by Nadia El-Awady, American University in Cairo
Nohrstedt, Stig A. and Ottosen, Rune (eds.), U.S. and
the Others: Global Media Images on "The War on Terror"
Goteborg: Nordicom, 2004. Paperback. 316 pp. ISBN 91-89471-24-5.
The aftermath of
September 11, 2001, signaled a turning point in international
communication as well as international relations, which may
explain Western media behavior in the Iraq War.
Journalists have found themselves in a tight box. A profession
based on truthful, comprehensive, impartial, and independent
reporting was threatened in its very essence.
U.S. and the Others examines how international media
professionals bent, consciously or subconsciously, under the
pressures of self- and state-censorship, war-time propaganda
and herd instincts that jeopardize the principles they vow to
The theme of "us" (represented by the West) and the
"others" (represented here mainly by the Middle East)
and how this discourse was developed in the media after September
11 is discussed from varying viewpoints in the book's sixteen
In Part 1 of the book, three articles treat from different angles
the importance of rationalization under the direst circumstances.
Toby Miller, New York University professor, criticizes US media
for focusing only on emotions after the September 11 attacks.
However, "informed, critical, academic comment" that
would have helped to explain why people were feeling what they
were and thus aid them in reaching a just and rational decision
on what their response should be was absent.
MIT's Noam Chomsky also criticizes US media for not giving possible
rationales for the September 11 attacks, and referred to many
examples of US involvement in state-backed terrorism in Latin
America and the Middle East.
Robert Fisk, the Independent's columnist with over 25 years
of experience in reporting on the Middle East, rationalizes
a brutal attack he experienced first-hand at the hands of a
group of Afghan refugees in the village of Kila Abdullah on
the Afghan border.
All three authors stress the importance of trying to understand
"the other" and the role media must play in providing
balanced information that could alter the outcomes of crisis
In Part 2, Johan Galtung, Norwegian professor of peace studies,
Ivar Iversen, a Norwegian journalist, and Karmen Erjavec, a
Slovenian academic, offer analyses of US media coverage of the
With a sometimes stinging approach with attitude, Galtung attempts
-- often with his own personal opinions infused with his research
-- to compare Wahhabite Sunni Islam with Puritan Protestant
Christianity as two forms of "fundamentalism" that
result in terrorism.
Iversen, on the other hand, compares the portrayal of two key
representatives of modern-day terrorism, Timothy McVeigh and
Osama bin Laden, in Time and Newsweek magazines.
Finally, Erjavec examines the role played by US media in legitimizing
the anti-terror measures passed only one week after September
The dominant theme in this part of the book is the "herd
instinct" of journalists. Erjavec eloquently explains the
tendency of journalists to report in accordance with a society's
dominant ideology at times of social crisis, as opposed to their
relative adequacy in reporting on political crises where the
opponents are easier to identify and balanced reporting is less
demanding. The three authors note a tendency in US media after
the September 11 attacks to blame "the other" without
properly understanding who "the other" is. The media
also tend to blame "the other" without looking "within"
for internal causes. In addition, the media demonizes "the
other," represented in Iversen's research by Osama bin
Laden, whereas "home-grown" US terrorists are often
humanized by seeking a psychological explanation for their actions.
Part 3 of the book features academics from six countries that
review the international media's coverage of 9/11. The editors
concede that this is perhaps the weakest part of the book because
only a small number of media organizations in Western countries
are studied, detracting from the initial intention of having
a wider representation of international media.
The book's final section examines how the media depicted the
war in Afghanistan.
Elisabeth Eide, of Oslo University College, focuses on the importance
of good investigative journalism in war-time coverage and on
the dangers faced by journalists covering wars from the narrow
perspective of their own observations.
Jorg Becker gives a rather disjointed yet insightful look into
the negative effects of symbolism, imagery, war and patriotic
rhetoric, and self and state-censorship on critical, unbiased
journalism through his examination of the German media coverage
of the Afghanistan war. He also delves deeper into the effects
of this uncritical journalism on the war process itself, as
did several other authors in this book.
Although the book is not an easy read, it provides an excellent
overview of how international media varied and agreed in their
coverage of one particular event.
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