Thursday, May 26, 2011

"The road to truth involves a certain amount of diarrhea ..."

Nir Rosen's reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan has given people in the United States an unsurpassed window on what our wars and occupations have meant for people in those countries. I've called attention to his writings often, most recently here and here.

Recently Rosen delivered a talk titled A Critique of Reporting in the Middle East at a conference sponsored by Jadaliyya. He doesn't think much of how U.S. (and other "western") reporters do their job and he has a suggestion as to why often they perform poorly. He's especially critical of confused and superficial reporting of the current democratic uprisings.

... the so called Arab Spring with its revolutions and upheavals evokes anxiety among white Americans. They are unsettled by the autogenetic liberation of brown people.

Beyond such generalized racial anxiety, most reporters also just don't get out much, what with not speaking the necessary languages and/or being able to move and live among unfamiliar people.

... there are the daily Abu Ghraibs you endure when you live in an occupied country, having to navigate a maze of immense concrete walls, of barbed wire, waiting at checkpoints, waiting for convoys to go by, waiting for military operations to end, waiting for the curfew to end, military vehicles running you off the road, fifty caliber machine guns pointed at you, M16s pointed at you, pistols pointed at you, large foreign soldiers shouting at you and ordering you around. Or maybe in Afghanistan the military convoy runs over a water canal, destroying the water supply to a village of thirty families who now have no way to live, or they arrest an innocent Afghan because he has Taliban music on his cell phone like many Afghans do, and now he must make his way through the afghan prison system.

But if you are white and/or identify with white American soldiers then you ignore these things. If you identify at even the deepest level with US fetishizing of militarism and the myth of the heroic US GI, they just don’t occur to you. And so they never occur to your readers. ...But in Iraq, Afghanistan, other developing countries and areas of conflict in some countries, you have to leave your comfort zone.

Even less than print reporters, he criticizes TV correspondents.

Television reporting is overprotective of the celebrity correspondent; they barely go out, they just embed, and they do their live shots on the street inside their safe compounds, while making the story more about the celebrity correspondent rather than the story. Then they show the “back story” about the journalist and his work rather than the story. ...

It's easy to see how Rosen might have blurted out a deeply unsympathetic and sexist reaction on first hearing of TV reporter Lara Logan being sexually assaulted in the midst of Egypt's revolutionary crowds. He's had it TV stand-ups passing for journalism. Rosen has since apologized repeatedly for his Twitter outburst, saying he is "deeply ashamed." Let's hope it hasn't gotten him blackballed from U.S. media; we'd be poorer and even dumber about the Arabic speaking places we afflict without Rosen's insight.

H/t The Mex Files for Rosen's media critique.

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