Monthly Archives: August 2010

Do we care about suffering in Pakistan?

One-fifth of a nation under water. Twenty million people displaced. Eight million in need of water, shelter, or other emergency help. At least sixteen hundred killed. Millions facing years of destitution. A natural disaster of cataclysmic proportions, with unimaginable human suffering. But are the floods in Pakistan dominating our news? No. With a few exceptions (such as PBS, which has led with the Pakistan disaster day after day), our news is dominated by a dispute over where a future religious center should be located in Manhattan.

By late last week American individuals had contributed only $50,000 in private relief aid for Pakistan. At a comparable point after the Haiti earthquake, American individuals had given $34 million. Granted, the Haitian death toll was much higher and Haiti is much closer geographically than Pakistan, but Pakistan is of great strategic importance. It is the world’s second largest Muslim nation. It has nuclear weapons. The stability of its government is crucial for our own security. Its territory is used by al Qaida and other extremist groups that employ terrorist methods against American and other Western targets.

What links the two stories: the muted American reaction to the floods in Pakistan and the dispute over the mosque?

In both cases there is the danger that Muslims will see a pattern of disrespect. They could see Americans as not caring about Muslims suffering in Pakistan, and as not respecting the wishes of Muslims as to where they want to build an Islamic center. Both of these perceptions of disrespect are great recruiting tools for al Qaida.

If Americans really cared about the “war on terrorism,” really cared about depriving al Qaeda of propaganda victories, then Americans of all faiths would show Muslims respect. They would not treat the Muslim religion as suspect. They would not say that a Muslim house of worship near Ground Zero somehow sullies hallowed ground. And they would open their hearts and their pocketbooks to the millions of Muslims in Pakistan who face enormous suffering.

(Photo: Church Times, UK)


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Filed under news media, Pakistan, terrorism

Mosque hysteria: time for decency

During the McCarthy era, one of the great voices of reason was that of Joseph Welch, the attorney for the Army, who said: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” (See video.) That was the beginning of McCarthy’s decline, and from then on the American press no longer published every inflammatory claim he made.

We need someone like Joseph Welch today who can expose the indecency of the demagogues who exploit the American public’s ignorance and fear of Muslims. And we need news media to stop giving free, uncritical air time to these demagogues. People like Newt Gingrich need to be exposed for what they are, dangerous political opportunists who have no sense of shame.

The latest example of that has been his fanning the flames of hysteria over the planned mosque near Ground Zero. After earlier saying no mosque should be built there until synagogues and churches are built in Saudi Arabia, Gringrich this morning reached a new low when he compared having a mosque near Ground Zero with having a swastika sign near the Holocaust Museum. As reported by Mediaite, Gringrich said on Faux News:

“The folks who want to build this mosque, who are really radical Islamists, who want to triumphfully (sic) prove they can build a mosque next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists. Those folks don’t have any interest in reaching out to the community. They’re trying to make a case about supremacy… This happens all the time in America. Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.”

Gingrich is a bully who has been throwing rhetorical bombs for decades, but enough is enough. It’s time for someone respected by the American public to step up and say: At long last, have you no sense of decency?
And the press needs to treat him the way they treated McCarthy when it was clear that he was a dangerous demagogue. They stopped giving him free air time.



Filed under news media, Obama, terrorism

Anchor babies, aweigh

Suddenly we’re hearing about a strange new threat called “anchor babies,” and news media are not doing a very good job getting the facts right and putting the term in context. It’s important for journalists to report this carefully because the far right is citing the alleged threat of “anchor babies” to justify monkeying with one of the most important parts of the Constitution, the 14th Amendment, with its guarantee of citizenship to anyone born in this country.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who claims to be a moderate, has been warning of the dire threat of “anchor babies” every chance he gets. Recently on CNN he was asked by Wolf Blitzer how many illegal immigrants come here just to have babies that automatically become U.S. citizens. Graham said there are “reports” of some 6,000. Blitzer failed to follow up and ask some obvious questions: What “reports?” What are they based on? And this figure of 6,000: does it refer to 6,000 a year, a decade, or some grand total over all time?

Politifact examines the issue carefully in a long article and ends up saying there’s no evidence of any large number of illegal immigrants coming here to give birth:

“Graham appears to be conflating two things — a pattern of wealthy foreigners engaging in ‘birth tourism’ using legal visas, and illegal immigration of poorer people from Mexico. In our view, failing to make the distinction exaggerates the alleged problem and uses inflammatory rhetoric to obscure legitimate policy questions. On balance, we rate his comment Half True.”

Rating it half true seems overly generous. Graham knows very well he is misleading the public, and the overall impression he’s leaving is totally false. Even Lou Dobbs won’t go as far as Graham; Dobbs defends the 14th Amendment and “birthright citizenship.”

This is an issue ripe for demagoguery, and it’s up to journalists to report the facts carefully and help the public have a sensible debate about immigration.

(Photo: Still from video of CBS News report.)


Filed under immigration, news media, Uncategorized

One year without a real newspaper

It’s been a year now since the death of the Ann Arbor News. It’s been replaced by something called, which is both a website and a twice-weekly (Thursday and Sunday) print newspaper. I don’t know if it’s successful commercially, but in terms of journalism it leaves a lot to be desired.

Much of it seems to be a kind of community bulletin board, with notices of upcoming events and soft features on life in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Some of the stories are so trivial they almost seem like “little Billy Jones fell off his tricycle yesterday.” One time I went to the website and the lead story was about a 100-year-old man who still plays the harmonica. There was a link to video of this gent actually playing the instrument, in case I might be interested, which I was not.

The week it was launched failed to cover some major political stories: the gubernatorial candidacy of local businessman Rick Snyder and the final campaigning for the following week’s Democratic primary for local offices. Last month, less than a month before today’s Michigan primary election, there was a story about Snyder being third in a poll of GOP voters — but the story was a link to a Detroit News item instead of being written by an staffer. The same day a story about Obama’s visit to Michigan was just a rewrite from the Grand Rapids Press.  And today has a story about political factors in today’s election — again drawing heavily from the Grand Rapids Press, which happens to be owned by a subsidiary of the company that owns

While some of the staff are professional journalists who lost their jobs at the old Ann Arbor News and were rehired by at lower salaries, others on the staff are amateurs, and it shows. Some of the stories look like rewrites of press releases (without even much rewriting, I suspect). One time the website even included an actual press release without identifying it as such. Some of the news coverage seems amateurish and naive, without the skepticism and adversarial relationship toward the rich and powerful that American journalism prides itself on and that the public needs. (The closest thing to a real newspaper with that type of attitude is the university’s student-run newspaper, the Michigan Daily.)

To be sure, does publish a print edition twice a week, so at least the old Ann Arbor News is not completely dead, in format. It does provide some information of interest to the community. And it has potential, if it can tap into tips from local citizens who are sending in items about their interests, but it would need a more professional staff and a more journalistic attitude.

It’s a pity, because this is a highly literate, well educated community that would read long-form, in-depth, investigative pieces, and hard-hitting stories exposing social problems, and intelligent, thoughtful, critical profiles of the many interesting people here including world-renowned experts, and instead they are being given pretty thin stuff.

(Photo: Toronto Star)


Filed under Uncategorized