Thursday, 1 October 2009

The American media and its Libyan script

[This is the headline over an article on the website of The Final Call. It reads in part:]

Before Muammar Gadhafi arrived on the shores of America, the stage had already been set, the script written and the actors were in place.

All that was missing was the lead character that the American media had decided to cast as a villain and that person was the leader of Libya and president of the African Union.

The media “script” was based on the pain of loss felt by relatives of victims of Pan Am Flight 103 and the release of the Libyan national convicted of bombing the plane and causing the death of innocent people. The convicted bomber was released to return to his country to die, but his countrymen, convinced of his innocence, came out to welcome him home.

Those images did not translate well in the United States or the United Kingdom and surely pained those who lost loved ones and felt justice was not done because the person they believed was responsible was free.

Their pain is real and understandable, but there is another side to the story: When Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed, Libya was not initially charged in the bombing. There have long been questions about the validity of the judgment rendered in the case of Abdel-baset Ali al-Megrahi, and whether he was guilty. Libya accepted responsibility for the acts of any of its nationals who may have been connected to the deadly incident. Libya paid damages, gave up its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and worked with the Bush administration in the war against terror. (...)

Instead of media outlets telling the full story of Libya's history and the deaths of Libyans because of bombs dropped by America---a very one-sided story was told. The story was emotional, but not insightful. The story reported inflamed passions and brought heat from those who felt outraged, but it did not offer additional light that the American people might get a better understanding. It appealed to old ugly stereotypes of evil Arabs and terrorist Muslims.

In the past, Libya pursued its support for causes based on her revolutionary ideals and seeing oppression in all corners of the globe. The U.S. pursued her goals around the globe based on national interests and security objectives. These competing visions clashed and the U.S. and Libya clashed. It was hardly a fair fight with the small nation going up against a world power.

Instead of offering the public insightful reporting on the causes of these clashes and later developments, which still allow people to make up their own minds, media outlets almost went into a time warp. Newspaper accounts of the Libyan leader in September were like reprints of articles published in the 1980s.

An exchange between Khalifa Elderbak and a Fox News reporter near the Libyan Mission was symbolic of the problem with the U.S. media. The reporter peppered the Libyan Ph.D. student with loaded questions, demanding to know how the man could support a “horrible” figure and “terrorist” like Col. Gadhafi.

No matter how hard Mr. Elderbak tried to make a point or explain an issue, or share his thinking, the reporter would not relent or open a different line of discussion. It was obvious that a decision had been made on how the characters in this story would unfold and there would be little, if any, room for anyone who did not agree with casting Brother Gadhafi as a villain.

“Much of the Americans know that media tries to confuse the people of the United States about the news they broadcast,” Mr. Elderbak told The Final Call.

“I think that the media is doing a very bad thing; they don't say the truth about what's going on outside the United States which is a shame. I don't say all the American media are doing the same thing, but most of the big media do that. And they try not to let their people know the reality, the truth about other countries, about the way they live." (...)

Even when family members of Pam Am 103 victims met with Col. Gadhafi, they were challenged and questioned as if they had no right to decide how to deal with the loss of their loved ones. One woman stressed she felt the tragedy offered an opportunity to learn about Libya and to find a way to peace so that such events would never occur again. Isn't her voice a valid voice and isn't her choice a valid choice?

If there are at least two sides to every story, the U.S. media failed miserably in offering the other side—and the America people are the losers, if an informed electorate is the hallmark of a healthy democracy.


  1. Folks on the European fringe must be getting pretty desperate, or at least desperate enough to seek such "in-depth" voices, aka bottom fishing. In the Western legal tradition, I guess, it is a professional hazard to become more concerned with process than principle, especially among case losers.

    Does American media include outlets like Time Magazine and CNN? And does Farrakhan's insightful crew consider Gaddafi's interviews with Time and CNN's Larry King also parts of the script? There is no mention of giving Gaddafi such platforms. Farrakhan's outfit ignores all of that, but they do provide a link to Gaddafi's interview with Aljazeera. Exactly what prevented Minister Farrakhan's "islamic" paper from conducting an interview with Gaddafi according to their script? Is it their unwillingness or Gaddafi's? Again, one has to be blinded by desperation or ideology to overlook the obvious. It might be a lot cheaper for those torn by guilt to just schedule a confession with Minister Farrakhan.