Media Blog

Africa and the Culpability of Journalists

It’s hard to imagine this Irish Independent piece touching on genital mutilation being published in an American newspaper:

The practice could have been stamped out, with sufficient political will, as sutti in India once was. And the feminists of the west would never have allowed such unconditional aid to be given to such a wicked and brutal society if it had been run by white men.
But, instead, the state was run by black males, for whom a special race-and-gender dispensation apparently applies: thus the two most politically incorrect sins of our age — sexism and racism — by some mysterious moral process, akin to the mathematics of the double-negative, annul one another, and produce an unquestioned positive virtue, called Ethiopia.
I am not innocent in all this. The people of Ireland remained in ignorance of the reality of Africa because of cowardly journalists like me. When I went to Ethiopia just over 20 years ago, I saw many things I never reported — such as the menacing effect of gangs of young men with Kalashnikovs everywhere, while women did all the work. In the very middle of starvation and death, men spent their time drinking the local hooch in the boonabate shebeens. Alongside the boonabates were shanty-brothels, to which drinkers would casually repair, to briefly relieve themselves … I saw all this and did not report it, nor the anger of the Irish aid workers at the sexual incontinence and fecklessness of Ethiopian men. Why? Because I wanted to write much-acclaimed, tear-jerkingly purple prose about wide-eyed, fly-infested children — not cold, unpopular and even “racist” accusations about African male culpability.

There’s a lot to criticize in this piece — promiscuous Holocaust comparisons, for instance — but some bracing observations, too. When slavish feminism runs up against slavish multiculturalism, as it does on the subject of Africa, the usual response is for liberals to hide their faces, stuff their fingers in their ears, and shriek “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!” until a politically acceptable scapegoat can be identified. But that approach ensures much misery for many impoverished people around the world, who need the real help that can only come after honestly identifying the problems that ail them.
One of the great shortcomings of the American press (which I touch on in the podcast I mentioned yesterday; apologies to those who got the Chipmunks high-speed version before) is that the “neutral” and “objective” media tries to achieve that neutrality through the exclusion of information, rather than through the inclusion of a wider range of information. Far better to have a frank point of view and sufficient intellectual integrity to deal honestly with evidence and perspectives.

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