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Fox News-Style Fear Spreads

Fact-free journalism and dogged ideology are a disaster for democracy as Murdoch's model spreads in the Middle East.
 
 
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News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch
Photo Credit: By Monika Flueckiger, World Economic Forum [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

The news from Egypt sounds delusional these days. Military coup, massacres, church burnings, mass arrests, curfews and vigilante checkpoints, attacks on police stations, shuttered television channels, an inflated pro-military patriotism among journalists, and, to cap the most bizarre of twists, Mubarak’s release from prison.

State and private television have been parroting baseless claims in favor of the coup with banners and somber music warning the new government is fighting an existential war on domestic terror. Ikhwan Web, the official news portal of the Muslim Brotherhood, acts as if Morsi’s one-year rule was a prophetic revelation, while Mubashir Misr, the Al Jazeera service devoted to Egypt, has shamelessly turned into an MB headquarters relaying only one side of the story.

This kind of impulsive, Fox-ified journalism would be disastrous anywhere, but it has proven catastrophic in a country where 90 percent of the population get their news from television.

So what exactly happened in the course of Morsi’s brief rule to turn the news narrative in Egypt from progressive uprisings to crippled revolution, from the hopes of free civilian rule to military rule, and from the fears of the deep state to the war on terror? Many have warned against Morsi’s aggressive power-grab policies and the Muslim Brotherhood’s meager support for more inclusive politics. But how did Egypt move from a political stalemate to a popular coup and a brutal crackdown with little public outcry? (Sixty-seven percent of Egyptians support recent military intervention.)The answer is simple and troubling. The media in Egypt today are vengeful and when revenge drives reporting, facts become secondary. If you ever wondered about the perils of Fox News’ opinionated and polarizing reporting, Egyptian media offer us a disturbing window into a society literally destroying itself. They are revealing to all of us just how deadly a concoction of fact-free journalism, dogged ideology and populism can be.

It is impossible to know the facts in the midst of a rhetorical war where television hosts sing patriotic songs, cry on the air and deliberately distort the news to score cheap political points. The partisanship is so nauseating that even the release of former dictator Mubarak from prison was barely a news event. State television and newspapers have recently circulated a series of rumors and foreign plots so fantastical that Glenn Beck’s wacko theories of a global Islamist takeover might seem too flat. In fact, private channel ONTV even aired subtitled segments of Fox News as irrefutable evidence President Obama supports the Muslim Brotherhood, and last week, a state-run newspaper published an article claiming the Egyptian military had foiled a plot by the MB, Hamas and the United States to create an independent northern Egypt.

Egyptian television today awfully resembles American television after 9/11. Overly patriotic journalists and television presenters rehash trite conspiracies of disloyal foreign elements in their midst and of terrorist MB members hellbent on destabilizing the country to set up a Shariah-based Muslim caliphate. Their editorials speak of the collective “we,” that all Egyptians are fighting the scourge of terrorism. Television screens are adorned with Egyptian flags as if the channels themselves have gone to war.

This highly emotive and slanted coverage may suit a large number of Egyptians today, but it only sets up a preferred frame for more military crackdown and support for the use of brute force to quell pro-Morsi protests. Egyptians must be careful what they wish for and remember that Americans too were overwhelmingly supportive of a patriotic press that privileged an American point of view, only to be dragged into two deadly and expensive wars, a serious encroachment on civil liberties, and an anemic economy still reeling from a severe recession. Every sign today points to a dreadful and calculated return to the Mubarak era, all in the name of a “free Egypt” and a “beloved military” that safeguards the spirit of the Jan. 25 revolution from the power vultures that is the Muslim Brotherhood.