Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 8/21/2012: Al Jazeera vs Baltimore, USA

From DG:
1) Al Jazeera on Baltimore

Walter Russell Mead in The Last Compromise
In some ways the City of Baltimore as depicted in The Wire is a disturbingly accurate picture of inner-city African-American life three decades into the post-civil rights era racial settlement. We see blacks represented in positions of authority in many though not all institutions; city government, the police and the schools have a particularly strong black presence. But we also see the projects, the prisons, the long-term unemployed and the hopeless. And dominating the picture is the decline in Baltimore’s economic situation: the port, the freight yards and manufacturing no longer provide steady work at middle- or lower-middle-class wages for Baltimoreans black or white. Baltimore has negotiated a careful and reasonably successful compromise that both races can live with, but the bottom has fallen out from under the city’s economy. The inner city’s social structure has imploded as a consequence, the political culture makes Tammany Hall look like Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, and thousands of young black children are growing up in a murderous and toxic—and almost totally segregated—world.
 David Zurawik in Al Jazeera looks at Baltimore in a new Documentary:
"Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City" will debut Tuesday night to a potential worldwide audience of 260 million homes. And what those viewers will mainly see is a landscape of young men on bleak street corners, block after block of boarded-up rowhouses, drugs, death, crime scenes and prisons. 
The port stands idle, factories are silent and warehouses look empty. Images and repeated references to the war on drugs evoke HBO's"The Wire." Except, of course, this is real.
 Mead's goal is to show how American politics has changed in the past in the past forty or fifty years. Zurawik's goal is to praise Al Jazeera.

Here's how Al Jazeera's correspondent describes the point of the "'documentary:"
"Baltimore's a place where we've actually filmed quite a lot," Walker said in a telephone interview last week. "I've been based in D.C. since 2008, and I was there in Baltimore when the Russians were taking over the steelwork plant [Sparrows Point] back in 2009. It's a city that we like because it's close to D.C. and it's a great place to go and get a sense of what's really going on in the country. It's one of the places where the economic crisis has been keenly felt." 
In other words, it's the Real America — or, at least, a city within an hour's train ride that feels distinct from Washington. Baltimore's neighborhoods have long been a favorite of international journalists in Washington looking for an America with less marble, more grit and plainspoken citizens who can give voice to some of the nation's more pressing concerns. 
"We came to Baltimore in the run-up to 2008 to sort of take the pulse of the city and see how people were feeling about the possibility of the first African-American president to enter the White House and how that might change things for them," Walker said. "We wanted to get a sense of how it might change the war on drugs and the incarceration system that afflicts Baltimore."
That last sentence show that the point of the program is advocacy, but that doesn't bother Zurawik who proceeds to list all of the awards Al Jazeera's won and an approbation by Secretary of State Clinton calling the network "real news."

Here's Al Jazeera's agenda:
But like all TV news operations, from MSNBC to Fox News, there are certain narratives Al Jazeera English favors. And that also helps explain why Baltimore, with its seemingly endless backdrop of boarded-up rowhouses, is a favorite of the channel. 
"Their basic approach to narrative is that they favor the interests of what they call the Global South," Seib says, "which has never been the case with the American and European broadcasting giants in the past. They're sensitive to the idea that they are giving voice to and adopting the outlook of parts of the world that in the past were very much just passive recipients and have been condescended to."
"Global South" has a specific meaning.
"North is the U.S., Western Europe and Russia, for that matter," Seib says. "South is black Africa, Latin America and South Asia."
It's a cute bit equivalence here. Al Jazzera has an agenda just like MSNBC or Fox!

Interestingly Zurawik is so intent on boosting Al Jazeera's credibility he forgot to mention a critic, Dave Marash. Marash is an American journalist who became the news anchor for Al Jazeera English. After two years Marash quit. Here's is part of his explanation:
There was a series entitled “Poverty in America” which, in the first place, was done in a way that illustrates some of the infrastructural problems that disturbed me greatly. The idea of a series about poverty in America was broached by the planning desk in Doha. The specifics of the plan were so stereotypical and shallow that the planning desk in Washington said that we think this is a very bad idea and recommend against it and won’t do it. And so the planning desk in Doha literally sneaked a production team into the United States without letting anyone in the American news desk know, and they went off and shot a four-part series that was execrable. That was essentially, if I may say so, here a poor, there a poor, everywhere a poor poor. 
Now, there is poverty in America, and there is a very wide gulf between rich and poor in America and that is a trend for which there are stories to be reported. But this series reported nothing beyond the stereotype and the mere fact that there were homeless people living on the street in Baltimore, for example. Well, were they there as a consequence of mental illness that was not properly cared for because of a generation of a policy of de-institutionalization? Al Jazeera didn’t know because they didn’t ask. Frankly they didn’t know enough to ask. It was enough for them to show poor people living in wretched conditions in a prosperous American city and decry it. Then they went to South Carolina and found a town that—I know this is going to shock you, Brent—had very rich people and, on the other side of the railroad tracks, very poor people. And the wretchedness of the poor people’s living conditions was enumerated. In fact this memorable question and answer exchange occurred:
Q: What’s it like to live with rats in your home? A: Bad. [laughs]
The economic divide is a story and the reasons why, over a long period of time in this South Carolina town there should be very little transmigration across the line between rich and poor, is a story. The sources of wealth of the rich may be a story. The lack of opportunities for the poor may be a story. But again, you gotta report all these things. This series merely named them in a very accusatory way. This to me is the very quintessence of what television news should not be doing. And by the way is not the kind of reporting you see very much elsewhere on Al Jazeera English.
Marash who saw how Al Jazeera opreated, found it to be blatantly political. Initially he bought all of the myths that Zurawik bought. Zurawik, unfortunately, took no time to question the premises of Al Jazeera's documentary.

2) Fouad Ajami grades Hillary Clinton

Fouad Ajami recently assessed the Secretary of State in Hillary and the Hollowness of 'People-to-People' Diplomacy :
Presidents and secretaries of state working in tandem can bend historical outcomes. Think of Truman and Acheson accepting the call of history when the British could no longer assume their imperial role. Likewise, Ronald Reagan and George Shultz pushed Soviet communism into its grave and gave the American people confidence after the diplomatic setbacks of the 1970s and the humiliations handed to U.S. power under the presidency of Jimmy Carter. 
Grant Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton their due—they have worked well together, presided over the retrenchment of American power, made a bet that the American people would not notice, or care about, the decline of U.S. authority abroad. This is no small feat. 
Yet the passivity of this secretary of state is unprecedented. Mrs. Clinton left no mark on the decision to liquidate the American presence in Iraq—the president's principal adviser on Iraq was Vice President Joe Biden. We have heard little from her on Afghanistan, except last month to designate it a "major non-NATO ally." She opened the tumult of the Arab Spring with a monumental misreading of Egypt: Hosni Mubarak was a "friend of my family," she said, and his reign was stable. She will long be associated with the political abdication and sophistry that has marked this administration's approach to the Syrian rebellion.
The way Ajami puts it, there would be room for Gov. Romney to campaign against the President on the basis of foreign policy too. However it appears that this campaign will be mostly about domestic issues.
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