On news judgement

To a couple of journalists, yesterday, I complained; quite pointlessly of course. This was about the slight coverage of the genocide against Christians in Iraq. One emailed, that he had mentioned the matter himself on Twitter, and gave links to several items on Mosul that had appeared (on inside print and web pages) in the “mainstream media” I seem to despise. This was accompanied by a sneer, for me personally. I had by chance already read each of the accounts he linked, all of which depended on an original Associated Press file, which I had gone to the trouble of tracing. Without exception, I have found all the reports I have seen in mainstream media hopelessly muddled. That is to say, they repeat clichés, as an alternative to digging.

Example: “These actions stem from the harsh interpretation of Islamic law.”

Where to start unpacking the layers of falsehood compressed into that one outwardly plausible sentence? Starting from the assumption that there is any single code of “Islamic law” — mild, harsh, or whatever.

Consider: there are at least five distinct schools of “Shariah,” and none of them is strictly Koranic. The expression ash-Shariah occurs only once in the Koran, and does not mean “law” but something like “the way.” Contradictions between Koranic passages leave such a very wide range of possible legal interpretations, that no single code could be extracted, even on the principle that later passages obviate earlier (and supposing the chronology itself could be established incontestably). Moreover, all the Prophet’s injunctions assume conditions of life in early VIIth-century Arabia, requiring interpretation in turn to conditions at the present day. Whether there in the East, or here in the West, human law requires human reasoning — a point on which the greatest Islamic jurisprudes are fairly clear. To say that some murderous fanatics are acting according to “Islamic law” might pass for a slander against Islam; but it is a completely meaningless statement, of the kind on which journalists glibly build.

One might go sentence by sentence through any of the news reports I have seen, to show comprehensively sloppy thinking, and therefore slop where any reporting is attempted, but what would be achieved? Another million plops will land even as the first is being shovelled. Meanwhile the still formidable resources of mainstream news media are assigned not to find out what is happening in Mosul, but on e.g. “Carrie shows new side,” “Darling gets big gift,” “Upton barely covers up,” and “Veggies you may really like.” (I have just checked Fox.)

The notion that better is to be found elsewhere on the web, cannot stand either. It is true that vastly more attention is now being given to events in Mosul, by some of the “new media.” But it consists almost entirely of expressions of outrage, depending, invariably so far as I can see, on information supplied through “old media” channels. Moreover, you have to go looking for it: for it is not pushed down your throat and through your eye sockets, in the manner of the media for which e.g. Rupert Murdoch is willing to offer tens of billions in cash and shares. Money talks, and if you listen for a moment, you will hear what it is saying.

It is saying that the “final solution” for Christians in Iraq is a matter of no great significance or urgency. It is saying that “the people” are actually more interested in e.g. the dress Kim Kardashian wore for her third wedding. (Of course, this might be true, which is just one of the innumerable reasons I propose to stop idolizing “democracy.”)

Note, that soi-disant “conservative” media are no more likely to invest serious resources in reporting Iraq — now that U.S. soldiers have gone home — than “liberal” media. It interests them only as a stick with which to poke their Obama, when any other stick would do. The reality is that we have no mainstream “conservative” media, at all, nor could have under the conditions the retired Pope Benedict described under the phrase, “the dictatorship of relativism.” What we have, as soi-disant “conservative,” is instead “populist” — at several levels of dignity, mostly crass tabloid. And, the pomposity of journalists who wish to appropriate the higher-brow term, to give themselves the appearance of modest elevation above the moral and intellectual mire.


Here is a “thought experiment” for my remaining journalistic friends. It is an attempt to cast light by means of analogy. (“Now is the time when we juxtapose,” as the adored Kate Macmillan likes to write at Small Dead Animals.) And let me remind the journalist-entertainers of the mainstream, that they do indeed have influence, in the aggregate, over the tenor of our society.

The area and population of the territory the “Caliphate” now controls in Syria and Iraq being currently roughly equal to that controlled by the government of Israel, let us imagine what the “coverage” would be, had the Israelis told all Muslims to run for their lives; had they announced that everything Muslims owned now belonged to the Israeli government; and that any Muslim still found within Israel’s de facto borders after twenty-four hours would be put to the sword. Questions:

Do you think this story might make the front page?

Do you think the media would seek more information?

Do you think the matter might remain news for more than one day?