It can be tough for a journalist to admit they were wrong, or misinformed. Perhaps it’s the tone of slight indignation that comes with the territory, or perhaps it’s faith in your information and sources that prompts such an authoritarian voice from the hinterland.
Either way, last week, I got something wrong.
The story of the week came attached with three buzzwords: Muslims. Movie. Protests.
It unfolded as follows.
On September 11th an "opportunistic attack" was carried out on a US embassy in Libya resulting in the first death of an American ambassador in more than 30 years, and four of his staff.
It was followed, very quickly, by a White House statement blaming an anti-Islamic film which provoked protests, which lead to the storming of the embassy.
But. on Sept 19th, the White House began to release, very quietly, that they believed the embassy attack was pre-planned.
In fact, if we didn’t rely solely on U.S. media, we would have known this fairly soon after the original incident occurred; the Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif announced (via NPR on Sept 16th) that he believed al-Qaeda was behind the attacks.
Follow the U.S government’s response to news of the attack, and we begin to see how the ridiculous film ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ was barely a blip on the radar before Obama’s White House started to spin the issue. Various officials, from Hilary Clinton, to Susan Rice, to Obama himself, all pinned the Libyan attack as a protest that got ‘out of hand’, resulting in the consulate deaths.
As Glenn Greenwald points out, most major “media accounts from the day after the Benghazi attack repeated the White House line as though it were fact,” which ought to prompt some major concern over journalistic integrity.
By this time, protests were raging across the Islamic world, over what would have been yet another ridiculous, low-budget piece of schlock that had no ulterior purpose other than to crudely offend, something which had been floating around the internet for months before it made headlines last week.
Then came the French cartoons, which prompted further protests, this time spreading to Greece, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and other Western centres.
Two days ago, 20,000 people gathered in the Libyan city of Benghazi to protest the rise of local extremist Islamic militia who have been blamed for the attack on the US embassy.
The stories came consecutively over at the Guardian: Chris Stephen filed the first story on the storming of the Ansar al-Sharia brigade base by young anti-extremists. A consecutive report by Conal Urqhart almost 14 hours later detailed how the brigade had been driven from Benghazi at the cost of 11 lives. Chris Stephen’s subsequent report five hours after indicated the extremist militiamen were executed, and his piece ended rather interestingly:
“But as more eyewitness evidence accumulates, it is clear that the attack on the consulate was unprovoked, and that statements from Washington that it grew out of an anti-American protest appear to be false.”
What possible interest would the White House have in spinning the story in such a way?
Well, it’s a simple face-saving media operation, as Obama spokesman Jay Carney helpfully points out for us: “…it is in response not to US policy, not to, obviously, the administration, not to the American people. It is in response to a video – a film – that we have judged to be reprehensive and disgusting.”
So, in essence, the U.S. has, rather irresponsibly, created a larger issue and provoked threats to freedom of expression across the globe on the sole basis of covering for their lack of security at a U.S. embassy.
This is barely the surface of the issue, and I encourage you to dig deeper, and not rely on the mass media for your dose of daily truth.