Why Millennials Are Turning Away from the Mainstream Media
In Longfellow's The Masque of Pandora, Prometheus laments, "Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad." Perhaps if Prometheus had been exposed to 24/7 cable news or mainstream newspapers, he would be comforted to know that he was not alone in evoking the wrath of Mount Olympus's stern residents. Despite placing themselves on a moral and intellectual pedestal, a multitude of mainstream journalists forgo honest investigation and analysis for sensationalist political theater.
This unfortunate trend was most glaring during the revolutions in the Middle East that began in Tunisia. Critics of the media's reporting of these events were not restricted to experts at think tanks or academics. As part of the millennial generation, I can confidently say the media's coverage of the "Arab Spring" harmed its credibility in the eyes of many young Americans. Moreover, it will be the new generation who will have to pay the most for the mistakes influenced by media-driven misperceptions. This is especially so at a moment when East-West relations have reached a new state of volatility. As a welter of charges is flung back and forth about the tragic downing of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was flying over eastern Ukraine, the need for calm, impartial and penetrating reporting is more essential than ever.
It must be acknowledged that America's response to the "Arab Spring" has been a failure. Today Egypt has come full circle after the Muslim Brotherhood's brief stint in power. Libya is marred by instability and uncertainty. Syria's rebels have turned Islamist, and some of them are now using their territorial gains in Syria as a springboard for an invasion of Iraq. This dire situation has many causes, one undeniably being America's judgment clouded by romantic dreams of young liberal activists in Arab nations transforming the Middle East into a bastion of Western values.
The term "Arab Spring" itself conveys unmerited optimism. Spring is regarded universally as a symbol of hope and rebirth. By contrast, the history of revolutions is at best a mixed bag. For every George Washington that is brought to power by revolution, a Robespierre, Lenin, and Ayatollah Khomeini are empowered. On what basis did these members of the media conclude that these uprisings would unquestionably result in the former rather than the latter? Would it not have been wise to reserve judgment and carefully investigate the situation before expressing euphoria, especially in a region as tumultuous as the contemporary Middle East?
From the very beginning, it was evident that many journalists sought to portray the protesters in a sympathetic light. The New Republic thus evoked memories of 1989 by trumpeting, “Cairo has taken its place alongside Budapest and Prague as one of the modern capitals of liberal revolt." Writing in the New York Times, David Kirkpatrick described the Libyan rebels as "secular-minded professionals—lawyers, academics, businesspeople—who talk about democracy, transparency, human rights and the rule of law." One reporter from The New Yorker went so far as to compare a Libyan rebel's appearance to that of a "beardless Abraham Lincoln." Their advocacy went far beyond flattering depictions, with many calling for the United States to act on behalf of those revolutionaries. For instance, Liz Sly, The Washington Post’s Beirut bureau chief, attempted to shame those who urged caution on Syria by bemoaning, "America, once regarded by the Syrian opposition as a natural friend in its struggle for greater freedoms against a regime long at odds with the West, increasingly is being viewed with suspicion and resentment for its failure to offer little more than verbal encouragement to the revolutionaries." To solidify her point, she mentions an 11-year-old boy who had his left leg severed as a result of the fighting and quotes his despondent older brother to suggest that had America been more involved, this tragedy could have been averted. Those who disagreed with her call for greater intervention presumably would be heartless monsters who didn't care about the plight of Syrian children.
As part of their campaign to depict these various revolutionaries as the modern day equivalents of Thomas Jefferson, certain reporters tried to minimize the significant involvement in these protests by Islamist groups. A Washington Post editorial dismissed apprehensions about the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian revolution by writing that the group "played a marginal role in the demonstrations" and citing Egyptian analysts that asserted that an "Islamist party would attract a minority of voters and would be unlikely, in the short term, to come to power." This was allegedly due to the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood's "long-term aim of establishing an Islamic government in Egypt is at odds with what the mostly secular and middle-class demonstrators have been calling for: the democratization and modernization of the country." Just a year later Mohamed Morsi was elected president, suggesting that claims of a internet savvy pro-western majority were dramatically overblown.