Monday, August 28, 2006

Op-Ed: Holding BUsh's feet to the fire, By Ray Hanania

American Journalists fail to hold Bush feet to fire
By Ray Hanania

At the annual convention of the Society of Professional Journalists this past week in Chicago, the issue of how to describe extremist elements in the Arab and Muslim World surfaced.

It always does at mainstream American journalism confab.

Trying to tell American journalists to not put an ethnic or religious face on extremism and terrorism has been as futile as is demanding that mainstream American Opinion Page editors give more space to Arabs and Muslims to balance off the precipice in favor of pro-Israel scribes.

Yet many mainstream American journalists seem conflicted about the obvious ethical lapses of their colleagues when it comes to coverage of the Middle East and terrorism.

So I wasn’t surprised when a mainstream American journalists in the audience at a panel discussion on covering the Arab and Muslim American community asked me what they should do when someone like President Bush uses the term “Islamo-Fascists.”

Bush certainly must be quoted, and many journalists quickly picked up on his term “Islamo-Fascists” when he spoke to reporter recently and used the term to refer to the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah.

There are several problems with the term, I and others on the panel pointed out.

First, the tough one. When the president says something, it is quotable.

However, the lapse is not in the quoting of the president as every mainstream American journalists did do that day, but in the failure to hold the President’s feet to the fire when using such ridiculous terms which speak to the growing emotional hysteria in America but not to the reasoned analysis of the Middle East conflict.

Not one reporter pressed President Bush to explain exactly what he meant or why he picked the term “Islamo-Fascists” to describe a stubborn militia that had fought valiantly and with some success against Israel, which has the fourth strongest army in the entire World.

Why was Bush given a pass? And why did journalists just quote him without challenge?

“When President Bush used terms like “nuke-elar” and “subliminable” in past press conferences, two words that are non-existent that still found themselves dished up to the nation by the president himself at press conferences, did mainstream American journalists simply enter the word mutations into their daily reporting without question?” I asked in response.

The point I made as a representative at the SPJ Convention on behalf of the National Arab American Journalists Association is that when even a president says something stupid, he should be called on the carpet to explain what he means and why he said what he said.

But it seems that when the topic is the Middle East, the Arab World, terrorism and Muslims, any negative term is embraced almost without question by most mainstream American journalists because it is in fact negative.

The professional journalism approach to coverage of the Middle East, Arab and Muslim World and even the so-called “War on Terrorism” has been anything but professional.

Studies have shown that the majority of the bias exists not just in daily reporting but on the Op-Ed pages of American newspapers which drive American public opinion.

Newspaper editors routinely publish anything even incoherent trash if it advocates on behalf of Israel, but excludes and outright bans columns written by Arabs and Muslims that exposes instances when Israel’s government’s perpetrates war crimes, uses torture, or is involved in what Arab critics charge is "state-terrorism."

It almost seems that the majority of journalists intentionally allow negative out-of-place rhetoric about Arabs and Muslims to be used simply because they are sensational and especially because they are negative.

Why didn’t one reporter stop and say, “Mr. President? What do you mean by Islamo-Fascists?”

Of course, that might expose the president’s obvious ignorance about the Middle East, an ignorance he has shown from the very day he took office and without any knowledge or understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict decided to remove resolving it from his list of priorities.

That single act of turning his back on the Middle East conflict and abandoning the process that had been meticulously established by nearly every past presidential predecessor more than anything opened the door to extremists around the world to ramp up their terrorism and expose the United States and the World to increased politically-driven violence.

If the Middle East is in an utter shambles, racked by terrorism and if world security is at its lowest the victim of ceaseless violence, the blame falls on the shoulders of President Bush.

But the failure to hold President Bush accountable for his failings falls on the shoulders of the mainstream American news media which continues to prefer skewered and hatefully anti-Arab and anti-Muslim coverage to the obvious truth.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning journalist, author and co-founded of the National Arab American Journalists Association. He can be reached at