Saturday, September 10, 2011

Our Media Watchdogs

Why is it, we wonder, that when Michele Bachmann gets her history confused, suggesting that the Founding Fathers worked to end slavery or that the "shot heard round the world" was fired in New Hampshire, the media erupts in spasms of derisive hilarity. They just can't get enough of the buffoonery of Michele Bachmann, but when Barack Obama commits a similar error there's utter silence. Not only is there nothing to be heard but the chirping of crickets, some media organs feel it necessary to actually cover up the mistake to keep the President from suffering the kind of mockery which should only be visited upon the likes of Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and George Bush.

As an example, consider that in his speech last Thursday night the President said this:
We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. Founder of the Republican Party. But in the middle of a civil war, he was also a leader who looked to the future -- a Republican President who mobilized government to build the Transcontinental Railroad ....
In fact, so far from being a founder, Lincoln only joined the party in 1856, two years after it was founded, but you won't hear any hearty guffaws from the usual suspects on the Left who would be rolling on the floor had Bachmann said this.

Now, don't misunderstand. I don't think the President's misstatement is a big deal, nor did I think it was necessarily indicative of any mental shortcoming when he claimed to have campaigned in all 57 states, but neither is it a big deal when Republicans commit the same sort of blunders. If people are going to hold a laugh-fest when Bachmann or Palin says something untoward they should do the same thing when Obama does it, and if, as I think, they shouldn't deride the President for his historical solecisms neither should they deride Republicans for theirs.

What I do think is a big deal, though, besides the contrast in the reaction to Republican goofs and Democrat goofs, is that PBS went so far as to scrub the Obama flub from their transcript of his speech. Here's what the PBS transcript said:
We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. But in the middle of a civil war, he was also a leader who looked to the future.
What would have been treated as an uproarious gaffe if a Republican had said it was actually expunged from the transcript by a media outlet that's subsidized by our tax dollars. PBS, behaving like Izvestia under the old Soviet regime, deliberately edited out anything which would make the president to whom they're emotionally wedded look ill-informed. Nor have I seen anything in any liberal media source chastising PBS for this shameful breach of professional ethics.

Little wonder that so few people trust the media to be fair and honest.

Update: PBS has inserted the missing words into the transcript at their website. Perhaps it was all an honest mistake, but that's rather hard to believe. PBS called their rendering of the speech a "transcript" which, unlike a "prepared text" from which the president might have deviated, is a word for word record of the actual speech, and it would just be astonishing if the one thing they missed in preparing that transcript was the very blooper that would embarrass the President.

Tom McGuire at Just One Minute offers another interesting sidenote. He quotes Time magazine as they set the record straight:
He gives a good speech, but he’s loose with the facts. He called Abraham Lincoln the “founder” of the Republican Party. Nope. Lincoln was not the founder of the party; he wasn’t even the first Republican nominee (John Fremont was, in 1856). Lincoln was, of course, the first Republican to be elected president.
McGuire then adds:
Ooops, my bad - that was Time ... writing about Mike Huckabee [who made the same error] back in 2008. The author of that immortal and transportable wisdom? Jay Carney, who now famously flacks for Obama. I still can't find Time's mention of the Obama gaffe.
Maybe Carney, President Obama's current press secretary, will be quizzed about all this at the next press briefing. Or not.

Why Muslims Are Angry With America (Pt. II)

This is Part II of Why Muslims Are Angry With America. Part I was posted yesterday. The posts are based on an essay for CNN by Steven Kull who is director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes and author of the recently released book, Feeling Betrayed: The Roots of Muslim Anger at America.

His article addresses what he believes to be the reasons for Muslim resentments of America.

I've excerpted the article and added comments. Kull writes:
A particularly frustrating feature of the U.S. narrative, for Muslims, is that it divides Muslim society into a progressive liberal and secular sector on one hand and on the other a regressive Islamist sector that seeks to impose backward Islamic traditions. America then seeks to promote the liberal forces and to undermine the Islamist forces.

This is not simply imagined. Currently in Congress there are efforts to ensure that U.S. funding of democracy promotion in Egypt only benefits liberal, secular parties and does not in any way benefit Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

To most Muslims this American perspective on Muslim society is simply incorrect and American efforts to choose the winner is really about America seeking to impose its Western secular model of governance and to eradicate the role of Islam in the public sphere. Since to Muslims Islam is, by definition, meant to be in the public sphere, American efforts are seen as seeking to undermine Islam itself.
It needs to be asked why it's wrong to seek to encourage ("impose" is a bit too strong of a word) the adoption of the Western model of governance? If we want those parties more favorable to our way of seeing the world to prevail why should we not support them? Indeed, is it not the case that many conservative Muslims in the West work very hard to encourage the spread of Islam and Sharia in the West? As long as they do it lawfully they should be permitted to promote their beliefs.

Why, then, would Muslims take umbrage that the West seeks to promote it's values in their world? There's a double standard at work here. Muslims feel they should be free to spread their views and values throughout the West, but that the West, including Christians, must not be allowed to promote their views and values in Muslim lands.
Overwhelming majorities endorse liberal principles including that the will of the people should be the basis of governance, government leaders should be chosen through free elections and that there should be full freedom of religion. At the same time, equally large majorities say that Sharia should be the basis of government, that all laws should be vetted by Islamic scholars to ensure they are consistent with the Koran and that Muslims should not be allowed to convert to another religion.

Obviously there are some serious contradictions here. But these contradictions are not primarily between sectors of Muslim society but rather within Muslim individuals. This could be described as an “internal clash of civilizations.”

So it is particularly infuriating to Muslims when America intervenes in a way that is destabilizing, trying to root for one imagined side against another, in what Americans conceive of as an inevitable evolution toward the victory of one side .... America’s interventions produce a backlash, making Muslims feel that they need to do more to defend their Islamic foundations and making advocates of liberal ideas suspect.
Kull makes a good point here, but he also highlights a serious problem. It's very difficult for the West to formulate a coherent policy toward a part of the world in which the mass of people live with such a profound contradiction. No matter what the West does it is bound to offend one side or the other of the Muslim psyche.
There are reasons to believe that this effect was al Qaeda’s intended goal of the 9/11 attacks. By provoking America into military action against Muslim targets, al Qaeda hoped to revive the age-old narrative of the crusading West and to drive the Muslim people into the arms of al Qaeda’s vision of a purely traditional Islamic society devoid of liberal or Western elements.

Al Qaeda did not succeed in drawing in most Muslims. Al Qaeda’s terrorist methods are seen as wrong and its vision as too extreme. The hold of liberal ideas is not easy to shake. However, al Qaeda did succeed in pulling the United States into a position in the Muslim world that has alienated much of Muslim society.
The reason al Qaeda is seen as wrong, I suspect, is because they were, or are being, defeated. If al Qaeda had prevailed in Iraq and elsewhere they would be seen as great heroes in the Muslim world, carrying out the will of Allah in humiliating the crusaders. Bin Laden himself said that Muslims favor the strong horse, and if that had turned out to be him he would have been seen as the modern Saladin. Many Muslims doubtless reject al Qaeda, not because of their horrific bloodshed, but because al Qaeda has failed to fulfill its promise.
By intervening in ways that have enhanced the polarization of secular and Islamist forces the United States has also made it more difficult for Muslims to build a political space within which they can find a middle ground that integrates these elements into a more coherent whole.
How much political space would there have been in Afghanistan under the Taliban, or in Iraq under Saddam? The idea that American interventions make finding a middle ground between secularists and Islamists more difficult is hard to credit. America poured a lot of money into Mubarak's Egypt and although he was a tyrant there was more of a middle ground there than there is in Syria or Pakistan where our influence is minimal.
As America begins to gradually disengage from Iraq and Afghanistan there is the potential for negative feelings toward the United States to begin to abate. Muslims generally perceive U.S. military forces in the region as a threatening presence designed to keep the region the way America wants it to be .... But perhaps most fundamentally, America’s relationship is most likely to improve as it comes to understand, accept and embrace the whole of Muslim society and the course of development that it has chosen for itself.

Muslims believe that they are on a different path than the West. This path is central to their notion of their freedom to practice their religion. When they feel that America is threatening their religion and their aspirations, they grow resolutely hostile.

As Americans we may believe that it is not possible to blend such a form of religiosity and liberal values. Maybe Muslims will conclude this too. But only when Muslims perceive America as no longer being an obstacle to their endeavor will they be able to move forward in their discovery. And it is only then that America’s relationship with the Muslim world will become more amicable.
America will no longer be an obstacle to the Muslim endeavor when it becomes clear that that endeavor no longer includes the destruction of Israel and a worldwide caliphate. If Muslims abjured these two goals and resolved the contradiction Kull talks about between a desire for a more liberal polity and a deeper desire to live under Islamic law, the relationship between the West and the Muslim world would indeed become less antagonistic.

Is the West not in any way at fault for the strained relations? Certainly in one regard it is, at least in that part of the Muslim world which lies in the Middle East. The bulk of the problem is that we depend on their oil, and as long as we do Western culture will infiltrate their world. The best thing we could do would be to develop our own energy resources which would allow our national interest to be much less intertwined with what's going on in the Middle East and allow us to leave them alone. That would make us both happier.

Unfortunately, developing our own resources in any meaningful way is not something the current administration is willing to do.