If you told the average American that most Muslims actually aren't Arab, and that Arabs are also Christians, Jews, atheists and more, chances are, you'd get a look like you just informed them that the world isn't flat. In 2013, at a time when we are more engaged in 'that part' of the planet, most in the United States unfortunately possess obscured, inaccurate and stereotypical views of Muslims, Middle Easterners, South Asians and anyone perceived to be from those areas. But it's not that Americans are dumb; on the contrary, it's the dumbing down of our society. When mainstream news has been relegated to opposing talking heads going at it (with minimal international coverage), we have been taught to believe that everything begins and ends at our borders. And when you have newsrooms primarily comprised of white men telling us stories from their perspectives, it's not surprising that people know so little about the 'Muslim world' and the world period. Thankfully, an alternative TV network -- Al Jazeera -- is arriving just in time.
By now, most are familiar with Al Jazeera's recent purchase of Al Gore's Current TV. But while the folks over at Fox News are having a heart attack, the rest of us should be welcoming this development with open arms. There's a reason why many journalists, producers and editors alike are trying to jump ship and move on over to the network when they launch their new channel (potentially called Al Jazeera America). There's a reason why news junkies like myself are excited and anticipating this progress in domestic media. And there's a reason why everyone should take notice.
Imagine if someone traveled to the United States for the first time, ended up in a small rural town and discovered a horrible scenario of a father who was molesting his daughter. Now picture that story plastered across every major publication and broadcast network in the tourist's country with the caption: 'White Christian American Man Molests His Own Daughter.' If that pattern of sensationalism was repeated over and over again with precise consistency, soon enough, the people of that country would think all Americans behaved like this father. Sounds crazy right? Well when our newspapers, magazines and TV networks do the exact same thing with random and obscure stories from Muslim, Middle Eastern, South Asian or African countries, that's pretty much what we're doing. Nobody is denying that awful or barbaric instances occur in those regions, but guess what, awful and barbaric instances occur in our own backyard too. The problem is that the horrific act on foreign land is presented as if it were the norm. And when most Americans don't even possess a passport, all they know is what's told to them.
In a post-9/11 climate, things have gone from bad to beyond comprehension. On the domestic side, the only time Muslims, Middle Easterners, South Asians or others from 'the Muslim world' are primarily referenced is in the context of reinforcing tired-old stereotypes. Except for 'foiled terrorist plots' or a father beating his daughter, this marginalized sector is rarely covered or included in the conversation. And what you have instead are loudmouthed actors making a profit over spewing their hatred and dislike of 'those people.' To them, it's growing their base; to our environment, it's creating such toxicity that people are being pushed in front of subways in NY, mosques burned to the ground in places like Missouri and innocents attacked around the country for their perceived religion/ethnicity. Sadly, the bulk of these incidents go underreported because those making decisions in newsrooms often lack the fortitude to raise awareness and delve into these issues when necessary.
In the international context, except for a focus on uprisings that may benefit our own political and economic interests, we barely, if ever, receive TV coverage of the plethora of news stories taking place every single day. And when our traditional networks bring on the same guests who barely offer a fresh perspective on an issue, what sort of information are people really receiving? The stronghold on news and information has become such a glaring issue, that we don't even see alternative viewpoints from many of the hotspots we are actively engaged in like Pakistan, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and the list goes on.
Granted, if you do your research and diligently investigate, you can of course find some accurate reporting and a diversity of opinions on many of these complex topics. But when many Americans are working more than one job just to keep the lights on, the extent of their information is far too often the hour they see on the nightly news. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to read countless in-depth articles, or fact-check a network's coverage. As much as I wish they would, the reality is that our structure is such that people are too inundated with simply vying to survive. This is where the responsibility of newsrooms comes into play. Unfortunately, ours have been reduced to such a caricature of journalism that Edward R. Murrow is probably rolling over in his grave.
If there were ever any doubt as to the magnitude of the dumbing down of our society, one need only look at the case of CNN. CNN international -- globally respected and recognized for its extensive reporting, coverage and analysis -- is in stark contrast with CNN domestic. Aside from one hour dedicated to international news, CNN domestic has lost sight of many of the core principles that brought viewers to tune in decades ago. And it's clearly reflected in their staggering ratings. At the end of the day, despite the flagrant misinformation and lack of accurate reporting they may receive, people want to know what's going on. They yearn for the truth, and they desire to live in a country that lives up to its notion of freedom of the press.
Last year, HBO premiered a new series called The Newsroom. An Aaron Sorkin drama tackling the abhorrent demise of network mainstream news corrupted by advertising money, the show presented a clear possibility of how our real newsrooms could and should actually function. With its award-winning reporting and in-depth worldwide coverage, Al Jazeera may be the closest example to The Newsroom we could have hoped for. As long as they remain committed to their ideals of substantive newsgathering, as long as they don't water down their coverage, as long as they remember to prioritize disseminating information before corporate dollars and as long as they are not afraid to continue pushing the envelope, Al Jazeera America could finally offer a tangible bridge between 'us' and 'them.' Now imagine that.