Bret Stephens, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, recently wrote "...a historian searching for clues about the origins of many of the great stories of recent decades -- the collapse of the Soviet empire; the rise of Osama bin Laden; the declining US crime rate; the economic eclipse of Japan and Germany -- would find most contemporary journalism useless."
Stephens is being kind. The truth is that the reporting has not just been "useless" but downright false and the stories they've gotten wrong weren't just "many" but virtually every watershed moment of the past thirty or forty years.
Stephens offers an explanation for this abject failure:
"The problem is not that journalists can't get their facts straight -- they can and usually do.
Neither is it that the facts are obscure; often, the most essential facts are also the most
obvious ones. The problem is that journalists have a difficult time distinguishing significant
facts -- facts with consequences -- from insignificant ones. That, in turn, comes from not
thinking very hard about just which stories are most worth telling."
While Stephens' explanation, if true, is damning enough, it is not wholly satisfying. If the cause of the misinformation so uniformly offered the American people for what is now nearly a half-century were the result only of the mainstream media's sloth, ignorance and incompetence as Stephens suggests, the failures would have a randomness to them. After all, as the expression goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Yet the misinformation provided by the media has not been random at all.
The constant in all of the stories Stephens lists -- and many, many more -- is that they all "erred" on behalf of protecting or bolstering the image of any and all cultures not American while seeking to undermine the doggedly persistent "myth" of American exceptionalism by understating the accomplishments of America and Americans.
This is because the motivation at the heart of the mainstream media is not "journalistic integrity" but rather ideological dogma. The almost uniformly leftist press of the past forty years has seen as its mission not the honest and factual portrayal of the news but rather the advancement of Modern Liberal ideals.
Perhaps the best way to understand the tenets of Modern Liberalism is to think of its adherents first as "multiculturalists." These are people who believe that no culture or cultural practice is better or worse than any other and therefore all should be equally revered (this is why we are to celebrate, not greatness, but diversity -- as if all differences are equally worthy of celebration with none to be thought better or worse than any other.)
The greatest single obstacle to the acceptance of multiculturalism as a valid philosophy is the existence of the United States. America's prosperity, military strength, degree of justice, and racial and ethnic harmony are unparalleled anywhere in human history and argue powerfully for the belief in America's exceptionalism. In other words -- we must be doing something right.
To the Modern Liberal -- to whom the concepts of right and wrong are anathema -- the objective of the schools and universities they dominate, the public discourse they lead and, in this case, the reporting of the mainstream media they have held a near-complete monopoly over for the past four decades, is not to accurately portray the factual evidence and honestly and accurately report the news, but rather to spin stories in a way that undermines the evidence of American exceptionalism.
Make no mistake about it, the agenda of the news media has long since moved from "journalistic integrity," past simple "bias," to where they have now become active participants in the advancement of the leftist/multiculturalist agenda.
To accomplish their goal, then, the "elite" embark on a campaign to elevate the accomplishments and hide, justify or blame others for the failures of all non-American cultures while underreporting or completely ignoring America's advances (e.g. the lower crime rate Stephens refers to) and exaggerating all her minor wrongs.
This, then, is the driving force behind the unbroken streak of "missed" stories that Stephens' article addresses. It is why the left has become known as the "blame America first" group and why such horrors as the hacking off of the heads of innocent workers by Islamists gets short shrift while such minor misdeeds as the mistreatment of suspected terrorists by a handful of American night guards at Abu Gharaib was played as if it were the second holocaust.
So it is that the media refused to report the truth about the killing fields sure to come upon the exit of American troops from Vietnam not because they didn't have the evidence but because that story would have sullied the reputation of a non-American culture. That an honest portrayal of the horrors to come might have served to "buck up" American support for the war and lead to an American victory -- thereby acting as another example of American superiority -- was only an added incentive for the press to have "missed" the obvious.
This was the same dynamic at work in the media's portrayal of Japan's economy throughout the 1980's. The idea of a non-American culture besting the United States was simply so important to "the cause" that Japan's business successes were turned into an "unstoppable juggernaut" while its flaws were kept completely hidden. It simply stretches all credulity to argue that the hundreds if not thousands of financial writers, editors and pundits -- the best and the brightest in the world -- had no clue whatsoever that an economy that would soon sink into what is now a decades-long recession was anything less than "unstoppable."
In the communists of the Soviet Union the leftist media saw not only a kindred ideological spirit but also the single most powerful argument for America's lack of exceptionalism. So long as the Russians could be made to appear healthy and strong it was difficult to argue that capitalism is better than communism or that America's Judeo-Christian heritage is superior to the forced atheism of the Soviet Union.
With the Soviets so vital to their ideological cause, then, there was simply no way the leftist media would allow it to fall without a fight of their own. It is for this reason that the multiculturalists continued to portray the Russians as on par with -- if not superior to -- the United States, even as, within weeks, the entire empire would be defeated by nothing more than mere words.
With the Soviet Union's communism debunked, Europe now filled with more and more American-inspired democracies, the Asian "juggernaut" little more than a sad joke and with Africa's abject failure on every level making it a non-starter as an argument for multiculturalism the last best hope of the mainstream media fell on the Arab/Moslem world.
Just as the terrorists recognized that Iraq was where they would have to make their last stand, so, too, did the multiculturalists in the media. They knew that if American military superiority, moral rightness and the power of America's ideas could get a foothold in Iraq, Islamism and multiculturalism -- like communism before it -- would be left in the dustbin of history.
But just as with the Soviet Empire, the Old Media was not going to allow freedom to come without a fight.
It is for this reason that the media didn't just "miss," but actually invented, stories designed to undermine the will of the American people to fight. Threats of "hundreds of thousands of American dead" and "unprecedented humanitarian disasters" and "riots in every Arab capitol"
not only proved singularly untrue but were, in fact, based on little other than the wishful thinking of the multiculturalists.
Once the war had begun the mainstream media sought to sell the unfounded notion that one of the most spectacular military victories in history was actually a "quagmire" -- a word they pulled out of the Vietnam era hoping to get the same results as when they lied about the outcome of the Tet Offensive some thirty years earlier. When that failed they "missed" the story of the upcoming elections pretending that the streets were too chaotic and dangerous to allow for voting -- hoping to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by intimidating locals into staying home and then using the fact that they'd stayed home as proof of America's inability to defeat the superior minds of the Arab "insurgents."
Meanwhile, as newly minted news sources -- Fox News Channel, talk radio and the blogesphere -- hampered their ability to control the stories as they had for the past forty years, the leftist media became more and more hysterical. The effort to elevate the dysfunctional Arab/Moslem culture into a counter-argument against American exceptionalism required a near-Herculean effort. Fortunately, for the multiculturalists, it is something the Old Media had been working on for the past forty-plus years.
Over the past four decades the leftists had tried to bolster the image of this non-American culture. Unfortunately, for the left, it was so dysfunctional that the Old Media was forced, quite literally, to fabricate an image of the Middle East that was downright Orwellian.
At the heart of the deception was an invented "Arab Street" supposedly "seething with righteous indignation" at all of the wrongs that had befallen it -- ostensibly at the hands of "evil" Western democracies like America and Israel.
A mythical being -- the average Arab -- was created who loved his life and adored his culture --including all of its "quaint traditions" like torture, honor killings, rape, mass murder and terrorism. Anyone in America who dared to question the propriety of these "diverse cultural practices" -- much less suggested that, perhaps, the Arab would prefer it a different way -- was immediately "outed" in the leftist media as a xenophobe, racist or an oil whore.
As to the poverty, illiteracy and violence ubiquitous in the Arab world, this was not to ever be portrayed as the result of an Arab/Moslem culture filled with war lords, corrupt dictators and terrorists -- to multiculturalists there is no objective difference between tyrannies and democracies, they are ALL to be "celebrated" for the diversity they provide -- but rather the result of "oppression" from the West or from allies of the West (read: Israel).
Whatever the failings of the Arab/Moslem world they were always to be the fault of the "imperialist" Americans seeking money or power (read: oil) and/or the blood thirsty Jews blinded by religious zealotry. Either way the multiculturalists scored points in their quest to undermine America's claims to moral superiority and maybe even got to kick one of the left's greatest enemies -- religion -- at the same time.
When Arab on Arab violence occurred the Old Media sought to either ignore it, justify it or, as impossible the claim, blame it on the Jews. So it was that Hama, where Arabs murdered twenty thousand Arabs. was a non-story, the brutal Syrian occupation of Lebanon was portrayed as benign and the killings at Shaba and Shatilla where one Arab group yet again massacred another Arab group was somehow the fault of a Jew (Ariel Sharon) for having been in the same neighborhood at the time.
When Menachem Begin became the Prime Minister of Israel the Old Media saw the chance to portray Yasser Arafat not as a "terrorist" but as a leader in the "early stages of statesmanship." After all, the story went, didn't Begin help found Israel through the use of terror and isn't he now a peace-seeking head-of-state? Give Arafat forty more years of murdering infidel children and he'll come around, too, they argued.
To bolster their arguments the Old Media endlessly retold the tale of Begin's participation in the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem -- an attack on a hotel filled with hundreds of tourists surely being more dreadful than a couple of kids having their skulls blown off on school buses. The only problem, of course, is that the Old Media perpetually left out the fact that the King David Hotel was, in fact, the British Military headquarters and a legitimate military target. In truth Begin had committed no terrorist act at all.
So dysfunctional the Arab culture, though, that still, even after all the lies, spin and disinformation the Old Media soon had to take to putting editorial comments prior to the names of Jews (and only Jews) to convince readers that wrong was right and right was wrong.
It thus became standard operating procedure for news reports to identify the mass murdering, corrupt, terrorist dictator in the West Bank as simply "President Arafat" while the duly-elected head of the democracy of Israel was nearly always identified as "the hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu" or "the hawk" Ariel Sharon.
In one three-day period, one major news syndicate mentioned thirty-two different leaders from eight different nations in five separate stories about the Middle East. Of those thirty-two only TWO had editorial comments inserted prior to their names. Both were the duly-elected heads of the democracy of Israel and both comments were derogatory.
To further muddy the waters, the press made it simply standard to refer to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as "the occupied territories" (the "the" brilliantly conceived as a way to imply that only Jews are so uniquely evil as to occupy the lands of others and thus justifying the unique horrors of Arab terrorism.)
The truth is, however, that not only are the West Bank and Gaza Strip not the only occupied territories in the world -- they are not occupied territories at all. They are what is legally called "disputed" lands. The image of "occupation" -- reminsicent of Nazi Germany and World War II -- however proved too delicious an irony for the multiculturalists who saw in Israel's rise from the ashes of Europe and the sands of the Middle East into a first-rate economy, a technological marvel, a civil and just society and a democracy both an embarrassment to the Arab/Moslem world still mired by its culture in the Sixteenth Century and another example of American exceptionalism in the things Israel and America shared (most specifically the Judeo part of America's Judeo-Christian heritage).
By wrongly manufacturing comparisons to the Jews of the holocaust and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (where, far from being piled into gas chambers, life expectancy rose significantly upon the change in power from the Jordanians and Egyptians to the Jews) the multiculturalists saw a chance to run the table.
In one image they could wipe the slate clean on the Nazis (exceptional evil serving as much to debunk multiculturalism as exceptional good), deny that Israel's success is due to anything other than their exploitation of others, cover for the failures of the Arab/Moslem World, give the leftists' traditional enemy -- religion -- a good kick in the teeth and, most importantly, undermine America's claims to being exceptionally moral by the implication that they are aiding and abetting a modern-day holocaust.
When Arab/Moslem acts against Israel were either too horrific to justify or too publicly committed to cover up, the Old Media simply portrayed the acts as part of a "cycle of violence." Thus brainwashed teenagers who strapped bombs to themselves -- bombs filled with nails dipped in rat poison so that the projectiles would cause its innocent victims horrific suffering prior to death -- was really only the "tat" in some petty "tit-for-tat" religious war. When Israel sought to keep their children safe from another attack by the targeted killing of the evil masterminds this was offered as justification for the crimes against humanity of the terrorists.
Meanwhile horrible acts, unique to the Arab/Moslem culture, such as the common occurrence of of "honor killings" -- where women are murdered for having "embarrassed" the family, for example, by holding someone's hand -- were portrayed (on those rare occasions when they were even reported) as cute little idiosyncrasies of a wonderfully colorful culture. Other horrors, such as female genital mutilation -- when discussed -- were argued to be in the same vein as quirks of other cultures and compared favorably to girls piercing their ears in America and eight day old boys having a useless piece of skin removed in Israel.
And thanks to their near-total monopoly on information in America, the help of evil entities like the corrupt, child-raping United Nations and anti-Semitic nations like France -- where even to this day Jews get beaten up on streets named after cop killers and terrorists -- the media was able to make their through-the-looking-glass image of the Middle East the "conventional wisdom."
With the advent of new technologies providing information that the old monopoly of leftists would never have allowed, the embrace of American-inspired and American-styled democracies the world over and, of course, the American victory in Iraq the Orwellian spin of the Old Media has been exposed and debunked.
We now know that, yes, the "Arab Street" was, in fact, seething with righteous indignation but it wasn't for an "evil, imperialist America," nor was it for the "blood thirsty Jew" in Israel as the Old Media had claimed for close to fifty years now. Instead it was for their own leaders, the excesses of their own religion and their own "quaint" dysfunctional culture. Today the Arab world -- unlike the Old American Press -- is standing up and declaring that America is exceptional and that they want to be more like us. And that is exceptionally good news.
Evan Sayet -- March 17, 2005