Politics & Policy

A Window on the Media

The performance of cable news on a historic weekend

I started out to write about the proclaimed coalition between the Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas, and will get to a condensed analysis of that in a few paragraphs. My interest was sidetracked by my effort on Sunday to see the television-news treatment of that and other current issues, especially the canonization of two popes of recent memory by the present pope in the presence of the immediately preceding pope. By accidental misfortune, I started at CNN. Fifty minutes of the main 3 p.m. Sunday newscast were devoted to the utterances of the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team to his female companion, complaining of her alleged flaunting of her relations with African-American basketball players on or around the team, including retired basketball great Magic Johnson. I watched and listened in almost gape-jawed astonishment as this individual’s impatient recorded comments were played and analyzed and commented on by miscellaneous basketball personalities and fans, up to and including the president of the United States, speaking in the company of the prime minister of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

As far as I could judge, the basketball owner was speaking to his companion, who says she is of mixed African-American and Latin-American ancestry, in the fairly familiar vocabulary and inflection of a grumpy, physically rather decrepit, sugar daddy to a much younger woman who is spending too much time and affection for his liking on younger, very athletic men who happen to be of her and not his pigmentation. The Clippers’ owner may be a foaming-at-the-mouth racist bigot, as the CNN newsreader and interviewees relentlessly described him, but this was not in the least clear from the remarks that his girlfriend, who is being sued for unrelated matters by the wife of the Clippers owner, surreptitiously recorded and released to the media.

With inexplicable patience, given my many years of unsuccessfully hoping that CNN could handle a news menu with reasonable judgment of the comparative importance of developing events and treat items with a professional distinction between reporting and comment, I waited for the second item of the world’s news to emerge. After 50 minutes of repetitive slathering of this jealous old roué as the most odious racist in America since the piping days of Bull Connor, CNN moved on to the missing Malaysian airliner. It is a terrible tragedy, but it is a stale story. When the second hour of the newscast opened with continuation of that story, I rushed as quickly as my limited ability to operate a sophisticated remote-controlled television set now enables me (flying a B-52 is probably easier), to the BBC World Service. The next two hours were a prideful time for me, as a British citizen and Canadian resident, moving between the BBC and the two main Canadian news networks, as I noted that the imputations of unsuitable racial attitudes to the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers were not mentioned. The Beeb led with the Ukraine crisis and a sensible and thorough report on the scuffling and skirmishing between pro- and anti-Russian groups in eastern Ukraine. There followed a balanced story on U.N. allegations that Syria was withholding 7.5 percent of the sarin gas it had pledged to surrender to the Russians; the cancellation of the summer’s planned climbs of Mount Everest because of the accidental death of 16 sherpas; President Obama’s Far East tour; Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s admirable remarks on the eve of Holocaust Day and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reply to them; observations of the 20th anniversary of the end of apartheid in South Africa; and the conscientious resignation of the prime minister of South Korea over the ferry-boat disaster (a commendable example to Western leaders of taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions, which has no chance of being followed by them). It was not a day of miracles, and both the Holocaust and Obama stories were tainted by the Beeb’s rampant antagonism to Israel and the United States.

The Canadians presented most of the same stories in a somewhat different order, but all three got, in mid-newscast, to a recognition of the ceremony in Rome, including Pope Francis’s greeting the emeritus pope Benedict, and the fact that almost a million people crowded into St. Peter’s Square. That approximately 2 million people came specially to Rome for the occasion was mentioned only by the Canadians, and the BBC could not resist a passing notice of the fact that the former archbishop of Canterbury considers that Britain is “now a post-Christian country”; this is hardly news, as historian Arnold Toynbee and others have been saying that for 65 years.

On the Palestinians, where the BBC essentially regards Israel as an illegal entity, American and Canadian telecasters are generally fairly careful, and there hasn’t been much insightful comment on the alleged pan-Palestinian reconciliation. In fact, Hamas is desperate to get a little relief from the hostility of the post-Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt, and Abbas, who was elected eight years ago, has evaporating legitimacy; furthermore, all his efforts to stir the world up against Israeli oppression have accomplished nothing, as Syria has blown up and the Brotherhood committed suicide in Cairo after the collapse of its dreams of power of 70 years. Iran has been largely frustrated and countered as a sponsor by the Saudis, and Turkey’s egregious Prime Minister Erdogan had only a cameo role in his sojourn among the Arabs before his domestic base began wobbling underneath him. There have been previous such agreements, as matters of naked expediency, in 2011 and 2012; this one could be more durable but is no sign of strength for the Palestinian militants under any scenario. The deadly internecine rivalries and pandemic corruption of both the Fatah government in the West Bank and the Hamas regime in Gaza have eroded the imperishable euphoria of what could, with caution, be called the average Palestinians, and to the extent the two groups make any sort of a united front, it is more likely to dilute the fervor of Hamas than radicalize the cynicism of Fatah.

It is not clear why Netanyahu folded the negotiations with the Palestinians, but he may reason that, when they resume, Hamas will have to climb down, in fact if not rhetorically, from its opposition to the 1947 U.N. General Assembly resolution that has always been the core of the only possible solution, which provides for “two states for two peoples.” Even when the principle is accepted by the Palestinians and they stop being willing cannon fodder for the surrounding Arab powers, who are seeking to distract the Arab masses from the misrule inflicted on them, the discussion of borders will be very complicated. But until Israel is accepted as a legitimate Jewish state by the Palestinians (if not by the BBC), and the right to return is recognized as involving a return to Palestine — and not a right to inundate, subjugate, expel, or kill the Jews in Israel — discussions of borders are superfluous.

This does not purport to be a scientific media survey, but it does faithfully reflect three disturbing facts. Much of American television news (I touched on MSNBC, Fox, PBS, and the traditional networks over the weekend also) is in an appalling state of disinformation, and none of the three main English-speaking countries’ television news outlets have much capacity for sensible, much less penetrating, analysis of the news. CNN has learned nothing from the beating it earned and has received from Fox News, and remains a dumbed-down leftist squawk box pandering to racial alarmists and parochial scruffers after gossip and trivia. And both CNN and the almost-as-biased but much subtler, more urbane, and self-importantly middlebrow BBC are both discountenanced by their inability to continue almost breathlessly to proclaim the accelerating collapse of Roman Catholicism.

One would ransack the television media of all these countries in vain — except for some specialty channels — to find an allusion to the fact that more than 10 million people have journeyed to Rome in the year since the elevation of Pope Francis, an increase of over 100 percent on the times of his recent predecessors, and that his weekly audiences now draw larger crowds than can be accommodated. The international atheist media are sitting with discernible embarrassment on their hands, hoping that the honeymoon will pass and that some new story like the molestation of young people and its mishandling may arise so that they can all get back to announcing the imminent crash of what they unthinkingly believe to be the entire vast humbug and superstition factory of the world’s premier church. Islam is spared this negative treatment, but only because of its hostility to the West, certainly not because the so-called working press (who, as a group, are notoriously unmartyrized by the work ethic) have any regard for the intellectual content or moral value of any religion. But there was not even a trace of the customary mockery of the supposedly anachronistic notion of canonization and both John XXIII and John Paul II were implicitly recognized as men of courage and principle. For those who long ago tired of the atheistic death watch the Western media have conducted for Christianity, this hiatus is as welcome as the continuing lobotomous and fractious idiocy of CNN is tedious.

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, and the recently published Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.



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