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Five thousand rabbits block Hungarian highway

Truck accident. They were headed to the abattoir. Five hundred were killed on the spot. Four thousand four hundred were rounded up on the scene, and another one hundred were given the gift of sweet, sweet freedom. But, being bunnies, they will undoubtedly wander onto the highway in the next few days and meet Rabbitgod.

What’s interesting about this is the place I found it: a Basque newspaper, a thousand miles away. Reinforcing my belief that newspapers all over the world employ someone whose main job it is to comb the wires for weird-ass stories from faraway places. If you want to know something bizarre about a nation, cruise newspapers halfway around the world. Bunnies on the highway is a relatively benign example; most of them are of the “Oh Those Silly People from Fillintheblankistan!” variety.

Americans who read the foreign press are all too familiar with this. When I’m in the UK, I don’t even recognize the America they describe. The Brits’ imaginary US of A is, like, fifty percent inbred Bible-thumping retards and fifty percent pornographers. I get the impression people from India aren’t too pleased with Western news reportage, either; all those stories from remote Indian villages about inappropriate people being reincarnated as inappropriate animals and genital-stealing monkeys and so on.

Now clearly I…me…S. Weasel, proprietor of this blog, cruise foreign newspapers looking for mischief. But I am a mere clown. I clown for you, my seven imaginary friends. I don’t claim to be a journalist. Not sober, anyhow. Assuming anyone sober could claim to be a journalist.

Don’t news organizations have an obligation to give us an accurate picture of the world? Aren’t they always banging on about how important they are in that respect? If they feed us a steady diet of stories about the world that are, strictly speaking, true but not at all representative, isn’t that an especially pernicious kind of lie?


Comment from Muslihoon
Time: April 17, 2007, 7:20 am

Good point you bring up.

Allow me to play advocatus Diaboli and pose a question in response: the duties of journalism and journalists notwithstanding, is there anything wrong with journalists and media companies from using the capitalist system in which they exist to maximize their profits? In a capitalist society, why should anyone focus on duty rather than the bottom line?

Comment from Muslihoon
Time: April 17, 2007, 7:28 am

1. The media in Pakistan also depict America in the way you describe: either Bible-thumping fundamentalists or amoral hedonists. (To be a bit crude, one could say America is a nation of bigots and perverts.) Of course, to me the biggest contradiction is that there is a sizeable population of Pakistanis (people from Pakistan and people with an ethnic origin from Pakistan) in America: where do they fit in? Such characterizations of America do no justice to the immense wealth of diversity that thrives herein. There is more to America than Falwell, Bush, and Anna Nicole Smith.

2. The points you bring up is actually one reason I like Fox News: unlike other media networks, Fox tries to offer a balanced presentation what with having on commentators from both sides of the political spectrum. I don’t think any other media network does that. According to Fox, it seems, here is the news and here are some perspectives about it, whereas according to others, here is the news and the sole perspective about it. Maketh I some sense?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 17, 2007, 7:51 am

Nothing at all, as long as they acknowlege that’s what they do. New York City used to have something godawful like twelve different newspapers, so there was a rag for every political bias.

Problem is, they act as though journalism is some kind of unassailable holy order, committed to unbiased truth, untouchable by subpoena. Even when you know it’s not true, it’s hard not to be affected by their viewpoints and biases because they own the information. Even now, to some extent.

I spend a lot of time reading foreign newspapers and blogs. It’s more informative to know how people see themselves than how some foreign news bureau sees them. It helps — though the very fact they’re writing in English usually means they’re packaging the information for an outside audience.

I began to get serious about this after spending so much time in the UK. You wouldn’t believe how fucked up their reporting on the US is. It was humiliating. If there’s a bizarre 6-person sex-and-snake handling church tucked away somewhere in the Ozarks, the BBC will by-god find it.

And when you try to explain what’s wrong with reporting a solid diet of this obscure, atypical kind of shit, it’s like, “oh, but they didn’t just make that up. It’s true, isn’t it?”

If you ever wonder why Europeans hate us so or seem completely unable to predict accurately how American elections are going to go, or what the US will do in a crisis, it’s because mountains of bad, atypical information is shoveled at them every day.

I was reading the “have your say” section of some Brit newspaper item about some weird thing or other in India, and someone with an Indian sounding name chimed in with a “not this crap again!” sort of message. Then it dawned on me that I was probably getting a similarly fucked up picture of India. And China, too. Places that are going to be very important to understand in my lifetime.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: April 17, 2007, 7:59 am

Yes, you make sense, though I’m not a huge fan of Fox. The problem is, they get their news from the same AP as everybody else. So their editorial may have a rightward slant (though it’s a silly sort of Angry Grampa conservatism a lot of the time), but their news…is what it is. Even when they can give us another perspective on the fact, we’re still talking about the stuff the other media outlets want to talk about.

It’s an improvement, but not by much.

Fox’s editorial position slants right. And that’s perfectly acceptable. It’s perfectly acceptable for the NY Times to slant left editorially. What is wicked, always unacceptable — and unacknowledged — is the extent to which AP and Reuters slant the news.

Comment from Muslihoon
Time: April 17, 2007, 12:37 pm

I did forget Reuters and AP. They do have a slant.

And your comment on foreign media’s choice of words and languages is quite good. What may be innocuous in English, for example, could have a completely different vibe in Urdu. For example, Pakistani newspapers will say that so many members of Taliban were killed. But the Urdu newspapers have to make a choice: do they say the Taliban were killed or martyred? It’s quite revealing to see who uses “halaak ho gaye” (“were killed”) and who uses “shaheed ho gaye” (“were martyred”) or even “mar gaye” (“died”).

Comment from tibbar shit ihw
Time: April 17, 2007, 1:19 pm

I donno. The stories you say other countries report about the U.S.A. sure sound a lot more entertaining than the deep as the mud puddle news we get about our country here.

I mean if nobody’s gonna actually report more than sound-bytes, they may as well be colorful, zippy-pop sound bytes.

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