Two journalistic portraits: Communal Bigotry and GPS Journalism
Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/07/2009
I stumbled across two very telling “portraits” of Lebanese politicians in the press today. As expected, they didn’t reveal much on the two people they were supposed to be informing us on, but they said loads about the journalists who were writing them.
- Let’s first look at Michael Young’s take on… himself: Should we worry about Sami Gemayel? (Daily Star, 9/7/2009),
Don’t let the title mislead you. The question is a rhetorical one and the article has little to do with Sami Gemayel. You can scrutinize the article as much as you want, you’ll find no information on his character, no information on his political history, no information on his line of action. At first, it seems a typical form of Lebanese journalist writings, what I call children’s sticker journalism; such writings are based on value judgement, the journalists hands out stickers to reward politicians he aproves of and withdraws stickers from journalists whose “actions” (i.e. “political positioning) he disaproves of. But this article is more than that.
Sami Gemayel is a literary device (usually at the start of a sentence or an argument) for a verbal jab against the Free Patriot Movement (Aoun and his party are after all Michael Young’s consuming phobic obsession), and Maronites in general. Yes, anti-maronitism isn’t dead. The rhetoric developed in the 1960s is still there. Alive and kicking. Walid Joumblatt expressed it two months ago “in private”, when he thought it would remain in the “group” (amongst Druze). Michael Young expresses it openly, in the column of a newspaper. “An alarming number of Maronites today appear to have lost any sense of the collective nature of the Lebanese state”, he tells us. They are suffering from “rural Maronite insularism”. The “resentment, bitterness, isolation, hostility, communal self-absorption” they express “are qualities of a community mired in mediocrity, with no sense of the constructive long-term impact it might have on its environment”. And to finish it all off, Michael Young adds that Maronites are following a “strategy bound to enhance Christian isolation”. Yes, there you have it, the key reference: “Maronite isolationism”… Coming from the same person who accuses the FPM of entering “unnatural” regional alliances with Iran and Syria, and hurting Christian symbols (the presidency and the patriarchy). Is it too much to ask for a minimum of coherence, and some consistency underneath a very “westernized” approach to political analysis? Scratch off the varnish, and you’ll find a massive dose of pure Middle-Eastern communal bigotry expressed through systematic Maronite bashing.
- And now a glimpse at Ibrahim Al-Amin’s view of… himself, through his piece on Suleiman Frangieh (Al-Akhbar, 9/7/2009)
You’ll find no “western” varnish in this article at all. Unlike the previous article, there is nothing circuitous over here. Ibrahim al-Amin’s take on Suleiman Frangieh is unabashedly laudatory, and his analysis reflects another typical trait in Lebanese political analysis: the heroic narrative. It’s all about a man standing alone against adversity, a man who’s embarked on a hazardous political journey, a man who knows for what political position he is called for, a man who will meet all the people that are needed to get to that positioning (as if politics was a social event. To understand the logic, think of yourself stranded in the middle of a crowd, incapable of reaching the buffet without tricking people by opening a conversation with them, so that they allow you space next to them, which will bring you a step closer to your champaign glass on the buffet)… Again, you’ll find no information on his character, no information on his political history, no information on his line of action. But Al-Amin will tell you all you want on his political positioning. And his geographic positioning too. Yes, it’s GPS journalism. And not a very precise one. But then Lebanese journalism is all about lack of precision: the reader is supposed to fill in the blanks and read between the lines. Ibrahim Al-Amin informs us that Frangieh is going to settle in Beirut or its suburbs. WorriedLebanese is ready to divulge his exact future whereabouts: it’s Rabieh! Yes, two streets up from Farid Makari, one street up from Elias el Murr, one street down from Michel Aoun.
Let’s go back to GPS journalism. It gives you as much quality information as what you get on Entertainment Channel’s coverage of the Oscar night. You’ll know who talked to who, where they did it, and if they had coffee or shared a meal. Some well informed journalists will even tell you what the two politicians discussed: world affairs, burning issues or regional developments. But what editorialists will really insist on is the great significance of this positioning!