If you know more about Israel than about Pakistan…

In a post on “‘News’ That Isn’t News,” Walter Russell Mead argues:

Media critics often rail about the bias and the blindness in so much mainstream media coverage, and this is clearly an issue. Watching the media try to turn OWS into a genuinely significant movement of left populism that would counter the Tea Party was one of the funniest spectacles in some time: so much earnestness lavished on such an unpromising corpse.

But at the end the vapidity and the stupidity of the news industry is more worrying than the bias. News is ultimately a matter of stories: constructing a series of continuing narratives that help us identify what matters in the daily and weekly news flow, and using those narratives to organize and present news in ways that allow busy readers to see what is happening and what it means.

The mainstream media is failing by and large at this essential task. It isn’t telling the important stories in a compelling way. The new great game in Asia, the global green meltdown, the crisis of the blue social model, the global contest between Christianity and Islam and a handful of other big narratives aren’t being covered by the mainstream media in a serious and useful way.

I agree with much of this – and I definitely agree with the suggestion that reading Via Meadia regularly is a great way of getting the news that really matter for the big picture.

However, I think when it comes to the Middle East, the problem is not that the media has failed to construct a “narrative” but that they stick to a simplistic narrative, which has been very well described by the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann in an article published in summer 2006 under the title “The Jerusalem syndrome”:

Haven’t legions of experts – for decades now – identified the Mideast conflict as the centre of the world’s chaos and the key to its pacification? Is there any diplomat who does not repeat ad nauseum the formula about the gates to a hell of future wars versus the gates to world harmony, all of which open in Jerusalem? A never-changing script haunts 21st century minds. The script maintains that everything is decided on the banks of the Jordan. In its most grim version, that means: As long as four million Israelis and as many Palestinians are facing off against one another, 300 million Arabs and 1.5 billion Muslims are condemned to live in hate, bloody slaughter and desperation. And the rosier version: We just need peace in Jerusalem to put out the fires in Tehran, Karachi, Khartoum and Baghdad and to set the course for universal harmony.

As Glucksmann also noted, it is the tiny Jewish state that is blamed for blocking the path to “universal harmony” – and this “narrative” is clearly reflected in poll results that show almost 60 percent of Europeans regarding Israel as the greatest threat to world peace in 2003, or majorities viewing Israel as having a mostly negative influence in the world.

In reality, it is of course Pakistan that has the best claim to being “the most dangerous country in the world;” sadly, Pakistan is also one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women, and it is also a very dangerous place for reporters.

But many people with an average interest in world news would probably not really be aware that Pakistan has a “population [that] is more than half the size of the entire Arab world; [… that] it suffers from an Islamic insurgency that has killed 30,000 people over the past four years; [that] it is regarded by students of geopolitics as the most likely location of nuclear conflict; and the reasons why it does not work as a country are many and fascinating.”

Well, for some reason, the media clearly find Israel more fascinating…

To be sure, in the past year, the so-called “Arab Spring” has forced the media to devote more of its Middle East coverage to Israel’s neighbors, but leading newspapers still find front page room for stories about Israel that are just a symptom of the “Jerusalem syndrome.”


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