Sept. 15, 2002
by David Kopel
When the Islamic terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, America's media covered the unfolding events magnificently. But since that day, several important stories in the war on terrorism have been almost entirely overlooked by the Denver media, and by their national counterparts.
Perhaps the most conspicuous of these failings has been the coverage of Muslims, particularly in the United States. The local media, for example, has provided copious coverage of the many good Muslims, most of them immigrants, who live in Colorado.
But they have paid very little attention to the much smaller, but highly dangerous fraction of Muslims in the U.S. who sympathize with al-Qaida's cause or who support other terrorist organizations.
Most Americans of German ancestry abhorred Adolf Hitler's government, but a small percentage - such as the members of the German-American Bund - wanted to Hitlerize the United States. It would have been wrong of the media to pretend that there were no Hitlerites in America in 1941, and it is wrong for the media to gloss over the existence of Osama bin Laden sympathizers in today's America.
Since Sept. 11, the media have incessantly reminded the public that just because the terrorists were Muslim Arabs, it is wrong to assume that most, or even a large minority, of Muslim Arabs support terrorism. The media's commendable pro-tolerance sermonizing stands in rather marked contrast to what happened after the Oklahoma City bombing. Although neither of the two perpetrators belonged to a militia, a very large segment of the American media began delivering frantic warnings about the dangers of militias, libertarians, gun rights activists, and even Newt Gingrich.
Coverage of overseas Islam has been inadequate. If you had read every word in the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post for the last year, you never would have learned that the country of Saudi Arabia only acquired its name in 1932, after the Saud family won a long-standing power struggle against the Hashemites (who currently rule Jordan).
Nor would you have learned much about how the Saud family came to prominence as the promoters of the Wahhabi sect of Islam - an ultra-puritanical and extremely intolerant sect which the Saud family has been sponsoring and funding around the world, including in American mosques. A search of the Westlaw database for the various spellings of Wahhabi in either the News or the Post found that the word had appeared only a handful of times. One cannot possibly understand why 15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudis, or why the Saudi government has been so ambivalent about cooperating with the war on terrorism, unless one understands the role of the Wahhabis in Islam and in Saudi Arabia.
Iran was the place where the Islamic war on America began, with the 1979 seizure of hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Now, the Iranian theocracy is despised by most of the Iranian people, and every month brings more news of anti-government riots and demonstrations in the streets. More pro-American street demonstrations were scheduled for last Wednesday.
In the Post, you would not have read a word about this subject. In the News, former foreign affairs columnist Holger Jensen wrote about the demonstrations in an October column, and a July News editorial predicted "The Coming Revolution in Iran." While the news sections of the News and the Post have been filled with all sorts of speculation about the Arab "street" (such as worries about catastrophic anti-American riots if the United States used force in Afghanistan, or fought the Taliban during Ramadan, or supported Israel against terrorists, or tried to enforce the terms of the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire, etc.), it is remarkable that the Iranian "street" has been so completely absent from American news reports - especially since it is the Iranian street that appears closest to overthrowing a government.
The News and the Post have covered the political struggle between reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and the hard-line theocrats. But this elite-only news slant is like reporting on the party maneuverings at the 1968 Democratic convention between the hawkish Hubert Humphrey and the dovish George McGovern - while failing to report on the massive anti-war demonstrations/riots and the police brutality taking place in the streets outside the convention. [Updated Note: for some coverage which I overlooked, see the Sept. 29 column.]
For real Iranian news, check out the Web site for the Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran, www.iran-daneshjoo.org .
A group of activists came through Denver recently promoting their letter-writing campaign for drug manufacturers to "give back" some of the profits they earn through patent protection of their drugs. The News (Aug. 29) covered the story exclusively from the group's perspective, thus omitting the perspective - which could have been offered by someone from the pharmaceutical business - that patents are not some special subsidy, but an essential protection for the production of any good which has extremely high initial research costs but low marginal costs of production.