Middle East studies in the News
Mad about the One [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
It's fitting that the cynicism "vote early and vote often" is commonly attributed to Chicago's Democratic boss, mayor Richard Daley, who famously voted the graveyards in 1960 to help put John Kennedy in the White House. In this 2008 race, it's the American media that have voted very early and often. They long ago elected the star graduate of Chicago's Democratic machine, Barack Obama.
I am not talking of editorials in newspapers, though Obama has the preponderance of the endorsements over John McCain. Obama certainly deserves the credit for recruiting impressive advisers and running a more efficient campaign machine than any one in the US's political history.
What's troubling to anyone old-fashioned enough to care about standards in journalism is the news coverage in mainstream media. Forget the old notions of objectivity, fairness, thoroughness, and so on. The nastiest rumours on both sides haven't been published, but the coverage has been slavishly on the side of "the one".
It has not just been anti-Republican. It goes without saying that after eight years of George Bush's macho blunders, the disenchantment of even the conservative outlets was bound to show. Researchers at the Project for Excellence in Journalism report that in the six weeks since the Republican convention, McCain, once the darling of the media, got four times as many negative stories as positive ones. Meanwhile, Obama got twice as many positive stories as McCain. The website Politico has also acknowledged that it had loaded the dice against McCain: 100 stories were more favourable to Obama than McCain; 69 were the opposite.
But the press bias towards Obama doesn't represent a simple revulsion for the Republican party. It was on display in the Democratic primaries with the persecution of Hillary Clinton. Worst of all, in the primaries, the press let the Obama campaign get away with continuous insinuations below the radar that the Clintons were race-baiters. Instead of exposing that absurd defamation for what it was - a nasty smear - the media sedulously propagated it.
Clinton made the historically correct and uncontroversial remark that civil rights legislation came about from a fusion of the dreams of Dr Martin Luther King and the legislative follow-through by President Lyndon Johnson. The New York Times misrepresented that as a disparagement of King, twisting her remarks to imply that "a black man needed the help of a white man to effect change". This was one of a number of manipulations on race by the Obama campaign, amply documented by the leading Democratic historian, Princeton's Sean Wilentz. Clinton came close to tears in a coffee shop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which many thought helped her to win an upset victory there. MSNBC television gave a platform to the Chicago congressmen, Jesse Jackson Jr, where he questioned her tears and claimed that she'd not shed any tears for the black victims of Katrina, and that she'd pay for that in the South Carolina primary, where 45% of the electorate would be African-Americans.
In fact, MSNBC ran a non-stop campaign for Obama propelled by the misogyny of its anchors, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and David Shuster. Chelsea Clinton joining Clinton's campaign prompted Shuster to report she was "pimping" for her mother.
Obamania has not been deflated one bit by the non-stop talkers on rightwing radio. They offer vituperation in place of enlightenment; paranoia in place of policies, and as such have little influence with the crucial independents.
On the web, the rightwing Drudge Report highlights anything that favours McCain, the Huffington Post does the same for Obama, and the more independent Slate has said only one of its staff intends to vote for McCain, the other 55 for Obama. Fox News has the vehement Sean Hannity paired with the mildly liberal Alan Colmes, not a fair match, but it has been more willing to investigate than CNN. In the Democratic primaries, there was a pattern on CNN where the short news videos of Clinton rarely let you hear what she was saying, but the short news videos of Obama let his words come through. I mentioned this to a CNN editor who said, "Oh, that's our young video editors, they just find Obama more exciting."
The young and affluent liberals have been captivated by Obama's charisma, the unstated notion that electing a black man will be absolution for the years of discrimination and prejudice, and the expectation that Obama's undoubted appeal to the outside world will repair America's image. All understandable, but these emotions have been allowed to swamp the commonplace imperatives of journalism: curiosity and scepticism.
All the mainstream national outlets were extraordinarily slow to check Obama's background. And until it became inescapable because of a video rant, they wouldn't investigate the Reverend Jeremiah Wright connection for fear of being accused of racism. They wouldn't explore Obama's dealing with the corrupt, now convicted, Chicago businessman Tony Rezko. They haven't investigated Obama's pledge to get rid of the secret ballot in trade union affairs. After years of inveighing against "money in politics", they've tolerated his breach of the pledge to restrict himself to public financing as McCain has done (to his cost). Now the LA Times refuses to release a possibly compromising video, which shows Obama praising Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi at a 2003 banquet, saying its promises to its source prevent it from doing so.
The British press is notorious for political distortions, which more or less balance out. But the American press likes to think of itself as more superior and detached than it actually is. In 2000, the mainstream media did a great deal to elect George Bush by portraying Al Gore as a boastful liar.
Let's hope the consequences of electing "the one" will be as wondrous as the press has led the voters to believe.
• Harold Evans is former editor of the Times and the Sunday Times, and author of The American CenturyNote: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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