Saturday, December 20, 2008

What The Shoe Throwing "Hero" Tells Us About Our Own Media

I’m a little confused. Earlier this week an Iraqi journalist did what most American journalists wish they could do. At a press conference in Baghdad the reporter, Muntazer al-Zaidi of the Cairo-based Al-Baghdadia, first hurled insults, then threw his shoes at president Bush. The American news media immediately canonized the fellow and reported that he was a hero in the Arab world and a spokesman for the Arab street.

Imagine that. By throwing his shoes, this one man becomes the voice for the entire Arab world. Meanwhile, according to the French equivalent of our Associated Press, AFP, the other reporters at the press conference apologized to President Bush for their colleague’s behavior. But they are not the voices of the Arab world.

This becomes especially confusing because immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when television cameras captured countless Arabs dancing in the streets, celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center and the devastation at the Pentagon, this same mainstream media mob made a special effort to inform us that we should not draw inferences about the entire Muslim world from the public displays we saw on our television screens.

One man throwing shoes speaks for the entire Arab world, yet tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands or more, are not representative of the Arab world.

How does the mainstream media draw these distinctions? How can it be that reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi is anointed as a hero of the people for throwing shoes?

The difference is that Muntazer al-Zaidi’s behavior conformed to the narrative preferred by the media. For flinging his footwear, Muntazer al-Zaidi was adopted to serve as the media’s sock puppet, expressing the opinions they are professionally forbidden to utter. The reporters who apologized were not conforming to the narrative and their politeness was not deemed reflective of the “Arab street.”

Sock puppets perform an essential role in slanting the news we read and hear. How often have you watched a news program on television and heard testimonies from ‘ordinary people” whose experiences and opinions lend support to the reporter’s account? Do you really believe that those were the only people interviewed for the piece? It’s likely that dozens of people were interviewed and only those people whose testimonies gave the greatest weight to the reporter’s account were shown.

A few years ago, there was the embarrassing revelation of Greg Packer, an ordinary man-on-the-street who showed up everywhere. An editor for the Associated Press noticed that one man was recurring as a “randomly” selected man-on-the-street. In fact, AP editor Kristin Gazlay found that Greg Packer of Huntington, New York had been randomly chosen to give testimony on dozens of occasions. His popularity among the media apparently derived from his instinct for predicting precisely what the reporter wanted to hear. His nose for mainstream conventional wisdom was flawless and his testimonies conformed perfectly to the narrative. And so his usefulness made his selection as a good interview not quite random. His career as an ordinary man-on-the-street ended in 2003 when Ms. Gazlay directed that he was not to be quoted in the future.

Sock puppetry is not restricted to the media. Politicians frequently use dead icons to give greater weight to their own opinions. Expect to hear Democrats ventriloquizing Franklin Roosevelt as they push a massive expansion of government to address the nation’s financial difficulties. John Kennedy and Harry Truman are frequently exploited as sock puppets for both Republicans and Democrats. Even Jesus Christ finds himself speaking out on issues he apparently neglected to cover during his ministry on Earth. A few years ago, environmentalists borrowed the phrase “What would Jesus do?” They corrupted it to read, “What would Jesus drive?” As though Christ would concern himself with matters as inconsequential as fuel economy.

And so, it’s hardly surprising that our mainstream media would adopt as their sock puppet a journalist who shouts, “It is the farewell kiss, you dog,” at our president before throwing his shoes at him. The soles of shoes are somehow the ultimate insult in the Arab world.

But if such an act as throwing a shoe at a head of state elevates its perpetrator to heroic status, it says much about the intellectual poverty and the spiritual coarseness of the culture that celebrates it, whether it be the Arab street or the mainstream media.

Condi Rice had a bit to say about this too.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Name A Bat After Someone You Love

Or a turtle.

Starting Monday, Purdue University researchers will be auctioning off the naming rights to seven recently discovered types of bats hailing from Mexico, South America, Central America and Africa. And if the bats seem too "last Christmas," there's also a pair of yet-to-be-named Amazonian turtles up for grabs.

Universities and ecological organizations across the country have begun to view the naming rights to new species of birds, bugs and mammals as a way to draw big bucks to fund their research.

"There's not very much money to support the kind of work it takes to discover these new species," said John Bickham, a Purdue professor of forestry and natural resources and discoverer of several of the new bats. "Money generated by someone who says, 'I'm passionate about the environment, and I'd love to go down in history by having a species of organism named after me,'— that's very important to our continued work."

Ain't capitalism great? It'll even underwrite its enemies.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

The Relentless March of Global Cooling

Does this mean that global warming isn't the "imminent threat" that Algore says it is?

"Absolutely not!"

Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

LA Times Advice: Surrender To Terrorists

Yep, we shouldn't even try to prevent it.

Mumbai should remind us -- again -- of the folly of the Bush administration's "war on terror." Terror is an emotion, and terrorism is a tactic. You can't make "war" against it. Even if meant as mere metaphor, "the war on terror" foolishly enhanced the terrorist's status as prime boogeyman, arguably increasing the psychological effectiveness of terrorist tactics. Worse, it effectively lumped together many different organizations motivated by many different grievances -- a surefire route to strategic error.

And please ignore any evidence to the contrary, such as the US has been terrorism free since the inception of the war on terror and Europe has not suffered a terrorist attack since 2005.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Joe Biden Makes An Ass Of Himself - Again

Joe Biden has been noticeably quiet beginning about a month before the presidential election. Now that he has opened his mouth, it's obvious why Obama clamped down on him.

The United States has done too little to fight the spread of weapons of mass destruction, U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden said on Wednesday, as he got a congressional report warning of their pressing threat.

Biden's appearance reflected what was likely to be a continuing interest in weapons issues in the administration of President-elect Barack Obama, an aide said.

"We're not doing all we can to prevent the world's most lethal weapons from winding up in the hands of terrorists," Biden told reporters at Obama's Washington transition headquarters.

Let's see now. Bush (doing it his way) ended the nuclear ambitions of Iraq, Libya and North Korea. After the Democrats neutered US foreign policy, Iran moved forward with its nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden tipped the future administration's hand when he told Israel that they would simply have to reconcile themselves to a nuclear Iran.

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The Lamest Blogs In The World?

Okay, I admit it, I've been lazy since the election and haven't been attending to my blog. And, this is typically my busiest time of the year and blogging opportunities are few and far between. But, at least my laziness hasn't landed my blog on this "Lamest blogs."

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