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Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Jewsih presence vs. Arab's absence|
|05/03/02 at 01:11:55|
|Call for more engaging Arab presence in U.S. |
Dubai |By Mildred Fernandes | 03-05-2002
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From the thousands of county, state and regional newspapers that crowd American doorsteps, bookstores and libraries, there are a handful that stand out: an elite media that influences the opinions of both ordinary American citizens as well as those in government service.
Increasingly, decision-makers around the world also read and react to these newspapers, in a bid to reach the voice of America.
The Washington Post and the New York Times are at the forefront of that elite group, ahead of the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and one or two others. The reasons for this group's dominance are simple: their large circulation draws large revenues, channelled into better and more bureaux around the nation and the world.
Economics also explains why the elite media sets the agenda for the rest of the country: the thousands of smaller newspapers have neither the money nor the time to cover the world and analyse it – their only option is to reproduce the coverage of those who do: The Post, the Times et al.
When Ben Bradlee, the renowned former managing editor of The Washington Post has addressed the 200 Arab Media Summit organised by the Dubai Press Club at the Emirates Towers in Dubai on April 28 and 29.
His suggestions for changing the perception of Arabs in the United States and the West carried an additional weight. Here, in effect, was the world's messenger saying what was wrong with the message they carried, and how it could be changed.
Bradlee, the most famous editor of The Washington Post and the man behind its legendary Watergate and Pentagon Papers coverage, was the first of the summit's speakers to call for a sharper, more engaging Arab presence in Washington D.C. and around America.
"The Jewish lobby is extremely strong in America," he said, speaking to Gulf News after the summit's first session.
"One of the things I'm trying to persuade people here about is that the Arab lobby is not. I don't see an Arab ambassador from one end of the month to the other. It's not just the ambassadors, but the good number twos and number threes – we don't see any of them."
"The representation of the Arab world in the U.S. was not accomplishing the task," Bradlee said. "There were many ambassadors from this part of the world who gave very good parties and who were in the social columns of the newspaper, but didn't cast much of a shadow in the corridors of power."
"One of the problems was that the absence of that Arab presence, an informed Arab presence, was magnified because the Israelis sent their very best people to the United States and they were extremely difficult to deal with, and they lectured you from one end of the day to the other."
"It's not hard to meet with the media, whether it's the Post or anything else," said Bradlee, whose paper has long been considered the 'conscience of the capital' due to its ability to reach congressmen and women, senators, lobbyists and members of the executive branch of the presidency. "The part of America I know doesn't include enough Arabs," Bradlee said.
"The Arab world can send more quality people to the United States, and work with us, we're starved for information there," he said. "Arabs need to take a more active role there, but I think the Arabs should also listen. Not preach all the time, but listen, really listen, to what is going on and what the problems are."
This primacy of a handful of newspapers and a handful of opinions does not necessarily skew coverage in any particular direction, Bradlee said. The Post's Middle East coverage – the actual reportage – has long beenconsidered by peers in journalism circles as more balanced than that of its closest competitor, the New York Times.
"I have no politics at all," Bradlee said. "I just want to know what's going on, someone else can make up their mind whether it's good for the Jews or bad for the Jews. I want to know the truth, and you have to work very hard to get people to tell you the truth because they won't the first time until you pin them down."
He also pooh-poohs theories about a strong Jewish influence of the media, suggesting instead that pro-Israeli Americans and lobbyists are simply a louder voice in the absence of an Arab voice.
Bradlee's advice to newspaper readers all over the world is the same as that which he has given to the hundreds of journalists in his employ: "Don't believe the first version of what they tell you because it's probably not the truth. It certainly isn't all of the truth."
Thanks to the predominance of soundbite and image-driven television, truth is also a rare commodity to come by in the United States, Bradlee said.
"Unless you dig deep in America, your attitude is going to be formed by television and your attitude is going to consist of a series of interchangeable slides and images," he said.
"The worst of American television even influences the rest of the world," he added. "In previous trips to the Middle East, I've seen soap operas and stuff being screened that I would not watch back home."
Under Bradlee's direction, The Washington Post grew into the most powerful and popular newspaper in America, and soon began to spread its wings overseas. The newsroom budget in 1965, for example, was $4 million – when Bradlee left the post of managing editor, it was $65 million.
A great deal of that money went into opening and operating Post bureaux around the world. "We had no foreign bureaux when I got there, none," Bradlee said. "Now we have 23 people working overseas. It's very expensive, but it makes the Post a better paper, and right now it's the jewel in our crown."
September 11 changed everything about American newspapers, Bradlee said. "As a war correspondent, I covered the landings in Egypt, I went to Israel, I covered the independence movement in North Africa," he said. "But I never sat from my own bedroom before and watched the Pentagon burn from my third-floor window. I just never had conceived of it, I couldn't believe it."
Still, Bradlee believes American attitudes towards the Arab world have changed for the better since that day, as Americans are now more aware of the Arab world, what it is and what it isn't.
"Not towards Afghanistan obviously, and not toward Saudi Arabia," he said, "but I think now Americans understand a lot more, and they demand more information about what is going on here."
"That's a good thing. Israel did well with the American public for a long time, as long as they were able to sell their actions as part of a defensive struggle. But in my mind, Israel suffered enormous defeats with the present excesses, starting in Sabra and Shattila and ending in Jenin. The (poll) arrows are going against Israel at this moment."
Although Bradlee is no longer a hands-on editor at the paper, he continues to serve as managing editor-at-large, meaning his opinion still carries considerable weight at its highest levels.
He has no intentions of ever leaving his post at The Post. "I'm 80," he said. "Why would I stop?"
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