Friday, February 18, 2011

Naive Reporting

The emerging protest movement across the Muslim world is thrilling and disturbing at the same time. Surely, it is also confusing for Western "experts," the people who are paid to have opinions even though as outsiders they can have only the most limited knowledge of what is really happening. We will not, then, think any less of journalists or intelligence operatives if during this astonishing time they miss a few tricks.

Still, we do need to wag a finger at Nick Kristof in the Times. He's writing about Bahrain, and his stuff is touching. His work is a reminder that it is a strong boots-on-the-ground presence that makes the best news organizations -- NYT, BBC, NPR -- as good as they are. But it also seems a little ... naive. Aren't foreign correspondents supposed to be world-weary cynics? Consider this:

As a reporter, you sometimes become numbed to sadness. But it is heartbreaking to be in modern, moderate Bahrain right now and watch as a critical American ally uses tanks, troops, guns and clubs to crush a peaceful democracy movement and then lie about it.

This kind of brutal repression is normally confined to remote and backward nations, but this is Bahrain. An international banking center. The home of an important American naval base, the Fifth Fleet. A wealthy and well-educated nation with a large middle class and cosmopolitan values.

Really, Nick? Are you honestly so surprised that the US is in bed with a tyrannical government hated by its citizens? Because, frankly, we're surprised (and delighted) every time it isn't. Or are you really surprised that a nation run by incredibly wealthy plutocrats will do anything -- anything -- to preserve the status quo?

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