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06-26-2007, 07:46 PM
US press misrepresented Pakistan after 9/11: study


By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: A new study released here says that top American newspapers, more than five years after the 9/11 attacks, continue to help obfuscate the real nature of events in the post-9/11 era by employing misleading terms and phraseology.

The study, titled “The ‘Good’ Muslims: US Newspaper Coverage of Pakistan,” according to Susan Moeller writing for YaleGlobal, an online site, has found patterns of coverage in major US newspapers in the year following September 11, 2001, and five years later in 2006 that may still contribute to public confusion over the perception of the global terrorist risk. When reporters from non-American news outlets write about the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” they typically place the words in quotation marks to indicate a distance from the White House’s political rhetoric. But most mainstream media in the US use the phrase as generically as the words World War II or the Vietnam War, she points out.

The study found that American journalists too often failed to challenge the president’s representation of the dimensions and immediacy of the terrorist threat. The language that the White House chose to tell its story was the default way the events were described. And the papers’ use of American officials as their key sources further reinforced the Bush administration’s politicised packaging of events.

The study, released by the International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland, analysed news coverage by 13 major US newspapers over two time periods: September 11, 2001, to December 31, 2002, and January 1, 2006, to January 15, 2007. In both periods, news coverage emphasised Pakistan’s connection to key American concerns, viewing it, alternatively, as a staunch Muslim ally as a frontline in the “War on Terror,” as a critical player in nuclear politics, as a key conduit in the narcotics trade, and as a major recipient of American aid.

Because of such reports, Pakistan has received a fair amount of attention in the US press. And audiences are taught to be afraid. The study found that newspapers, in breaking stories, as well as in editorials and op-eds, too readily conflated different kinds of terrorism. Articles did not adequately distinguish between state terrorism, such as that formerly practised by the Taliban, and terrorism by distinctive terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba. In breaking stories, reporters too often used a range of terms interchangeably in a single article, among them “terrorist,” “militant” and “extremist,” disregarding real differences in tactics, motives, history, politics and culture among the groups.

Moeller writes, “Following the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, for example, journalists raised the spectre of ‘terrorists’ gaining control of Pakistan ’s nuclear weapons. Papers drew connections between Al Qaeda and other groups – even without explicit reasons – and linked in fears of Al Qaeda or some unnamed ‘terrorists’ gaining control of Pakistan ’s nuclear arsenal … Seemingly posing almost as great a risk as nuclear weapons, according to a plethora of stories, were the Pakistani madrassas. Madrassas, as the Washington Post noted in 2002, were ‘a breeding ground for terrorist organisations’. Articles observed that Pakistan has thousands of madrassas – implying that the country is virtually awash with training camps for terrorists masquerading as schools for boys. Journalists repeatedly profiled the Haqqani madrassa, for example, observing that it is the alma mater of 90 percent of the former Afghan Taliban leadership. Few efforts were made to define the term ‘madrassas’ for the American audience. As the controversy over US Senator Barack Obama’s childhood schooling earlier this year pointed up, the use of the word ‘madrassa’ almost always carries a loaded political meaning.”