And we thought the press was bad in America

And to think that we Americans complain about our press.

Sure, we have impotent anchors like Brian Williams, and tarted up “CNN babes”. And, of course, there is the ever-outrageous FOX News, but whether we yell and scream about corporate—or “establishment”—media, the liberal press conspiracy, or even Bush-era propaganda programs, I confess I’m stuck for finding something to compare with what I’m hearing from across The Pond. The inimitable Mark Steel explains the situation:

The Sun newspaper has come over a bit modest. Following a Channel 4 documentary about media reporting of Muslims, the paper accepts some of its stories were “distorted”. But they’re not doing themselves justice. They weren’t distorted – they were entirely made up. For example, a story about a Muslim bus driver who ordered his passengers off the bus so he could pray was pure fabrication.

But if reporters are allowed to make up what they like, that one should be disciplined for displaying a shocking lack of imagination. He could have continued, “The driver has now won a case at the Court of Human Rights that his bus route should be altered so it only goes east. This means the 37A from Sutton Coldfield will no longer stop at Selly Oak library, but go the wrong way up a one-way street and carry on to Mecca. Local depot manager Stan Tubworth said, ‘I suggested he only take it as far as Athens but he threatened a Jihad, and a holy war is just the sort of thing that could put a service like the Selly Oak Clipper out of business’.”

Then there was a story about “Muslim thugs” in Windsor who attacked a house used by soldiers, except it was another invention. But with this tale the reporter still claims it’s true, despite a complete absence of evidence, because, “The police are too politically correct to admit it.” This must be the solution to all unsolved crimes. With Jack the Ripper it’s obvious – he was facing the East End of London, his victims were infidels and he’d have access to a burqua which would give him vital camouflage in the smog. But do the pro-Muslim police even bother to investigate? Of course not, because it’s just “Allah Allah Allah” down at the stations these days.

Apparently, rabid Islamophobia is the latest hip trend to sweep the British press. And it’s been going on for a few years, at least. Indeed, as Peter Oborne explains for The Independent:

On the morning of 7 October 2006 The Sun newspaper splashed a dramatic story across its front page. The story – billed as exclusive – concerned a callous and cynical crime committed by Muslims. A team of Sun reporters described in graphic detail how what the paper labelled a “Muslim hate mob” had vandalised a house near Windsor. The Sun revealed that “vile yobs hurled bricks through windows and daubed obscenities. A message on the drive spelled out in 4ft-letters: ‘Fuck off ‘.”

One Tory MP, Philip Davies, was quoted venting outrage at this act of vandalism. “If there’s anybody who should fuck off,” Davies was quoted as saying, “it’s the Muslims who are doing this kind of thing. Police should pull out the stops to track down these vile thugs”.

The Sun left its readers in no doubt as to why the outrage had been committed. Local Muslims were waging a vendetta against four British soldiers who hoped to rent the house on their return from serving their country in Afghanistan. The paper quoted an army source saying that: “these guys have done nothing but bravely serve their country – yet they can’t even live where they want in their own”.

But there was one very big problem with The Sun story. There was no Muslim involvement of any kind. It is true that a house had been vandalised in Montagu Road, part of the comfortable and prosperous Windsor suburb of Datchet – as The Windsor Express had reported the previous day. It also looks very likely that the attack was connected with the potential arrival of four household cavalry officers.

The average house price in Montagu Road is around £600,000 and there is an air of almost rural tranquillity. As far as we could discover, no Muslims lived in the area. To all intents and purposes Montagu Road was a white, gated community. The Sun claim that a “Muslim hate mob” could have arrived unnoticed and committed vandalism without being observed was nothing short of preposterous. Furthermore, the police denied any Muslim connection.

In his article for The Windsor Express the previous day, local journalist Paul Pickett had written a far more scrupulous piece. He reported that the local army barracks had received three anonymous phone calls the previous week. They were not from Muslims, however, as The Sun reported. They were from local residents. Pickett reported that the anonymous calls objected to the presence of soldiers because they would lower property prices in the road. He also reported that around 40 local residents had signed a petition, objecting to the soldiers moving in.

Piggy banks in the Daily Express in 2005. The Economist—for heaven’s sake, The Economist!—Leicester University, and pork in 2006. The Daily Star and Madeleine McCann earlier this year. It’s almost as if these media outlets are trying to bait Muslims, to see if they can piss someone off enough to do something stupid, and all so they can have a real story about someone doing something stupid.

Well, if they really want a real story about connections between culture and stupidity, they ought to start with themselves.

I mean, really. We in the States have our own litany of complaints about a mainstream news media that is completely out of control. Pressed in days of old by daytime talk, news agencies responded by focusing even more on the sensationally aberrant. Hemmed in on three sides by the blogosphere, and the fourth by the Bush administration itself, the American media’s drumbeat for war and idiocy has yet to officially push into the realm of yellow journalism. Certainly media debacles with weapons of mass destruction, Jessica Lynch, and a bunch of retired generals sent forth on glory missions by the Pentagon are all disgusting in their own right, but come on.

And, certainly Islamophobia is rampant in American society. But it’s also amazingly puerile. The muezzin on a loudspeaker? Hell, I used to live near a train station in Eugene, Oregon, and nobody ever complained about the noisy reminders of capitalism. To this day, you can hear church bells, and far from complaining about them, people tend to consider the things romantically. I mean, how ridiculous is it that allegedly well-intended Obama campaigners should snub women for wearing a hijab? How did we get to the point where this kind of issue is so dominant over our considerations of our Islamic neighbors? How many more times over the next eight and a half years will I have to hear people thinking they have a point when they emphasize Barack Obama’s middle name?

And yet … are we even up to the point of outright fabrication? I mean, aside from the paparazzi tabloids?

In the meantime, Oborne’s article is derived from a pamphlet he authored with James Jones. “Muslims Under Siege: Alienating Vulnerable Communities” is a fascinating read.

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