A buddy of mine called me the other day with awe in his voice and asked me if I knew that Hosni Mubarak was worth as much as Bill Gates. My blood pressure surged. “Worth as much as Bill Gates? I can’t believe this. He stole those people’s money and all the news media can report is how wealthy he is, like he actually worked for this money? What did he invent? What does he sell? What new innovation did he create? Stealing money is stealing money, whether you are a crackhead or a utterly corrupt despot – calling him a billionaire when we all know Mubarak has the Egyptian people’s money in his pocket is a total failure of journalists to do their damn job.”
The very idea that a journalist is engaged in "opinion-making" or is "taking sides" by calling a lie a "lie" is ludicrous; the only "side" such a journalist is taking is with facts, with the truth. It's when a journalist fails to identify a false statement as such that they are "taking sides" -- they're siding with those in power by deceitfully depicting their demonstrably false statements as something other than lies.
My body got so hot while my friend and I went back and forth over this that sweat started to accumulate along my hand where I was grasping the phone. The imagery of Hosni Mubarak’s ill gotten gains fueled our brief and highly argumentative conversation. It wasn’t until I hung up the phone that I thought about how truly awful it was for an otherwise sane human being to transmute the obvious wrong of the Mubarak regime’s wholesale plunder of his country into an acceptable part of the deposed dictator mythology, complete with private jets and secret Swiss bank accounts.
Global Financial Integrity, a Washington DC based government financial watchdog group, did a comprehensive study of the drain on the Egyptian economy from the shakedown operation of Mubarak, his family and cronies. It found that the Egyptian economy has hemorrhaged to the tune of more than $6 billion per year. Over an eight year period from 2000 to 2008, the loss from the Mubarak shakedown operation totaled a staggering $57.2 billion flood of money to illicit financial activities and official government corruption. Egyptian activists have called this exactly what it is a massive squandering of the resources of Egypt.The result of the theft is a staggering poverty rate, massive unemployment, chronic shortages, endemic waste, and fraud, and chronic stagnation in the country.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
How does this happen? Because the people who walk around calling themselves national journalists aren’t doing their damn jobs. Because Brian Williams and Diane Sawyer are sitting at their desks every night, staring into the TV cameras and reading the socially acceptable, politically palatable version of the day’s events off of the teleprompter in front of them.
When I read the Leonard Pitts column today that took his colleagues to task for choosing objectivity over the simple stating of the facts in their criticism of Anderson Cooper and the nature of his reporting during the time he was in Egypt, it rekindled the flame from the argument I’d had about Mubarak a couple of days ago. Pitts had a very good point near the end of his piece.
Though the axiom says there are two sides to every story, that is not always the case. What was the other side of World War II? The civil rights movement? Watergate? Would Liz Trotta have lectured Walter Cronkite for questioning the Vietnam War?
And if you watched any of the live coverage last week of the Egyptian uprising, you could see for yourself why these seminal moments in history could not be reported any other way. But most of our lives are not lived in seminal moments. Most of our lives are lived suffering the kind of small injustices on a day-to-day basis that constantly go unrecognized as such by our Fourth Estate, small but important injustices which, when they are cumulatively ignored, alter the lives of the very citizens our journalistic clan professes to be keeping informed.
Since America supports plenty of other dictators in this region and around the world who are also robbing and subjugating their citizenry, maybe the rest of the press will follow Anderson Cooper’s lead and try to report what is actually happening the next time one of these uprisings jumps off.