Thursday, February 03, 2011

Reporters, Foreign Observers Under Attack in Cairo

Attacks against foreigners in Cairo are widening. Many are trying to flee the country. This is not an easy thing to do right now, with the airport in chaos.

The very important free-press group Committee to Protect Journalists has a heads-up summary on the new tactic by pro-government forces in Cairo to single out journalists for attack. Here's the current report. The major news media like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, CNN, etc. are also on top of this, as is Al Jazeera, which has firmly reinforced its reputation as a very solid international news organization in this crisis. Fox News, meanwhile, shows that it is reckless and wildly inaccurate even in a story it hasn't yet figured out a way to fully spin into a condemnation of the Democrats or proof that global warming is a hoax. For hours yesterday, Fox was reporting, ridiculously, that there were widespread "lynchings" in Cairo yesterday.

ABC News, which is not always reliable (for example, they love rushing out, usually right before holidays, with breathless reports on impending terrorist attacks that never seem to pend) has a list of journalists who have been arrested or attacked.

By the way, except for occasional gripping video that someone managed to shoot, this is a text and blog story. Example, from Al Jazeera:

"Al Jazeera's online producer in Cairo said: 'The battle for downtown Cairo on Thursday has taken on an almost medieval quality, with protesters erecting makeshift barricades and building homemade catapults to launch rocks at each other.'"

"Medieval" -- there's a case where a word is worth a thousand pictures.

In a situation like that, openly shooting video is difficult and dangerous and words supply the context. Myself, except for the occasional video, I actually prefer text on a story like this. Unless it's live video like that amazing stuff at about 4 a.m. Cairo time between Rachel Maddow and the invaluable NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, reporting from what had to be a dangerous spot on a hotel balcony right above the boundary of Tahrir Square. This was married, alas, when the NBC anchor Brian Williams muscled in on the balcony and began prattling on about stuff like the "barrage" of gunfire -- when in fact Engel had just accurately described it as "scattered small-arms fire." Engel also knew enough to distinguish between handgun fire and automatic rifle fire, which is a whole different kettle of fish in a riot. The MSNBC control room in New York also screwed up the amazing live video by plastering that annoying and ever-present and way too big "Breaking News" display across the bottom of the screen, where it covered up about 20 percent of the amazing live images. Why do they do that?]

Anyway, the usual suspects in the mighty journalism harrumph-brigade, including the Poynter Institute (the Dong Dong School of journalism academe), and the once-useful and now irrelevant Columbia Journalism Review, seem to be ineffective, per usual, when things get hot and current.


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