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Nicholas Kristof's Fox Pas(s)
by Lila Rajiva
July 12, 2004

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Nicholas Kristof’s recent column in the New York Times makes you wonder what’s in the drinking fountains at the Times.

What does the title “Al Jazeera: Out-Foxing Fox” suggest to you?  That Al Jazeera the Arab station that broadcasts out of Qatar is worse than our own vendor of agitprop?

The article that follows proves nothing of the sort although it’s disfigured with all sorts of dodgy equivalences and the same kind of unbecoming moral squint as Kristof’s last piece upbraiding some inchoate group of  “liberals” for ruining the quiet of Times Square with their polarizing rants about the lies of President Bush. For St. Nick, you see, a few liberal books by various frustrated citizens calling President Bush a liar (with a good deal of yet to be refuted evidence to back them up) is just as upsetting as the most powerful leader in the world corralling dictatorial powers to himself and a cabal of war-mongers employing deafening propaganda to browbeat a country into an illegal, unjust war. Speaking truth to power is the same as ruffling some feathers on editorial boards. Employing some broadly accurate epithets is the same as killing tens of thousands of human beings, many of them children, maiming and mutilating tens of thousands more, polluting to eternity a vast tract of   densely populated land, stirring up world-wide hatred that bodes no good for the security of this country, targeting the faith of over a billion people, developing a covert operation to sexually humiliate a race, wasting or misusing, billions in tax payer money while the infrastructure and social fabric of this country unravels, subverting a revered constitution, thumbing one’s nose at  most of the people on this planet, all the while passing off as manifest destiny the whims of  those-who-must-be obeyed on the Potomac. News flash for Nicholas Kristof -- you ARE right; the president is no liar: he’s just dangerously uninformed, culpably insular, and malfeasantly self-deceiving.  So, you’re right -- liar just won’t do as an epithet for a powerful and, let‘s face it, not unpopular leader. I’ll save it instead for Nicholas Kristof who claims Al Jazeera is the Arab Fox.

Let’s make a point-by-point analysis to find out how Kristof comes to this wise and mellow conclusion and tut-tutts two gritty kids, Arab and American, back into their corners in the sandbox. Kristof Sahib knows it’s all about understanding the mind-set of the natives and you can’t do that, he concedes graciously, from a cursory reading of the Weekly Standard. Really? Do tell.

You see there are these two things -- an “American Reality” and an  “Arab Reality.”  Kristof isn’t going to be sidetracked by any bizarre suggestions that one of these might be the real reality. That would be too . . . well . . . REAL. He prefers a kind of post-modern smorgasbord approach to reality where you just get to pick the one that suits you so long as you realize that other people have a right to their very own reality too.  Al Jazeera's coverage of the war is “a sobering reminder that there are multiple ways of perceiving the same events.” Something like Rashoman, but Kristof's point is we need to accommodate both.

How would that work, I wonder. Take an average day in Fallujah in April. That’s when according to “Arab reality” somewhere close to thousand people died in an exercise in collective punishment. Seems there are graves out there marking the bodies of a few hundred women, children, and old folk, and some pesky doctors and journalists went around saying they even saw hospitals and ambulances being shot up. Some of these purveyors of alternative reality were even brave (or deluded) Western journalists. But as Nicholas the Fair and Balanced says -- that was just ONE reality. Meanwhile in a parallel universe there was this other, FOX reality. Due to some inexplicable instinct of natives, especially barbaric Arab natives, the corpses of four innocently by-standing contractors who had been shot up in the violence that was ensuing all over the place for no particular reason that any one on FOX TV can think of besides the aforementioned barbarism, were burned and hanged. In Arab reality they were hired mercenaries for Blackwater Security and they died at the hands of a crowd enraged by Coalition killings of civilians but hey, that’s just Arab reality. Nothing to do with cluster-bombs, armored tanks, air-raids in densely populated areas, jack-booting into homes at midnight, strip searches, untargeted assassinations of assorted wedding parties and sheep herders, sniping at families at check points, saddling up old ladies like donkeys, and introducing male rape as an instrument of gentle persuasion at prisons.  All that’s only in al-jazzed up Arab reality of course not ours. Meanwhile back here in FOX-time, it’s only another example of an ingrate world refusing to enjoy liberation. You just switch between these two realities, Al Jazeera's and Fox's, channel surfing as it were, for the one that feels right.

Of course, Donald Rumsfeld, who like Bush CANNOT TELL A LIE, sees it differently: “We are dealing with people that are perfectly willing to lie to the world to attempt to further their case -- and to the extent people lie, ultimately they are caught lying and they lose their credibility."

Good point (wink-wink) says Nicholas Kristof weighing the two realities in his ironic sort of New York Times editorial way and floating above it all like a somnolent Brahma who deals in eons and not the petty blink-blinks of really real history. He knows that its all maya anyway, everyone has his own truth and reality, and can’t we just all get along? Meanwhile he’s willing to concede that Donald Rumsfeld has his own reality. Just don’t call it lying.

You see the real problem isn’t that we got lied into a war that shouldn’t have been, the national honor indelibly befouled, and the treasure of Iraq and the U.S. stuffed into various already well-lined private pockets. That’s a mere trifle. The real problem is the Arab world’s “self-pitying self-absorption.” I guess when for about twenty years all you have had is war, starvation, torture, and disease handed to you by your own rulers or your self-styled liberators, you’d have a tendency toward self-absorption too, if it hadn’t been for good old Nicholas Kristof.

Fortunately, however, he’s there to whisper sweet nothings that let you know that resistance can be as bad as aggression, that sometimes telling the truth is as bothersome as lying, and that Al Jazeera plays to Arab nationalism as Fox plays to American patriotism.

Notice the two phrases -- Arab nationalism and American patriotism. The two could never be switched because a la Elie Kedourie, nationalism is always an atavistic reactionary foreign sort of a thing whereas patriotism is what regular, real (in our sort of reality) folks do.

There ARE real equivalents to Fox in Arab TV -- shrill, racist Arab-language channels which focus selectively on the government line -- only Al Jazeera isn’t one of them. A break-off from the BBC Arabic Service in 1996, Al Jazeera is partly owned by the reform-minded Emir of Qatar, has a Washington Bureau Chief formerly with the Voice of America, and is frequently denounced in Arab circles as an agent of the Mossad for its sharp criticism of Arab governments. How likely is it that Fox TV would ever be denounced by the Bush administration for being anti-American? And which is the reality in which Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction really do exist?

Kristof‘s “they’re both the same” is not high-minded neutrality, it’s pandering to mass opinion.  It’s giving a free pass to FOX TV which stands without accountability to any journalistic standards, guilty of passing off as facts staged media events like the fall of the Saddam statue or the ever-popular Jessica Lynch rescue. FOX isn’t Al Jazeera. Emotional as Al Jazeera is, as much as it is directed to an Arab audience and wears its sympathies on its sleeve, its reports have been largely vindicated. What it showed on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq was the real war -- that’s why CNN has often relied on it.  Fox’s reports were government propaganda. Those aren’t two different realities -- that’s truth versus lies. And confusing the two is what got us into trouble in the first place.

Lila Rajiva is a freelance writer in Baltimore currently working on a book about the press. She has taught music at the Peabody Preparatory, and English and Politics at the University of Maryland and Towson University.

Other Articles by Lila Rajiva

* Putting Conservatives on the Couch: Transactional Analysis and the Torture Apologists
* The New Post-Colonial Racism
* Eyeless in Iraq: The L.A. Times and the Fog of War