Apr 18, 2012
Liberal Media Bias or Right-Wing Disinformation Campaign?
Where Does Information Come From?
I was following the #Resist44 hashtag on Twitter (which was an anti-Obama response to the #Gen44 hashtag) when I noticed an avatar that read, “WAR ON MARXIST THUGS.” Since I follow at least one other person who has declared a similar war, I clicked on the avi to learn more!
The bio pointed to a website called Resist the Lies, which curates rightist content. The curated article from March 18, 2012 was “Liberal Illiberalism” by the historian Victor Davis Hanson (whose book Culture and Carnage I found illuminating and highly recommend), a piece that sets out to show that certain elements of the liberal agenda as Hanson sees it—radical environmentalism, multiculturalism, affirmative action, illegal immigration (which I’m not sure any liberals advocate but, whatever)—are not just impractical, but “immoral.”
Reading Hanson’s essay, one thing that jumped out at me was a comment in the section devoted to the “unkind dogma” of multiculturalism, here defined as “the very notion that all cultures are professed equal, and those in the West often have a particular obligation to elevate illiberal and intolerant systems above their own in recompense for their supposedly ill-gotten prosperity and success.” Specifically, Hanson derides the press for failing to report that, “Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia — not a minor voice in the world of Islam — announced that he wished, according to his reading of Koranic-inspired statute, that all the churches in the Gulf region be destroyed.”
Combating Liberal Media Bias…
Since the liberal media (I read the New York Times, the BBC’s site, and sometimes Die Zeit), had indeed not reported this, I clicked on the link provided, ending up on a site called NewsBusters, a site with the stated goal of “Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias.”
The article I found there—”Not News: Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Calls For ‘Destruction of All Churches in Region'”—is not actually a news story, but instead a critique of the mainstream media for maintaining silence on this outrageous statement uttered, apparently, by the highest religious authority in a country with which we have many, complicated ties and upon which we rely as a regional ally, Saudi Arabia.
To be fair, the author, Tom Blumer, does point out that of all the mainstream media, only Fox News touched on the subject, in an item which boldly stated, “Obama Silent While Saudi Grand Mufti Targets Christianity.” On closer inspection, that “item” turned out to be a curated excerpt of an editorial from the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times entitled, “Destroy All Churches.” Unfortunately, being an editorial, the piece does not cite a source for the story of the mufti’s pronouncement.
…with Obscure Sources
For his part, thankfully, Tom does. In fact, he points to three sources. One looks to be from Morocco, one is a site run by Arab Christians living in the Holy Land, and the third comes from the MidEast Christian Network, a site dedicated to publishing Christian news in Arabic and English. Not knowing much, to my embarrassment, about the major newspapers in the Middle East, I would still wager that none of these three count.
Since I did want to know whether or not any major media outlets had covered the story at all, I did a search on the mufti’s name and the first hit was a story in The Huffington Post. While I’m not sure if the Huff Post counts as “major,” it was nevertheless a site I read every now and again. Unfortunately, on further digging I discovered that the source for the mufti’s statement in this case was Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. Call me biased, but I did not feel that this constituted independent confirmation of the story.
The Ghosts of Iran-Contra
Back to Google, I found a blog post on the Washington Post website written by two representatives of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, the “Muslims who believe in the Messiah” (actually, a different messiah than the one you’re thinking of). Their source for the story, and here’s where it gets kind of weird, was Elliot Abrams.
That kind of creeped me out because I associate Elliot Abrams—who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs under Reagan—with Iran-Contra and that administration’s unapologetic support of repressive regimes in Central America. In other words, death squads, financial end-runs around Congress, and obfuscation.
Predictably, his source, Jihad Watch, was not exactly “independent” either, being a publication of neocon David Horowitz’s Freedom Center. And, as a matter of fact, the three sources cited in the Jihad Watch post were the three Tom Blumer highlighted on the NewsBuster site.
In other words, the “grand mufti of Saudi Arabia” may have said that all churches in the Arabian peninsula should be demolished—a clear expression of violent, religious intolerance from a supposed “friend” in the region which should rightly be denounced—or he may not have. The “reporting” is so circular and based, ultimately, on obscure sources with their own peculiar agendas, how could we ever know?
The Family and the Federalists
In Abrams’ piece, he says that the statement attributed to the mufti did not surprise him because, when he traveled to Saudi Arabia as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, he was told (he does not say who told him) that “…the rule is no religion other than Islam in Arabia. No churches. Period.”
This particular Commission was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which was introduced into the House by Frank Wolf, a conservative Republican associated with The Family, also known as The Fellowship—an influential, conservative Christian political network.
I don’t know if it is true that, as Jeff Sharlet suggests, the Commission practices, by way of its reports on the state of religious freedom in countries around the world, a “sort of shadow foreign policy.”
I am curious to know, however, how it came to be that Abrams was chair of said Commission at one point and what it means that the current chair, Leonard Leo, is also Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society, a group founded by Edwin Meese and Robert Bork, among others, and which has counted Supreme Court Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts among its members.
Weird, right? I mean, what interest would any of these people have in circulating a story about an anti-Christian pronouncement by an Islamic leader and the failure of the mainstream media to respond to it?
A more banal version of this problem is the “Eskimos have X words for snow” meme, which turns out to be quite fuzzy and finally nonsensical if you pursue it to its sources, but nobody bothers to do so, they just keep “meme-ing” away.
It was so interesting to me to be able to trace the introduction and propagation of the meme in this case and then suddenly find it connected to a conservative political operative (Abrams) who’s been in the game for decades.
Follow the lines back and you so often end up with the Iran-Contra people who got pardoned that you could begin to get paranoid.
The only common thread is pursuit of truth. I often find the opposing political forces hold much of the truth when you carefully consider the facts independently from all sources.
My point here was that it was impossible to isolate the facts from the sources, at which point the sources themselves (Jihad Watch, Washington Times, Elliot Abrams) become the facts. If all the sources have a known, identifiable political bent, and the “facts” are elusive, one must conclude that it’s not about what actually happened; it’s about promoting (or opposing) a particular political agenda.