Monday, January 31, 2011

A Personal Experience On Why Media Coverage Is So Bad

By Barry Rubin

A Salon reporter called me. the first thing I told him is that I had never been on Fox before, so naturally they called me a Fox analyst as if I was an employee.

I explained to him that I was not criticizing the media but that most of the demonstrations had been small. Salon, trying to make me look silly, quoted in its article  one report from the New York Times to quote saying hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets. Naturally, he didn't mention it to me since he didn't want to have to print my response.

Unfortunately, the photo accompanying their story shows an area with large empty spaces and perhaps 200 people. Goodness, couldn't they even have found a photo showing huge numbers to make up their claims?

The point then was not to take the substance of anything I said seriously but to try to make me look foolish by picking on a peripheral point. I also told him that there were also tens of thousands of people guarding their homes against looters. But he didn't mention that.

I also explained that the level of participation given the size of Cairo's population was relatively low if we compared it to the demonstrations during the Beirut Spring, the Iranian revolution, or the recent events in Tunisia.

I said that in Lebanon they had demonstrations of more than 200,000 people in a country whose population was only 2.5 million. The population of Cairo alone is six times the population of Lebanon. So something equivalent would be 1.2 million people just taking into account Cairo alone.

Being an academic type I also balanced out my point by saying that, of course, activists were only a minority always, giving the Russian Revolution as an example, so the numbers were not so significant.  He didn't mention that either.

Many other media reports have referred to a few hundred or a few thousand demonstrators in individual events.  In much of the television coverage you can see that the crowds aren't huge, again taking Cairo's massive population into account. He didn't mention that either.

So here is why news coverage is so bad: The game is to try to find one point where you can make someone you disagree with look silly. Does the author have a different view of events in Egypt? Probably not. This had nothing to do with me personally or even the issue. He was just trying to make people view Fox as stupid and biased.

This is what is highlighted rather than dealing with little details like a takeover of Egypt by revolutionary fundamentalists as being of any importance. I have studied Egypt for more than 30 years, written three books based on extensive research into the country's politics, and am in daily touch with people there giving me behind-the-scenes information. I am one of the few analysts who actually quotes what the Muslim Brotherhood says. But who cares? 

Meanwhile, people are on television saying that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate, against terrorism, there's nothing to fear if they take over. No mistakes there! Wouldn't it make a good article to round up their statements?
I'm thoroughly disgusted.

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