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An excellent piece of media analysis
July 1, 2002 12:14 PM   Subscribe

An excellent piece of media analysis by Michael Wolff in New York Magazine looking at the current summer-movie-plot version of Al Qaeda being artfully constructed by the NY Times ...
Then, perhaps most disconcertingly, the overall narrative itself is patently a dumbed-down rehash. It's Cold War stuff. There is the ubiquitous and yet unknown and unknowable enemy. There's the international jihad, which, with only minor adjustments, replaces the international communist conspiracy. There's the sudden purported hegemony of the Muslim world -- a new Soviet-bloc-style ideological monolith. There is the otherworldly dedication of operatives bent on overthrowing the West. There are the cells. There is the myth of superhuman discipline. There is now, even, the developing Kremlinology of the next tier of men who replace Osama. And at the center of the story, of course, is the bomb. Whether in massive retaliatory form or as a dirty-bomb package, it serves the same effect.
(link cribbed from Altercation)
posted by mantid (8 comments total)

 
Very thoughtful article. Hey, remember when the Russian Army was the ultimate threat to world peace and "Ivan" was a superman who trained with live rounds and real chemical agents? Gosh, that kept the defense budget fired up, didn't it? Good thing it was all BS.

Nothing gets the American people united like a good enemy. For a while there we thought it was going to be China, but there's too much good business in that direction. Now if we can keep the enemy vague and undefined but very very dangerous and scary, why, we can keep the paranoia going indefinitely!
posted by norm29 at 12:51 PM on July 1, 2002


"Good thing it was all BS."

Yeah, there was no reason to be worried about the Russians (actually, the Soviets). That whole Cuban missle crisis was a non-event.

"Now if we can keep the enemy vague and undefined but very very dangerous and scary, why, we can keep the paranoia going indefinitely!"

Yes, our leaders prefer us to be paranoid just so they can increase the military budget. So they deliberately "keep the enemy vague and undefined." Heck, I'll bet al Qaeda doesn't even want to attack us. Never has, never will.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:03 PM on July 1, 2002


does this mean we don't have to duck and cover?
posted by jellybuzz at 1:26 PM on July 1, 2002


Wolff says nothing about the Times' coverage being "artfully constructed". Quite the reverse, in fact; writing about the media in general, he says:
We don't, not unlike the intelligence agencies, really know anything firsthand. Hardly anyone in the media has any experience covering the Muslim world. This whole business got sprung on us as suddenly as on everyone else. Lack of knowledge together with the substantial cost of getting smart is a big hurdle. You can't be too critical of the sources who are willing to dish -- you don't know enough to question them. It's a hermetic information loop.

And, not insignificantly, we who have been entrusted with writing the narrative are bad writers. We embrace clich├ęs, we slight emotions, we get impatient with complexity, we don't know how to express conflicting ideas or impulses. And, in the conventions of bad narrative, we hang the story on the dirtiest-looking person available to hang it on.
The specific examples, he cites, moreover, are instances of Times reporters reporting on what the government has told them. It's somewhat irresponsible reporting, sure -- taking pretty much the entire story from a single source -- but it's hardly any indication that the newspaper is somehow conspiring to write the war narrative to suit some vision it's supposedly invented.
posted by mattpfeff at 1:32 PM on July 1, 2002


No, but it's a pretty good indication that that "single source" is.
posted by ook at 1:34 PM on July 1, 2002


I didn't mean "artfully constructed" in the sense that any of this is particularly Oscar-caliber or further evidence of the psuedo-Chomskian hypothesis that consensus reality is a product of the NY Times front page, merely that they are making the most out of very little material.

(the Times story was a classic in bluffing it -- or, as they say in the newsroom, "packaging what you've got").

posted by mantid at 3:43 PM on July 1, 2002


Yeah, there was no reason to be worried about the Russians (actually, the Soviets). That whole Cuban missle crisis was a non-event.

Hmmm. I think you may have missed my point a little. I said the Russian Army advisedly, since that was specifically identified as the threat by my Air Force indoctrination circa 1980. I don't think the Russian Army had much to do with Cuba, either.

Then when the Soviet Union collapsed, we discovered the Russian Army was not only poorly trained, they were also poorly clothed and largely unpaid. A straw man, in other words.

Heck, I'll bet al Qaeda doesn't even want to attack us. Never has, never will.

Just because we have real enemies doesn't mean we aren't paranoid. :-)




posted by norm29 at 5:09 PM on July 1, 2002


norm29,

I think pardonyou? was being sarcastic with his remarks. It seemed pretty obvious to me.

In 1980, there was no Russia, just the USSR. Sure, the Russian Federation was the most powerful republic within that Communist empire, but the proper description of that whole totalitarian enterprise is Soviet, not Russian. The USSR was a prison, and the Russian people (as well as the tens of other nationalities of the former USSR) were themselves oppressed by the Soviet regime.
posted by Stumpy McGee at 3:52 AM on July 2, 2002


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