In the months after “Jaws” hit movie theaters in 1975, shark hysteria ruled beaches, especially in the Northeast where the movie was set. One summer day in that era, a fishing boat returned to a pier with a shark it had caught. As people strolling by stopped to see the impressive dead sea creature hanging by its tail, the shark gave birth. When the fledgling sharks hit the dock, the gawkers fell on them, stamping and kicking them to death.
The response by some to the scheduled appearance by the Washington D.C. bureau chief of the Middle Eastern news network Al Jazeera in Thomaston is sadly reminiscent of that brutal attack. The outrage would make more sense if the General Henry Knox Museum group had commissioned a flattering painting of Osama bin Laden to be hung in the building.
The reaction to Al Jazeera seems to betray a profound misunderstanding of the news network. It’s as if the network is suspect because it reports and comments on the Arab world, a world about which most Americans know little but believe is lock-step in its hatred of this nation.
And even if Al Jazeera were a network with an editorial slant —- perhaps anti-American — it would not be out of the American journalistic tradition.
Until the early 20th century, most U.S. newspapers were defined by their support of a political party or philosophy or they existed to further a pet cause. It wasn’t until press workers unionized and other costs increased that the number of newspapers declined significantly and publishers concluded it was smarter to institute professional journalism standards, without political bias, to appeal to a wider audience.
The Fox News Network is a throwback to agenda-driven journalism. Its stock-in-trade is to generate — or manufacture — outrage against what it deems enemies of the conservative, Republican view of the world. The enemies are often foreigners, academics, progressives and socialists, gays and, of course, Muslims.
The firestorm Fox whipped up over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque in New York is an example of its formula at work. With limited and distorted facts, viewers were excited to a fever pitch, ready to stamp and kick those who would build a place of worship in the vicinity of the former World Trade Center (never mind that strip clubs operated nearer the site).
To some conservatives, it’s as if partisan journalists who choose the “right” side are accepted, and those who report from the perspective of, say, the Arab world are akin to the Gestapo. Regular viewers of the BBC and Canada’s CBC quickly learn more about the world and its complex problems than those who consume a steady diet of Fox, NBC or CNN. Al Jazeera should be added to the list of worthwhile news sources.
By most accounts, Al Jazeera is not agenda-driven. Its reporting on the Arab Spring was lauded by many, and it may have helped create a climate in which new ideas could be shared.
And that’s what the folks who take care of the Henry Knox Museum want to do — hear and share new ideas. For those who can’t attend, we hope the museum video records and posts the talk.