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.