Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Totalitarian Times?

Just read a really interesting (and long) article by Bruce Bawer about the way the New York Times has approached reporting on totalitarian regimes and ideas. Definitely worth a read, because we all need to understand the way that the news media can shape our understanding of the world by selective reporting of events. We also need to know what worldview they are putting forth.

Bawer reviews NYT reporting on Stalin, Hitler, Castro, and the Cambodian killing fields, tying it into current coverage of Islamic fundamentalists. Here's a few paragraphs:
Since 9/11, the kind of brazen sugarcoating of Islam that Feldman served up last Sunday has become a convention in the Times and other mainstream media. Routinely, news organizations suppress, downplay, or misrepresent developments that reflect badly on Islam; they go out of their way to find stories that reflect (or that can be spun in such a way as to reflect) positively on it; and they publish professors and intellectuals and “experts” like Feldman, who share the media’s determination to obscure the central role of jihadist ideology in the current clash between Islam and Western democracy and to point the finger instead (as Feldman does) at European racism.

Yet while a number of media consumers are wise to this policy regarding Islam, relatively few realize that it’s a fresh variation on a well-established tradition. This tradition -- which may be fairly characterized as one of solicitude, protectiveness, and apologetics when reporting on totalitarian ideologies, movements and regimes -- involves habitual practices that can be attributed partly to institutional stasis, passivity, and timidity, partly to a desire to maintain access to this or that tyrant, partly to profound failures of moral insight and responsibility, partly to inane notions of “fairness” and “balance,” partly to an unwillingness to face aspects of the real world that need to be acknowledged and dealt with, and partly to an inability to grasp (or, perhaps, to face the fact) that the status quo has changed.
One of the key points here is that modern, multicultural notions of fairness and tolerance lead some people to excuse horrifying, amoral behavior. But read the whole thing, because there's a lot more information there than in this brief comment!

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