Saturday, April 4, 2009


Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe topped Parade Magazine's recently released annual rankings of the world's worst dictators. An accompanying article depicts Mugabe as a desperate tyrant struggling to satisfy his addiction to power through violence and intimidation; not an unfair description of the African tyrant. Only a wilfully delusional partisan or a government spokesman would try to portray Mugabe as a visionary reformer struggling to restrain extremists within the establishment whose violence and terror against his own people deeply troubles him. That is exactly how Christopher Dickey, writing for Newsweek, envisioned the fifth member of the list, Saudi King Abdullah, in a lengthy article of praise reminiscent of Orewell's observation that "good propaganda doesn't lie; it omits".

Conservatives have long claimed bias in the mass media is and it is easy to see the source of this thinking. Anyone who thinks Fox News and talk radio is "fair and balanced" will inevitably judge the media's accuracy not by how much its portrayal deviates from the situation on the ground, but rather by how much it deviates from their preconceived fantasy of what they would like the situation to be. They would be right in one thing though, the mass media does carry a discernible bias, just not in the direction they imagine. Some of it is easy to see by reading a newspaper, for example the word "radical" generally precedes the name of anyone opposed to U.S policy, even when that view represents the majority of humanity, finding other bias requires a basic grounding in current events.

Someone who is unaware that Mugabe and Abdullah are equally repressive rulers will likely not realize that the only difference between the two is that one is pro-American and the other is not, that one is armed and kept in power by America and the other is not. This pattern, of which the Mugabe-Abdullah example typifies, of loudly lamenting the crimes of regimes hostile to U.S interests while ignoring and even whitewashing comparable behavior by the U.S and its allies has helped to divert the public's natural concern for human rights and perpetuate abusive behavior.

Fortunately, alternative and foreign media, as a supplement to the American press, give a much more accurate picture of the world. Democracy Now!, aired on many public radio and public access TV stations, and available for free download from iTunes, is among the most reliable American media outlets. While the opinions of the presenters do occasionally make it into the discussion, and it should be viewed like anything else, skeptically, DN provides a more representative view of events than other domestic media. Its coverage is focused primarily on issues of human rights, environmentalism, and social justice and no attention is paid to celebrities or the antics of public officials. DN is highly recommended as an intelligent, informed, and representative supplement to other new sources.

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