After the entire US media has gone horribly wrong in its prediction of the US presidential election, it is perhaps time for those in the media business to do a bit of soul-searching.
It was not the US media alone that had egg on its face. Media in Europe and India too are guilty of reading their prejudices into what they love to call ‘narratives’ and call it news. At least two Indian media houses sent their ‘star’ reporters – and self-declared feminists to boot – all the way to the US to cover the election and report on ‘the momentous occasion of the world’s most powerful nation electing its first woman president in two hundred years of democracy.’ One wonders whether the ‘star’ reporters would have been as eager to be ‘on the spot’ or the media houses deputed them to report if a Clinton victory was not ‘foreseen’! The two must have returned home much disappointed as at times, the best laid plans of mice and men can (and did) go awry!
What's wrong with The New York Times and the rest of the US media? Well, it's like the cat in the (Indian) adage: the cat closes its eyes and thinks that the sun has set and the world has gone dark, so it could go about filching milk.
As former NYT staffer and Editor, Michael Cieply says in DEADLINEHOLLYWOOD, NYT is editor-driven. Instead of going out on the streets to find out what has been going on, “talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called ‘the narrative.’” Cieply says, a senior reporter sits at his computer playing solitaire till his editor arrived in the office to instruct him on what to ‘report’. He would then go out on the streets to find out a person who would be willing to give a soundbite that suits the ‘narrative’: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?” It is not just that.
“We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.”
It comes as no surprise to consumers of Indian ‘news media’ or should we say ‘narratives media’? Didn’t we observe our secular news reporters on election beat in 2014 going about casting their lines till they hooked the right fish to mouth the pre-determined lines?
Asra Q. Nomani (a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement) who has experienced Islamic extremism first-hand, wrote in The Washington Post ("I’ma Muslim, a woman and an immigrant. I voted for Trump.") that she was opposed to the Democratic Party’s “tap dance around the ‘Islam’ in the Islamic State.” Trump might have been crude in some of his expressions but Nomani says they were hugely exaggerated and demonized by the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, their media channels like the Al Jazeera and their ‘proxies in the West’. Nomani says
“a convenient distraction from the issue that most worried me as a human being on this earth: extremist Islam of the kind that has spilled blood from the hallways of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai to the dance floor of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.”
What probably did Clinton in was her and the Democratic Party’s hypocritical approach towards Qatar and Saudi Arabia, brought to light by WikiLeaks. She had no qualms about accepting multi-million dollar donations for the Clinton Foundation from nations which spawned and nurtured Islamic terrorism the world over.
Replying an e-mailed query about what it felt to be a ‘Muslim in Trump’s America’, Nomani, who is an Indian expatriate said that America with its ‘rich history of social justice and record or civil rights’ had enough checks and balances against possible discrimination. In their eagerness to push their ‘narratives’, secular liberals in the US (as their Indian counterparts are wont to do) airbrushed concerns about the influence of theocratic Muslim dictatorships, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia on the Clinton administration. Secular liberals who wink at the civil rights records of these nations should particularly note what Nomani said about the States:
“These dictatorships are no shining examples of progressive society with their failure to offer fundamental human rights and pathways to citizenship to immigrants from India, refugees from Syria and the entire class of de facto slaves that live in those dictatorships.”
What Nomani told the Indian journalist while signing off is relevant to everyone which the secular liberals should but don’t particularly note:
“We have to stand up with moral courage against not just hate against Muslims, but hate by Muslims, so that everyone can live with sukhun, or peace of mind...”