Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wallflowers at the Revolution

The NYT's Frank Rich:
A month ago most Americans could not have picked Hosni Mubarak out of a police lineup. [...] And so now — as the world’s most unstable neighborhood explodes before our eyes — does anyone seriously believe that most Americans are up to speed? [...]

The live feed from Egypt is riveting. We can’t get enough of revolution video — even if, some nights, Middle West blizzards take precedence over Middle East battles on the networks’ evening news. But more often than not we have little or no context for what we’re watching. That’s the legacy of years of self-censored, superficial, provincial and at times Islamophobic coverage of the Arab world in a large swath of American news media. [...]

Perhaps the most revealing window into America’s media-fed isolation from this crisis — small an example as it may seem — is the default assumption that the Egyptian uprising, like every other paroxysm in the region since the Green Revolution in Iran 18 months ago, must be powered by the twin American-born phenomena of Twitter and Facebook. [...]
It may be the case that Facebook had a role to play and even, as Jennifer Preston argues, became an outlet and organizing platform for protesters and Egypt. However, there are many, many other factors, alongside Facebook, that those of us who are so distant from the events and context just don't have a grasp on. Rich is right: the mainstream media are responsible, to some extent, for Western ignorance. New media might play a role in correcting that ignorance to some degree. In a world where misguided Western intervention has done so much harm, that, it seems to me, is the more important story.