James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Posts Tagged ‘Sami al-Hajj’

Bye, Bye Miss American Spy

Posted by James McPherson on April 18, 2009

American journalist Roxana Saberi, a former Miss North Dakota, has been sentenced to eight years in an Iranian prison after she was convicted in a secret court proceeding of being a spy. Saberi was working as a freelancer for National Public Radio at the time, and also has filed reports for Fox News and the BBC, according to one report.

The U.S. State Department, the Committee to Protect Journalists and NPR all have voiced concerns about the case. Saberi’s father said her testimony had been coerced, and that the sentence would be appealed.  Naturally I can’t logically weigh in about Saberi’s guilt or innocence–and neither can anyone else, because of the secrecy and obvious political bias involved.

In other words, a political and legal situation like the one offered in the United States by the Bush administration (including its treatment of foreign journalists such as Sami al-Hajj). And of course Bush did so much to promote good relations with Iran.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 31 Comments »

Thanksgiving reminders from the world’s most famous journalist and Deepak Chopra

Posted by James McPherson on November 27, 2008

One of the many hopes of those who voted for Barack Obama is that the embarrassment of Guantanamo might be closed. One of the very few benefits of Guantanamo, and of prisons in general, is the occasional glimpses of light cast on the humanity and hope of even the most destitute.

Cup poems,” words scratched with pebbles into Styrofoam, offer one example. Perhaps none of the writings offered in one collection are great poetry, and one Amazon reviewer writes about the book of collected poems: “This is not poetry. It’s a political agenda chopped up into lines.” But for me, that raises the eternal question of what makes poetry great.

I would put such things as timeless truths and important questions high on the list. Great poems also must include beautiful, or at least creative, use of language, and that may be where the collection falls short. Still, there are lines worth considering as we reflect today on what we are most thankful for, including these words from the “world’s most famous journalist,: Sami al-Hajj:

They have monuments to liberty

And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.

But I explained to them

That architecture is not justice.

Speaking of architecture, in January I will visit Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I’ve been thankful since the presidential election that the loss of the World Trade Center hasn’t quite managed to make Lady Liberty irrelevant.

Yet I also realize that despite the warnings of folks such as Deepak Chopra, yesterday’s unfortunate attacks and ongoing hostage situation in India (for which, despite hundreds of casualties, CNN felt obligated to provide a story headlined “Terrified Westerners describe Mumbai chaos” and a link to a separate story titled “Nashville woman hurt in Mumbai attacks”) make it likely that some will want to renew the same kind of policies that led to Guantanamo.

As we prepare to raise our own cups, let us be thankful on this day–but let us also pray for wisdom.

Next day update: While American media, including CNN, Fox News and The New York Times, bring the issue home by focusing stores on the Americans killed or injured in Mumbai–and Fox “terror expert” Walid Phares asks, “Are we at war, or not?” and argues that “the Jihadists are winning,” while Fox columnist John Avlon argues, “The war that was indelibly declared on September 11, 2001 continues unabated , not just against the U.S. but worldwide … ultimately a war between civilization and the terrorists”–Al-Jazeera again is left to remind us of the broader perspective, that the attacks are raising indigation around the world.

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

Posted by James McPherson on May 28, 2008

A column by Sabin Willett (an attorney for a firm that has represented Guantanamo prisoners) in today’s Miami Herald, reprinted by CommonDreams.org, illustrates why so many Americans are clueless about this nation’s standing in the rest of the world. “The world’s most famous journalist isn’t Peter Arnett or Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein or Dan Rather,” Willett writes. “His name is Sami al-Hajj. Chances are you’ve never heard of him. That should worry you.”

Willett points out that al-Hajj, a TV cameraman from Sudan, was recently released without comment after years in Guantanamo–years in which “al-Jazeera followed his odyssey day by day” while “most Americans never saw his photograph in mainstream American newspapers or heard about him on television.” I’ve attached YouTube clips (more than 23 minutes, or about the length of a full nightly news broadcast in this country) of al-Jazeera’s “Inside Story” coverage of the al-Hajj case and world Press Freedom Day below. A quick search of the New York Times archives for al-Hajj’s name reveals a total of 12 results, only two of those news story focusing on al-Hajj–a four-paragraph story in September 2002 with the lead, “A reporter for the Arab satellite station Al Jazeera is being held at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, suspected of having links with the terror network of Al Qaeda, according to a statement issued by the station,” and then one reporting his release earlier this month.

The press did pay a bit more attention a couple of weeks ago to the government’s decision to drop charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, the supposed “20th hijacker,” after al-Qahtani’s information apparently was deemed worthless in part because he was tortured (supporting John McCain’s early criticism of torture, before he voted to allow more of it). To the surprise of no one who closely follows the media, the charges against al-Qahtani were dropped on a Friday so that American press coverage would be limited.

Willett is justifiably critical of the U.S. news media in the case of the Sudanese cameraman, noting that while they could not have known whether al-Hajj was a journalist or a terrorist, they “should have been shouting from the rooftops about al-Hajj–demanding evidence, a trial, the truth. But our press was silent.” Willett also suggests that the press silence may be a harbinger of ineptitude to come:

Today the war drums are rumbling again, this time for Iran. Will our press stand its post, or pick up the pom-poms of 2002 and 2003?

The omens aren’t good. The most famous journalist in the world was imprisoned by Americans, without charge, for almost seven years–was beaten, isolated, humiliated, force-fed, relentlessly interrogated and then quietly released. And you never heard about him.

Al-Hajj claims he was tortured while in American custody, that he was interrogated more than 130 times, and that his keepers wanted him to go to work for the U.S. “They wanted me to betray the principles of my job and turn me into a spy,” he said. “It was made clear to me later that the main goal behind my detention was to detain the journalist who reveals the truth.”

We have no way of knowing whether al-Hajj is telling the truth, of course. But part of the reason we don’t know is because the American press never bothered to investigate.  And if they won’t investigate the case of a fellow journalist, what are the odds they’ll examine any of the other almost 800 other people sent to Guantanamo?

Al-Jazeera’s “Inside Story” on Sami al-Hajj (2 parts)

 

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »