Owned by a Russian oligarch and center-left in its orientation, the British daily The Independent runs a media column that recently addressed the very concerns that prompt me to contribute to GetReligion.
There's no beating around the bush for columnist Ian Burrell.
Here's his opening two graphs:
The need to understand the intersections of religion and civil freedom has never been greater. Hard-won human rights victories of the past century, for women, gays and free thinkers, are still opposed by zealots across the world, while people of faith are under persecution in many lands.
These are complex issues which the news industry has a duty to explain. Instead, however, we have a media rife with contradiction, faux morality and double standards.
I would only make one change to that. I would broaden his lede to include the intersection of religion and the entirety of human culture -- politics, commerce, popular entertainment -- you name it.
Here's a link to his column; its worth reading in its entirety. I'll return to it below.
Burrell finds fault (as do I) on both sides of the misleading, artificial and media-driven divide that purportedly separates those on the right and left; if only people were that simple to understand and deal with.
"I fear," he wrote, "that in between the narrow-mindedness of the right-wing tabloids and the liberal media’s willingness to host extremist views in the name of free speech, the news industry seems to be promoting anger and dissension rather than the greater understanding and tolerance we need."
Among the specific issues he mentions are coverage (sticking for the most part to British media) of the persecution of Christians in parts of North and East Africa (Muslim-majority nations, by the way), Muslim invectives and instigation against Jews, and what he discerns to be the liberal media's softball approach toward UK Muslim extremism.
Yeah. Like you, I'm discerning a pattern there.
An extension of which is Burrell's harsh criticism of The Huffington Post, the only American outlet he takes on in this column. His beef is with HuffPost's attempt to market itself in the Arab Middle East.
Did you stop to read Burrell's full column, as suggested above?
No? Then let me provide the meat of what he has to say about HuffPost Arabi (if you read Arabic, here's the link:
Meanwhile another supposedly liberal media outlet, Huffington Post, has made a blundering attempt to take its services directly to the Middle East. Within days of going live, the new site HuffPost Arabi had hosted content criticizing gay people and atheists, even denouncing selfies as a symptom of “the diseases and viruses of the Western world”.
Arianna Huffington promised that Arabi would reflect the values of the original HuffPost, but former colleagues of her partner in the venture, Wadah Khanfar, will not be surprised by the conservative views. Mr Khanfar, the former director-general of Al Jazeera Arabic, is regarded as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and, in an article for the Guardian in 2012, said its Egyptian election victory would be celebrated “across the length and breadth of the Arab world”.
HuffPost, in response to criticism, issued a strange defensive statement claiming that 95 per cent of Egyptians opposed homosexuality and there was a place on its site for those who reflected that view.
What explains this, besides, of course, crass commercialism of the sort we see time after time after time?
I'd never give a pass to American center-right media outlets that engage in Muslim bashing or pay scant attention to the persecution of Muslims in places such as Myanmar. But I'm going to focus here on center-left outlets.
Why do they too often -- at least in my estimation and, if I understand him correctly, in Burrell's as well -- seem willing to go easy on Muslim extremism. I don't mean extremists such as ISIS; its beastly tactics have managed to unite right- and left-leaning mainstream media in utter disgust.
I'm referring to homegrown extremists, in Burrell's UK and -- I admit that this is personal for me -- to groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, whose violent and unrelenting efforts to destroy Israel are excused, particularly in European media, as the understandable acts of a victimized people, even as Israel is repeatedly chastised for fighting back and held to rules of engagement that its enemies routinely flout.
It's a prime example of the contradiction, faux morality and double standards Burrell laments.
Perhaps the following will shed some light on why this situation persists.
Last spring, I came across this piece in The Atlantic by David Frum, the one-time George W. Bush presidential speechwriter who, while still a professed Republican, has slid awkwardly leftward on many issues.
It was written after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris perpetrated by Muslim terrorists, and in response to remarks by the "Doonesbury" cartoonist Gary Trudeau, who had said the satirical magazine's staffers where culpable in their own deaths because of their mocking of "a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons." Trudeau, a liberal icon (and my favorite political cartoonist), labeled the magazine's content on Islam and Muslims "hate speech."
One of the most attractive features of Anglo-American liberalism is its instinct to sympathize with the underdog. This is not a universal human norm. Across much of the modern world, human beings still follow the ancient Roman rule, vae victis -- woe to the loser. But the liberal tradition appealingly sees its core task as standing up for the weak against the powerful.
Yes, it is an appealing trait, one that has defined much of the very best in American-style journalism to this day. I believe all journalists, not to mention all people of goodwill, should ascribe to this view.
But just who is the underdog in today's world? Are those claiming to fight intrusive Western cultural values by using violent tactics meant to terrorize still the underdog?
Can Islam, a diverse religious culture of more than a billion people be categorized as such, as a whole? And what about its opposite? Is it fair to label it the aggressor rather then the still-marginalized victim of past colonialism?
These are tough but critical questions for journalists today, ones we'll be wrestling with for some time to come.