In a display of remarkable consensus, all eighteen chapters of The U.S. Media and the Middle East argue that the American "public has a grossly distorted view of the Third World" in general, the Middle East in particular, and Arabs and Iranians most of all. Author after author flays the press for its exaggerations, inaccuracies, and falsehoods. Editors, editorialists, reporters, movie makers, and even cartoonists come in for a severe tongue lashing. It's as though every author had been given the ideological script in advance, then told to flesh out with details.
But wait. Is the American press really all that bad? One author, Mahboob Hashem (an assistant professor of communications at Fort Hays State University in Kansas) combed through all of Time and Newsweek for a four-year period, 1990-93 and found the coverage predictably wretched ("stereotyping Arabs and portraying them as backward, terrorists, camel jockeys, and the like"). But then Hashem usefully summarizes seven main themes he found in the weeklies' coverage. These bear noting, for they will strike most Americans as reasonable: "Middle East region in decline; fundamentalist movement growing; democracy lacking; Arab unity a facade; Arabs live in the past; slavery exists in parts of the Arab world; and political climate changing" (that is, rejectionists weakening, peace process taking hold). Maybe, just maybe, the media has the story basically right and these professors of communications, media studies, and public relations have it wrong. Maybe too, professors of communications should stay away from the Middle East. (A welter of errors reinforces that notion, my favorite being "King Saddam Hussein).