Among the least analyzed aspects of the Egyptian revolution has been the significance of the widespread violence against the foreign media covering the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The Western media have been unanimous in their sympathetic coverage of the demonstrators in Egypt. Why would the demonstrators want to brutalize them? And why have Western media outlets been so reticent in discussing the significance of their own reporters’ brutalization at the hands of the Egyptian demonstrators?
To date the most egregious attack on a foreign journalist in Cairo’s Tahrir Square took place last Friday, when CBS’s senior foreign correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted and brutally beaten by a mob of Egyptian men. Her own network, CBS, took several days to even report the story, and when it did, it left out important information. The fact that Logan was brutalized for 20 to 30 minutes and that her attackers screamed out “Jew, Jew, Jew” as they ravaged her was absent from the CBS report and from most other follow-on reports in the US media.
The media’s treatment of Logan’s victimization specifically and its treatment of the widescale mob violence against foreign reporters in Cairo generally tells us a great deal about the nature of today’s media discourse.
But before we consider the significance of the coverage, a word must be said about Logan and her colleagues in Tahrir Square. For some time, the common wisdom about journalists has been that they are cowards. Multiple instances of journalistic malpractice led many to conclude that reporters are prisoners of their fears.
For instance, recall the story of the Palestinian lynching of IDF reservists Vadim Nozhitz and Yosef Avrahami at the Palestinian Authority police station in Ramallah on October 1, 2000.
There were dozens of reporters on the scene that day as the Palestinian police-led mob murdered and dismembered Nozhitz and Avrahami.
But only one camera crew – from Italy’s privately owned Mediaset television network – risked life and limb to film the event.
After Mediaset’s footage was published, Ricardo Cristiani, a reporter for RAI television, Mediaset’s state-owned competitor, published an apology in the PA’s official trumpet Al-Hayat al-Jadida.
Among other things, Cristiani wrote, “We [RAI] emphasize to all of you that the events did not happen this way, because we always respect... the journalistic procedures with the Palestinian Authority for work in Palestine and we are credible in our precise work.”
Cristiani’s behavior, like that of his colleagues who failed to film the lynching, led many to believe that the international media are nothing but a bunch of cowards.
Then there was then-CNN news chief Eason Jordan’s remarkable op-ed in The New York Times in April 2003. In that article, Jordan informed the public that for more than a decade, CNN had systematically covered up the brutality and criminality of Saddam Hussein’s regime. CNN hid the information from the public because it thought it was more important to maintain access to senior Iraqi officials – who fed the network a diet of lies – than to lose that access by reporting the truth.
These stories and many like them are what caused many to believe that journalists are cowards. But the behavior of the international media in Tahrir Square proves that reporters are by and large brave. Logan and her colleagues willingly went to Tahrir Square to cover the demonstrations in spite of the dangers.
While the reporters on the scene in Cairo serve as a rebuke to the notion of journalistic cowardice, the international media’s tepid and superficial coverage of their brutalization at the hands of the demonstrators shares important features with the negligence of CNN in Iraq and the reporters in Ramallah.
To begin to understand those common components, it is worth considering another story about sexual misconduct that hit the presses in the US around the time the story about Logan’s victimization was first reported.
This week, a group of female US soldiers filed a class action lawsuit against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld. The plaintiffs allege that both men and the US defense establishment are responsible for the sexual assaults they suffered during their military service. They claim that the men who abused them were a product of US military culture.
The US media has provided blanket coverage of the story, which effectively places the entire US military on trial for rape.
What is interesting about the lawsuit story is that it highlights the alleged perpetrator. Coverage of the lawsuit has been heavy on details about the alleged misogyny of US military culture.
In stark contrast, coverage of Logan’s sexual assault makes almost no mention of the perpetrators.
Certainly the issue of Egypt’s societal misogyny has been ignored.
What makes the distinction between coverage of the two stories so remarkable is that there is there is no comparison between the alleged anti-female bias in the US military and the actual misogyny of Egyptian society.
According to a 1999 report from the World Health Organization, 97 percent of Egyptian women and girls have undergone the barbaric practice of genital mutilation. A 2005 report by the Cairo-based Association for Legal Rights of Women submitted to the UN explained that Egyptian women are constitutionally deprived of their basic rights, including their rights to control their bodies and property. Males who murder their female relatives are often unpunished.
When they are tried and convicted for premeditated murder, their sentences average from two to four years in prison.
So far the only culprit the US media have managed to find for the sexual assault perpetrated against Lara Logan by a mob of Egyptian men has been a radical leftist reporter named Nir Rosen.
On Tuesday, Rosen wrote defamatory attacks against Logan on his Twitter account. He mocked her suffering and bemoaned the fame the attack would win her.
Rosen’s statements on Twitter set off a feeding frenzy of reporters and commentators who raced to condemn him. New York University’s Center for Law and Security, where Rosen served as a fellow, hastened to demand his resignation.
The onslaught against Rosen for his anti-Logan statements is extremely revealing about the nature of the international media. Rosen’s writings reveal him as an anti-Semite and an anti- American. Rosen has written prolifically about his hope to see Israel destroyed. His war reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq unfailingly takes the side of America’s enemies. He was an embedded reporter with the Taliban and is an outspoken champion of Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban.
Rosen’s hateful politics have brought him book contracts, prestigious fellowships, interviews on influential television shows and even a request to give testimony before the US Senate. His work has been published in elite magazines and newspapers.
No one batted a lash when he called for Israel to be destroyed or supported the Taliban – whose treatment of women and girls is among the most brutal in history. But for attacking Logan, he was excommunicated from polite society.
In the hopes of rehabilitating himself, Rosen gave a groveling interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night in which he called himself “a jerk.”
But it is too late. He broke the rules.
The story of the media at Tahrir Square exposes those rules for all to see. The bravery of the journalists on the scene, the media’s determination to ignore Islamic misogyny, and their expulsion of Rosen from polite society all tell us that what drives the international media is not a quest for truth. It is a quest to advance the ideology of identity politics.
Identity politics revolve around the narrative of victimization. For adherents to identity politics, the victim is not a person, but a member of a privileged victim group. That is, the status of victimhood is not determined by facts, but by membership in an identity group. Stories about victims are not dictated by facts. Victim stories are tailored to fit the victim. Facts, values and individual responsibility are all irrelevant.
In light of this, a person’s membership in specific victim groups is far more important than his behavior. And there is a clear pecking order of victimhood in identity politics.
Anti-American Third World national, religious and ethnic groups are at the top of the victim food chain. They out-victim everyone else.
After them come the Western victims: Racial minorities, women, homosexuals, children and animals.
Israelis, Jews, Americans, white males and rich people are the predetermined perpetrators. No matter how badly they are victimized, brave reporters will go to heroic lengths to ignore, underplay or explain away their suffering.
In cases when victim groups are attacked by victim groups – for instance when Iraqis were attacked by Saddam, or Palestinians are attacked by the PA, the media tend to ignore the story.
When members of Western victim groups are attacked by Third World victims, the story can be reported, but with as little mention of the identity of the victim-perpetrators as possible. So it was with coverage of Logan and the rest of the foreign reporters assaulted in Egypt. They were attacked by invisible attackers with no identities, no barbaric values, no moral responsibility, and no criminal culpability. CBS went so far as to blur the faces of the men who surrounded Logan in the moments before she was attacked.
When we understand the rules of reportage as dictated by adherents to identity politics, we understand why Rosen was excommunicated when he mocked Logan and not when he called for Israel’s destruction, condemned the commemoration of the September 11 attacks, or sided with the Taliban and the Iraqi insurgents killing Americans. In those cases, he followed the rules – preferring the cause of “victims” over the lives of “perpetrators.”
But when he mocked Logan, he crossed the line. He treated Logan as a perpetrator because he thought of her as an insufficiently anti-American reporter. He didn’t realize that when she was brutalized, she had slid into the victim category.
Identity politics are nothing more than socially acceptable bigotry. Those who practice it are racist bigots who have replaced liberal values that hold everyone to the same moral and criminal standards with illiberal values that judge people’s morality and criminality by the identity group with which they are most readily associated.
When we understand identity politics, we understand how it is that the wholesale assaults against foreign journalists have received so little analysis. Lara Logan and the other hundred reporters attacked in Tahrir Square are real victims, not because of who they are, but because of what happened to them. The Egyptians who attacked them are real criminals, not because of who they are, but because of what they did.
But until reporters are willing to admit this – that is, until they dump their ideological attachment to identity politics in favor of the truth – news consumers worldwide will continue to receive news reports that obfuscate more than they tell us about the world we live in.