The American MSM and the Arab Spring

This is the very short version of the presentation I made at the Algiers Book Fair Colloquium on Sunday:
1. The elite (editors, commentators, and leading journalists) of the U.S. news media is part of– indeed, an important pillar of– the country’s continuing political elite and plays a singularly important role in defining and framing the political culture of this elite– including, in defining the limits of “acceptable” political discourse. Believe me, I know about this, based on my long decades of working with and in the MSM.
2. Like the rest of the U.S. political elite, the MSM elite has seen a significant increase over recent decades in the degree of its interpenetration and intermingling with the Israeli political elite.
3. Prior to the Arab Spring, the most common meme in the MSM was that Arabs were somehow “incapable” of democracy. The first glorious weeks of the ‘Arab Spring’ pro-democracy movement therefore came as a huge surprise to commentators in the MSM.
4. Their first reaction was one of delight. Both the natural human delight of people anywhere seeing their fellow-humans rise up en masse against autocracy and corruption– but also a kind of ‘self-interested’ delight based on the ideas that:

    (a) the protesters looked and acted ‘just like us’, and therefore could naturally be expected to be pro-American and bring about the kind of pro-American order that emerged after the ‘color revolutions’ of a few years ago in Ukraine and Georgia;
    (b) an initial perception that, because of the absence of any explicitly Islamist slogans and banners, these movements signaled the rise of new– and in the MSM view, more ‘modern’ and ‘realistic’– secular movements in Tunisia and Egypt; and
    (c) an initial perception that the protesters were not concerned at all about Israel and Palestine, and that therefore the ‘Arab masses’ had finally ‘gotten over’ their previous, inexplicable obsession with Palestine.

5. Soon enough, however, it became clear to even the most obtuse of the commentators in the MSM that none of these analyses was borne out by the facts of what was happening on the ground in Tunisia and Egypt. The protesters in both countries soon proved themselves to be:

    (a) extremely harsh in their critiques of the degree to which the U.S. had propped up their previous dictators and were complicit in their misdeeds;
    (b) composed in good part of smart, influential, and well-organized Islamist movements who had considerable experience of working well alongside their more secular compatriots; and
    (c) strongly concerned about the issue of Palestine.

6. At that point, the MSM elite started to express increasing doubts about the Arab Spring. The argument of many thought leaders in the MSM shifted from “Arabs are incapable of democracy” to the possibly even more racist and Islamophobic argument that “Arabs don’t deserve democracy.”
7. But luckily, the MSM don’t monopolize all media in the country any more. There has also been a considerable fragmentation of the media environment over recent decades That has allowed the rise of terrifyingly rightwing, Islamophobic, and hateful new phenomena like Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, etc. But it has also allowed the rise of significant organs and personalities within the progressive wing of the new media; and the progressive movement within the U.S. has shown a welcome and necessary new openness to including the Palestine Question among its concerns rather than continuing to exclude it, which it did for so long, previously.

6 thoughts on “The American MSM and the Arab Spring

  1. Davud

    Helena,
    Would you please provide some examples of your statement in #3. “Prior to the Arab Spring, the most common meme in the MSM was that Arabs were somehow “incapable” of democracy.”
    And MSM not AEI, or other neo-con website.

  2. Yousef

    Helena,
    You put it in a nutshell, right on target, concise and precise.
    Yes, Over the decades, I have been reading in MSM that Arabs and Muslims are “incapable” of democracy. In fact, the MSM is guilty of erecting a wall of ignorance between the American people and Arab culture.

  3. Ellen

    The relentless and inane fear mongering about the Muslim Brotherhood in the MSN was the theme of what would happen if Democracy emerged, i.e. incapability, is one example.
    Israel did not want Mubarak to go down and at first the US supported the Pharaoh. Then the fear mongering started and then the criticism — which continues — that Obama “lost” Egypt.
    Any diligent reader of the main stream media saw this line of thinking.
    Finally, from the LA Times, January 28th, 2011:
    “Is real democracy an option in Egypt?”
    http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2011/01/as-cable-news-dishes-out-scenes-of-teargassings-burning-buildings-and-tanks-rolling-through-the-streets-of-cairo-im-reminde.html

  4. Jack

    Real democracy has come to mean US style democracy, ie., corporate and bank controlled government. Unlimited discussion is permitted, but only within clearly defined parameters. Thus we were permitted to discuss how many billions of taxpayer dollars we we give away to the drug and insurance companies for ” health care reform”, but not the single payer option. We are permitted to discuss how best to “win” in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not why we should be there at all. The MSM does not need to be censored in the US. They are part of the corporacracy and are self-censoring. The military industrial complex always needs a threat and an enemy. In the constant Muslim bashing the MSM has given them the perfect enemy and a threat and indeed even a war that can never end. And all the while, the MSM will continue to give us the great debate between the right, the hard right and the ultra-hard right.

  5. bb

    Yes indeed it was the liberal interventionists, the neo cons and George W Bush who famously rejected the argument that arabs were incapable of democracy, which had been the foundation of US and UK foreign policy for decades.
    The images of Gaddafi and his rathole were so reminiscent of Saddam and his rathole it was quite eerie.
    The Tunisian people go to the polls this weekend to elect the legislature that will draw up their new constitution. According to the London Times, 3000 volunteers have been trained to man the polling booths; there are 10,000 (!) candidates and 100 (!) parties; the electoral system is proportional representation; when exiting the voters will be able to wave their purple dyed fingers. It will be like those indelible images from the first election in Iraq in Jan 2005 when the Iraqi people so courageously faced down the insurgency and the derision of the MSM to record their votes.
    Powerful symbol, those purple fingers.
    Meanwhile the Syrians are still being slaughtered every week – when and who in the west going to start speaking for them?

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