June 4, 2002







photo by Luis Reyes

Jessica Castaneda, shown here in the El Norte newsroom, says catastrophes have caused reportorial subjectivity in both the Mexican and American press.

Macho News: U.S. went too far

Mexicans watched the September 11 tragedy unwrap in the same way Americans did - the footage on their televisions came from U.S. networks. But for Mexican journalists, the similarities end there.

Journalists at El Norte - one of Mexico's biggest newspapers based in the northern city of Monterrey, only 150 miles from the border - agreed that U.S. coverage was overly patriotic and in many ways quite subjective. "In general, I thought it was manipulative towards excess patriotism and hate towards Arabs," said Ana Cristina Enriquez, editor at El Norte.

"The (U.S.) media denounced part of the violence that unleashed against any type of Arab or Muslim in the U.S., but in a way it also incited it by…not making clear the differences between citizens and hostile people to the U.S.," said Olivier Tafoiry, staff translator at El Norte. After September 11, Tafoiry was assigned with the translation of American news material into Spanish for publication at the daily. "There wasn't any type of counterbalance, everything supported one single direction," he said.

Some in China ask:
where's the plane?

What happened to that United Airlines flight 77? Did it really crash into the Pentagon? If not, where is this plane now?" So read a March article in one of China's biggest daily newspapers, the Beijing Youth Daily.

Immediately after the Sept. 11 tragedy, Chinese media praised their American counterparts' high-quality coverage, ranging from coordinated rescue efforts to numerous profiles of the victims. But now a steady stream of skeptical articles is appearing - even in the major state-owned dailies - about the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

Because most Chinese publications don't have reporters in foreign countries, it is common practice to scan foreign press for story ideas. One article from the French alternative press made Chinese headlines in a big way: Frenchman Thierry Meyssan published a book that claims the Pentagon was struck not by an airplane, but by a truck bomb planted by rogue U.S. military officers. In L'effroyable Imposture, or The Big Lie, Meyssan asks these questions: why were there no pictures showing an aircraft striking the Pentagon? Why do the images of the alleged crash site contain no wreckage from a plane? What on earth did those firemen see when they first arrived there? And why are mainstream American papers silent on this issue?

The China Youth Daily, another large Beijing-based newspaper, interviewed Meyssan and published an article about his book and theory. When the story was republished by many Chinese websites, it immediately ranked among those with the highest number of page views. Now, gossip-hungry Chinese websites like www.sina.com.cn and www.netease.com daily post new theories collected from around the world.

Despite public interest, Chinese reporters have been somewhat cautious in stating their opinion and taking a stance on the issue. Although papers do question whether a plane really flew into the Pentagon, they don't explicitly agree with Meyssan's conspiracy theory. Yet the Chinese press also doesn't make any attempt to find out what really happened by further investigating the story.

The entire topic was largely ignored by mainstream American media. Except for two reviews on CNN's American Morning with Paula Zahn and FOX's Special Report with Bret Hume, Meyssan's book was only mentioned in a few medium-sized newspapers like the Tampa Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

- Feiwen Rong

In the beginning the subjective nature of the reporting can be attributed to the immediacy and emergency of the situation, said Jessica Castaneda, staff reporter at El Norte. She also saw it in the Mexican media. "In Mexico the event caused a commotion. In the headlines of newscasts that were transmitting at the time of the attack, after speculating over the nature of the plane crashes, almost all of them made subjective comments," she said. "It reminded me a bit about the coverage of the 1985 earthquake (in Mexico City)."

The story did not linger as long on Mexican screens and front pages as in the United States, where the coverage became excessive after a certain point, said Tafoiry. "The television coverage was amazing in the detail, variety of focuses and transmission time. In fact, I think it was too much," he said. "Suddenly everything else ceased to exist."

Enriquez would have liked to see less of the macro coverage of the event and more on the personal dimension of the tragedy. "I don't know if it was the government or the media that didn't allow the whole face of what was happening to be shown," she said. "Never did we see in the press agencies a bloody picture or video, like we could have seen in the war in Kosovo or any other tragedy in another part of the world. The U.S. did not allow to show itself completely vulnerable."

Such editorial care was not shown when reporting on the Muslim side of the story, said Castaneda. "The information was editorialized in a very nationalistic way that affected the Muslim community deeply," she said. "Despite the magnitude of the damage, the media cannot under any circumstance act with a slant. And that is something that the U.S. does a lot. They are the heroes and the rest of the world is after them - we see it in the movies where the world is chaos and the gringo comes to save us all."

- Ana Campoy

Mixed reactions from a Muslim ally

September 11 and the war on Afghanistan had different connotations for media in the only NATO member with a Muslim majority: Turkey. The country's pledge of support to America divided opinion among secular, leftist and conservative Islamic colleagues and aligned those who formerly clashed over other issues.

Though largely Muslim, Turkey has long fought its own Muslim terrorists. So after the Sept. 11 attacks, most articles in Turkish dailies were compassionate and sympathetic towards Americans. In the secular newspaper Hurriyet, editor-in-chief Ertugrul Ozkok wrote: "the world should make these terrorists suffer the way those who lost their lives in the towers and planes did." At the leftist daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, Hikmet Bila's immediate reaction was "Welcome to the club."

Later, when the Turkish government declared full support for the United States, the media saw it as a green light for unconditional military involvement.

Some welcomed the idea saying it was a golden opportunity for Turkey to compensate for years lost to a flailing economy. If Turkey played its cards right, it could even end up in the European Union.

The question became not whether to jump, but how high. Some said showing military support would provide Turkey extra security: secularist columnist Sedat Ergin of the Hurriyet Daily said Turkey could be a geostrategic partner to the United States and in return receive support in its own struggle against terrorism.

Hurriyet secular columnist Cuneyt Ulsever said Turkey could become a democratic and secular role model for the Arab countries. Ulsevar declared Turkey the potential antidote to "Muslim opposition."

But not everybody in Turkey is so optimistic. A considerable group of secular, leftist and Islamic writers warned against the danger of a second Gulf War. Many Turks still remember the $8 billion lost from the oil embargo on Iraq and military isolation of Saddam Hussein - not to mention the burden of thousands of refugees.

Oral Calislar, columnist from the leftist Cumhuriyet,said joining Bush's war on terror would heighten threats of fundamentalist terrorism in Turkey. Fehmi Koru, editor of the pro-Islamic daily Yeni Safak, criticized the Turkish government for acting against the will of its people: one Turkish newspaper online poll said 71 percent found America's declaration of war "wrong."

Similarly, Yeni Safak columnist Ahmet Emre said the Turkish government should not be a part of the "American Jihad." In these cases, the potential loss of Turkish lives and money via war in Afghanistan has aligned the leftist and Islamic media voices.

- Melis Senerdem

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