By Barry Rubin
I don’t understand — and I haven’t seen anyone even try to explain it — why the Republican presidential candidates keep subjecting themselves to politically partisan, hostile journalists being in control of their debates. These journalists have been highly partisan previously, seem to shield President Obama from criticism, and go on the offensive to try, for example, to turn the whole debate into the pretense that these candidates want to make birth control pills illegal.
Why didn’t these candidates just get together, especially now that there are only four left, to choose their own panel, say with each of them picking one questioner? Whenever Newt Gingrich challenged the premises — and honesty — of the questioners, he was met with wild applause, because both the mass media’s bias and the need to challenge it openly couldn’t be more obvious.
But, you might ask, does it make sense to go to war with the mass media? Of course not, unless it is already at war with you. Nothing like this has been seen in America for a century or even two. The main newspapers and television networks are determined to reelect Obama, to promote the currently dominant leftist (not liberal) ideas without limit, and to smear or slander critics.
Why is this so effective? Because roughly half of the American population doesn’t even realize it’s happening. They think the news media is fair and at least as balanced as it was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. Consequently, Obama is a big success, the economy is recovering, man-made global warming is the biggest problem facing the planet, and the president’s enemies are a bunch of racist, reactionary, stupid people. We will get a clearer picture of the exact proportions on the first Tuesday in November.
The consciously dishonest transformation of an assault on the Catholic church’s freedom of religion into a plot to stop the sale of birth control is a prime example. The 100 percent effort to perform character assassination on Republican candidates compared to the near-zero level of criticism regarding Obama and his team is another. The downplaying and misinformation regarding scandals from the pre-election Bill Ayers and Reverend Jeremiah Wright issues through the “green energy” rip-offs and the “Fast and Furious” operation is still another. You can, no doubt, think of more.
If you haven’t heard the video of Reverend Franklin Graham on television, it is one of those moments when the mass media most obviously crosses the line into pure propaganda. Graham was repeatedly asked whether he thought President Obama was a Christian, and he kept explaining the answer was “yes.” He accepts Obama’s saying he was a Christian. But Graham also noted that, according to his own religious beliefs, no one could determine someone else’s credentials in that regard and only Obama knows in his heart whether he was truly a Christian.
Graham didn’t quite get the point — which concerns the difference between a nominal Christian and someone who has a deep personal commitment to live by that religion — across clearly. But any honest person should have understood his meaning. Yet there was a massive media assault afterward twisting his words and falsely asserting that Graham said Obama wasn’t a Christian.
What really startled me, however, was that in a later interview Graham added a critical point. He recounted that he was told beforehand the interview was going to be about the persecution of Christians by Muslim extremists in various countries. That’s why he agreed to do it, Graham explained. Under the circumstances, he was right in accepting the interview — since this is an issue virtually never covered in the mass media — but wrong in letting himself be manipulated.
The time has come for those being so ambushed to refuse to cooperate.
When I was asked to speak about post-revolutionary Egypt on an NPR show and suddenly the program was turned by another guest — with the host’s cooperation — into an anti-Israel diatribe, I politely explained that this was not the supposed topic and hung up the phone.
While this is an extreme example it is hardly atypical. My favorite experience was when I told an Australian Broadcasting Company interviewer, on video, that it was clear that Hamas didn’t want peace. A few days later, I received a note from an Australian viewer telling me that the interview had been artfully edited so I was quoted as saying that Israel’s government didn’t want peace.
We protested, and they eventually issued a correction (which, naturally, hardly anyone saw) claiming that the switch had been a mere technical error.
A friend of mine is a courageous member of the liberal opposition living in an Islamist-ruled state. He closely follows British and American media coverage of his country, and he repeatedly wrote detailed letters to correspondents there — many of whom he knows personally — explaining to them what they missed and got wrong.
Finally, in frustration, he told me: “We can no longer treat many of these journalists as people who are simply making mistakes. They are our enemies”, because they are supporting the Islamists and the forces of oppression and repression.
What happened to Graham showed that interview ambushes cannot be turned to the victim-guest’s advantage. At that point, if the interview is being taped, he knows the program will be edited to suit the journalist or network’s propagandistic purpose. In the case of live interviews, the guest should simply refuse to answer provocative or off-topic questions and keep repeating his own message.
If asked about birth control pills or similar examples of misdirection and propaganda, people including presidential and other candidates should merely say: I’m here to talk about the economy or unemployment or high gas prices due to the administration’s energy policy, or whatever topic they believe important and were supposedly asked to speak about.
It is absolutely clear that critics of this president, his policies, or the ideas behind those policies will be blacklisted and smeared by many journalists, programs, and networks. If the highly politicized media cannot ignore a person, they will try to make them look bad or twist their words. Why should people keep playing along with this strategy and falling into these traps?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com