Jed Babbin, editor for Human Events and former Undersecretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush, recently criticized the mainstream media for their unwillingness to highlight the growing threat of authoritarian leaders abroad. He argues that U.S. reporters “aren’t doing their job” by covering the entire story because “it’s homework. Nobody likes to do homework. You have to go out and exert yourself to find this stuff, to find accurate translations, mostly because most of these things were never meant for your eyes or ears.” While this revealing information is “sometimes hard to find,” it is crucial to understanding the domestic context of dictators, and their true intentions toward America. This information is now available to the public through Babbin’s new book, In The Words of Our Enemies, which educates Americans about what hostile nations don’t want America to know they are saying.
Babbin argues that the press has been fooled by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s suave and accomplished public disposition into believing that this dangerous politico is not only rational, but willing to play fair with the world at large. They have “Disneyfied” him in order to smooth away the rough edges and make him a presentable face for prime-time news. In reality, Ahmadinejad is an insane eschatologist who has celebrated the advent of a worldwide nuclear holocaust as the natural and desirable culmination of his own beliefs.
Babbin also attributes the prior lack of coverage to reporters’ “conceived notions of who’s good, who’s bad, what they are doing and what they are not doing” and because they hesitate to publish stories which contradict their personal paradigm. Less important stories, such as the Paris Hilton incarceration, take precedence because they are more sensational and will raise more money.
Given Babbin’s long history of political activism, and his connection to Human Events, the American Spectator, George H.W. Bush, and other conservative leaders, some might suspect that Babbin’s book is politically motivated, and that he, like other reporters, carries around a preconceived political narrative which would bias his analysis. However, Babbin assured readers at a recent speaking event that “this is not a political book… There’s very little of me in this book.” Rather, he emulates the Dragnet “just the facts, ma’am” type of reporting.
While insulting to some reporters, Babbin’s indictment of the lack of modern journalistic integrity often rings true, with the occasional exception. For example, the New York Times published the article “China Quick to Execute Drug Official” on July 11, 2007, on the execution of Zhen Xiaoyu which derives the bulk of its evidence from “official [Chinese government] sources.” Throughout his article, reporter Joseph Kahn only lists two paragraphs of background information not derived wholesale from the mouth of Chinese governmental sources, both of which are placed near the end of his 1100-word-article . Stories such as this one, which lack independent verification, easily become a podium for hostile nations. In this case, the article justifies Chinese economic policies without consideration for the demerits of Chinese actions. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that Kahn provides an unchallenged forum for Chinese officials to characterize American consumer safety concerns as the shameless political maneuvering of American “protectionist forces.”
In the modern political climate, it seems somewhat ridiculous that reporters are so willing to take dictators and oppressive totalitarian governments at their word. More ironically, the availability of independent organizations such as the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)—which regularly translates Middle Eastern media into English—highlights the slothfulness of reporters who rely on official Middle Eastern sources. MEMRI makes English translations of both written media and television programs and provides easy access to evidence for the discrepancy between leaders’ foreign policy and their domestic assertions. The lack of mainstream coverage of such issues demonstrates a distinct dearth of the apolitical inquisitive search for truth, which at one time served as a cornerstone for the journalist profession.
Bethany Stotts is an intern with the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia, and can be contacted at Bethany.firstname.lastname@example.org.