Panel urges balanced coverage of Middle East by US reporters

Allie Kolechta

American press covering conflict in the Middle East brings humanity back into a situation that can quickly become depraved, said author and journalist Lawrence Wright on Tuesday.

Wright, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for a book about al-Qaida, spoke in a panel with author Jason Brownlee and Glenn Frankel, the director of the School of Journalism and former bureau chief of The Washington Post’s Middle East desk. The three explained their understanding of the role of a journalist and of America in the face of revolution in the Arab world and the Middle East.

When reporting on stories — such as 9/11, U.S.-Arab conflict or revolution in the Arab world — journalists need to step in and prevent one culture from viewing the other as inherently evil, Wright said.

“When things get to that highly polarized status, the role of the journalist is to complicate things, to go in and add nuance and humanity to a situation that is reeling out of control,” Wright said.

The shrinking pool of foreign correspondents, which has fewer than 300 journalists, is alarming during upheaval in the Arab world, Wright said. Until recently, the American intelligence community has begun approaching open sources, including journalists, because its own information has not proved reliable, he said.

“America is an ignorant country,” he said. “We don’t know the cultures, we don’t know the people and we don’t know what kind of outcome we can expect. The rest of the world needs us. They need us to be the America that we want to be.”

The task of reckoning with Arab public opinion and the views and self-representations of the people of the Middle East after aiding Egypt and surrounding countries during their uprisings is troubling and scary for many American officials and leaders, said Brownlee, who is currently writing a book on U.S.-Egypt relations.

“The fear of an Islamic takeover in the Middle East is kind of a red herring,” he said. “I think what U.S. officials really fear is dealing with Egypt as an equal.”

The lecture gave insight into what a journalist thinks about in his or her daily life when dealing with difficult issues and foreign relations, said civil engineering freshman Hanna Paper.

“As journalists, they have to keep such an open mind,” she said. “It’s hard to think about that when your thinking about topics
like 9/11.”