Control Your Assumptions

Although the L.A. Weekly‘s cover story this week is ostensibly about Control Room, Jehane Noujaim’s documentary on Al-Jazeera, the documentary itself gets only a brief mention. Mostly, Brendan Bernhard’s subject is Samir Khader, a senior Al-Jazeera producer, who was interviewed extensively in Control Room, and who was in the U.S. recently to talk to the press about the documentary. (This isn’t noted in the article, but I should mention here that other people featured in Control Room, including Lieutenant Josh Rushing, are also doing press for the film*.)

Bernhard’s article is quite informative, though at times it seemed all too willing to espouse the Administration’s official party line about the network. For instance, quotes that are even remotely favorable to Al-Jazeera are qualified, but those that aren’t are presented without context. Thus the liberal tendencies of University of Michigan professor Juan Cole (Informed Content) are mentioned in connection with someone who defends some of Al-Jazeera’s programs. However, Fouad Ajami’s quote that the Arab news network is a “dangerous force” is wheeled out without any mention of the esteemed professor’s well-known conservative tendencies, or his role as an informal advisor to both Bush administrations.

But perhaps most disturbing of all is Bernhard’s assumptions about what Khader is thinking when he turns down an invitation for a stroll.

I offered to take him to the top of the Empire State Building, but he seemed uninterested in doing any conventional sightseeing. Perhaps he was afraid I’d also suggest a trip to what naughty Ann Coulter dubbed the greatest monument to Islam in New York: Ground Zero. At any rate, he seemed happy just to walk around.

I hadn’t realized that L.A. Weekly reporters had acquired mind-reading abilities.

Later, Bernhard demands to know why Arabs didn’t help in planning for post-Saddam Iraq. Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that the Bush Administration didn’t build a broad pre-war or post-war coalition. Instead, let’s see the reasoning behind such demands:

If you dont mind my saying so, I said, it sounds like you’re playing games. It sounds like there’s an opportunity for democracy there, and you’re not taking it. It’s as if you’re saying, I like this gift, but I dont like the way its wrapped, I don’t like the store you bought it from, and the owner of the store killed my uncle.

Not quite. The correct analogy would be if someone gave you a gift you wanted but then demanded the birthday cake in return. Although, really, neither of these is actually a fair analogy because they’re both based on the assumption that democracy is the ultimate goal, which, strategically speaking, it isn’t. If you really believe that the Bush Administration’s ultimate goal is to bring democracy to the Middle-East then you must be living in la-la-land. But the capper has to be this:

Though hailing from a part of the world lined wall to wall with dictatorships, he felt at liberty to criticize every infringement of a democracy that provides many Arabs with a completely free life they could never receive in their countries of origin.

Ah, the whole “Love it or leave it” line. I’m sure the founding fathers would have been proud.

*Update: Oops, looks like Rushing has been ordered not to talk. (Link via Maud.)