It's getting harder and harder to find the truth in the news these days. Some are fairly predictable, like the right-wing Fox News Service, and some are less so. But there are precious few facts in any given news item, there is usually no context nor history, and there is always some sort of spin.
Very seldom are opposing sides given coverage in the same place (CBC's As It Happens used to do this regularly when I was young, but now it is only an occasional event). When the media wants to show opposing views, the favourite method is getting a few people together and having a debate. Debates, especially in the American media, mostly consist of tactics for shutting down your opponent with explaining your own point of view being a lesser priority, and when logic fails attacking your opponent's character.
The three techniques for inaccurate coverage that I loathe the most are:
- choosing what to cover selectively (cover the opponent in the worst situations and your allies in the best light). One good example of this is to interviews the Palestinian Authority after you have reduced their infrastructure to rubble and caused dissension within their ranks.
- telling the truth selectively. A prime example is to list American casualties in Iraq, while hiding the number of Iraqis who have been injured and killed, especially in the civilian population. Of course you never talk about the number who have died between the two Gulf Wars due to sanctions.
- being vague and using uncheckable facts and statement that sound plausible. For example, what is a terrorist? In fact, which of the following count as acts of terrorism?
- The firebombing of Dresden by the British Bomber Command in WW2?
- The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to scare Japan into surrender?
- The Zionist campaign to drive Britain out of Palestine in 1946-48?
- Algeria's independence struggle against France?
- The Mau Mau rebellion against British rule in Kenya?
- Vietnam's struggle for independence against France, then against the United States?
- Zimbabwe's liberation war against white minority rule?
- South Africa's struggle with Apartheid?
Lately I have found news commentary and Op-Ed pieces to be more useful for understanding the context of what is going on, and to put the news into a useful framework for understanding. There are often more checkable facts, and you eventually find a few people that you tend to trust. By trust I don't imply agree with; you know and can adjust for the writer's political stance and viewpoint.
Here are a few people that provide very useful insights and reliable information on the present and the future state of the world. Each writer has produced a book of their syndicated columns in a coherent time sequence, complete with commentary, with one important exception. They each have a unique insight on the events of the past few years, and have allowed me to sift the grain from the chaff in current events and the day-to-day news. The exception is Jimmy Carter's Our Endangered Values. I'll cover that book and Carter more thoroughly in a separate post.
- Thomas Friedman. A New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Tom has the most insight and the most balanced view of the Middle East conflict that I have ever seen. He is an American Jewish person with strong ties to both Israel and to Palestine and the Arab world. One of his Pulitzers was for coverage of Beirut and the Israeli actions there. His second was for covering the first Intifada. His coverage is sometimes brutally honest, with a realistic view of both Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints. His book From Beirut to Jerusalem is the single best reference for understanding the worldview of the Middle East that I am aware of. It is also a great read.
- Maureen Dowd. She is also a NYT Op-Ed columnist. She has covered the White House since the Reagan era, and won a Pulitzer for her coverage of the Clinton impeachment. Here recent book Bushworld covers her articles through the fall of Bush the elder through the rise of G.W. and the neoconservatives. This tome is sometimes irreverent, sometimes hilarious, but you come away with new insights and the unfolding of the most radical change in the American government and its beliefs in modern history.
- Gwynne Dyer. The home team. Born in Newfoundland, he was in the Canadian, British and American Navies. He also taught at Sandhurst and Oxford. I first knew about him through the War TV series in the 80's, which covered the history, rationale of, and future of warfare up to and including the Cold War (one episode was nominated for an Academy Award). He has a clear and quirky view of geopolitics, warfare and grand strategy. Most important, he is able to take the long view, and to look at current events in perspective. He also has an uncanny ability to look at a chaotic situation and find the main thread of meaning and intent through the morass. While not always correct, he is intellectually honest and will correct and change his opinions based on the facts. His latest book is With Every Mistake, which covers selected Op-Ed pieces from pre 9/11 to 2005. In it he shows how the world changed, and how the opinions and understanding of the news media and himself evolved. One of the most important parts of this book is about the coming crises and the growing threat of war as China, India and others become dominant economic superpowers while the power and influence of the United States diminishes. Of particular importance is the destabilising influence of the neoconservatives in the U.S. government, and how it is degrading the influence of international moderating organisations such as the United Nations. The new policy of preemptive war and how it is creating rather than destroying terrorists is clearly explained.
- Jimmy Carter. A strong faith-holder, southern gentleman, nuclear submarine officer, state governor, and president of the United States during very trying times, who then transcended all that had gone before. He became an unofficial diplomat and conduit to parts of the world that helped peace and understanding in many parts of the world. His many contacts, influence, and friendships facilitated charitable works and international negotiations that may never have occurred otherwise. The Carter Center is one of the most effective NGOs in existence, helping to promote peace, develop self-sustainable agriculture, and to fight diseases in Third World countries. His new book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis is a concise yet far-sweeping survey of the state of the United States and its changing position in the world. It is basically a series of short essays addressing many aspects of why and how America is moving into dangerous territory, and how they may be betraying their own long-held beliefs and ideals. You may not agree with it, but it is a great place to start to understand the world and America's place in it. Given Jimmy Carter's background, he definitely has a unique view on the subject. In my opinion he has great integrity, honesty, intelligence, and compassion, and he is worth listening to.