us no harm, but as soon as American hegemony is threatened, as soon as our flaws are revealed, suddenly the messenger becomes accountable and whatever it was he had to say doesn’t mean anything anymore.

Such politics of fear have no place in a society where reason, logic and effective civic discourse must take precedent over intrusion from outside forces.

Greg Irwin is a freshman majoring in international relations.

11 replies
  1. Lucas
    Lucas says:

    First comment and Diane are absolutely mentally challenged, you clearly didn’t read the article.

    Pretentious idiots.

    • What?
      What? says:

      Thanks for the good input… I read the article and considered it very carefully. See my comments below to see why I think it is poorly thought out.

      And it sounds like you’re taking this a little personally, why else would someone bitterly call other people “mentally challenged”, as if that’s some sort of mature insult.

  2. What?
    What? says:

    Um this article makes no sense. It’s title is “Blaming journalists is no solution to the egypt crisis”, but no one at all has blamed journalists. The Egyptian government has attacked and silence them to preserve their own interests, but no one is blaming journalists for taking the risk. This article is completely pointless and thoughtless from the start.
    Aren’t there editors here that can see when an article is bad?

    • Diane
      Diane says:

      Indeed. Methinks Greg needs to take some courses in critical thinking. Ease up there, young man. Nobody’s blaming poor little Katie C. and the blue-eyed wonder boy Anderson for the the turmoil in Egypt. *rolleyes*

      • Greg
        Greg says:

        You’re misreading the content based on an unfortunate headline. I’m not saying Americans are blaming journalists for the protests; I’m saying that Mubarak is, and that the fact that he has succeeded is disturbing. My comparison is based on the American response to WikiLeaks, in which the US media vilified Julian Assange–a man I would consider, under the circumstances, to be a journalist intending to spread truth, no different from Anderson or Couric. I’m associating the two given that both allowed the journalist to become the public villain, claiming that his reporting on the government’s faults is evil, rather than the government itself for committing its wrongdoings.

        • What?
          What? says:

          Sorry but you’re missing the point. Mubarak hasn’t “blamed” and journalists. In fact, to the public and the press, his government is very careful to praise journalists and guarantee their safety. In reality, they are stifling the press and abusing journalists because they don’t want the real story to get out. But no one is blaming journalists for anything, including Mubarak and the government. And again, he has NOT succeeded in “blaming” journalists- the entire world is condemning him and his government’s actions towards journalists. He hasn’t even succeeded in stifling journalists, let alone blaming them, so what exactly are you disturbed that he is succeeding at?

          There is no comparison between the journalists and Assange, because while Assange has been somewhat vilified and slandered, the journalists haven’t! Not one bit! There’s no one in the world, including Mubarak, who is publicly slandering or vilifying the journalist. That’s why I don’t understand what in the world this article is trying to say. It just makes no sense.

          • Greg
            Greg says:

            Please don’t tell me that I’m missing the point. If Dr. Ibrahim Kamel, Secretary-General of Mubarak’s party, has been quoted as saying that journalists have been misreporting information in the attempt to incite chaos in Egypt, and the Egyptian police force has been attacking and interfering with foreign journalists, both of these ARE acts of the government accusing and vilifying journalists as either causing or, at the very least, amplifying the problem.

            Furthermore, if Mubarak’s supporters have been attempting to perform vigilante justice, physically assaulting reporters and destroying Al-Jazeera Cairo, Mubarak and Co. HAVE succeeded in convincing a substantial portion of their constituency that journalists are the problem. I’m not talking about journalists being blamed in the international spectrum; I’m talking about trickery and scapegoating on the domestic level. Even if you run a quick Google search–more than the police force of Egypt, protesting Egyptian citizens have been specifically attacking journalists. If they don’t think the journalists are causing problems, why would they take such action?

          • Greg
            Greg says:

            I apologize, by the way: Kamel is a member of the general secretariat of the party–never the Secretary-General. This shouldn’t affect anything else I said, though. He’s still an arm of the government.

          • What?
            What? says:

            Wow you are completely misreading the entire situation and what is going on there. These “pro-Mubarak” supporters you are talking about that are attacking journalists and Al-Jazeera headquarters are plain-clothed police and people hired by the security services! To think that they are clashing with the anti-Mubarak supporters or journalists because they have been convinced that journalists are bad or misreporting is ludicrous. One of the most important points of this entire story is that the people are not divided, and are united against the government. To think that there is a large and active group that have somehow been convinced to harass journalists is an extremely amateur and incorrect take. The government itself has been responsible for these actions, but have not succeeded in persuading anyone that journalists should be blamed. When Dr. Kamel said that journalists have been misreporting information, he meant that they have been misreporting that there has been abuse of journalists, not that journalists should be blamed. The government there would be foolish to say to the world that this is journalists fault. They are trying to save face! When they attack and journalists, they are doing the OPPOSITE of vilifying them in the public light, they are trying to shut them up behind closed doors!

            I think it is just time to own up to the main flaw of the argument, which is so blatantly and clearly out in the open. It is not a bad thing to rethink one’s position and learn from mistakes. It’s just that this article talks about such a non-issue, and is such a complete misreading of the situation. Trickery and scapegoating has not at all worked in Egypt, which is exactly the point, exactly why the protesters have been successful. When the government beats people, they are not succeeding in blaming journalists, but just the contrary.

          • Greg
            Greg says:

            Alright, so after this, I’m done. I very much appreciate your dedication to accurate journalism, and willingness to take the time to clarify details in the situation and various flaws in this article.

            I will admit I was largely unaware of the scale to which Mubarak’s men were involved in the protests. This certainly decreases, in turn, the magnitude of my argument as well. At the time of my pitching of the article, such information had not yet been released and upon my writing it, I failed to research this aspect of the scenario, and am shocked and disappointed that I did so.

            This being said, what the protesters (the majority of whom are, admittedly, police or paid by Mubarak, but it seems presumptuous to assume that ALL of them are, when relatively few have come open) have been saying as to their frustration:
            “I asked several protesters why they were so angry, and they accused our coverage of bias against the government, of “hyping” the protests” (Al-Jazeera). You don’t think, then, that in all these mobs, none of these people believe what they’re saying?

            As I said, I’m done now. The intended focus of my article was to be predominantly in regards to my anger over the WikiLeaks scenario, and I’ve unwittingly found myself, due to an excessive fear of being proven wrong, in an argument further distracting me from what I was trying to get across. Once again, thank you for the wiser criticisms–yet avoiding internet insults such as those above, especially when your name isn’t out in the open, makes you seem a little more polite and is guaranteed to offend a first-time writer attempting to challenge the USC community, even if he did bite off a little more than he could chew.

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