CNN, bad journalism, and Anwar’s apology tour
by Joshua Treviño
Following up on my piece a few days back on Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim, CNN International’s Connect the World program featured Anwar this past Friday.
The interview, apparently taped as part of his U.S. apology tour for whipping up anti-Semitism back home, nicely encapsulates everything that’s wrong with Western media coverage of Anwar — and indeed, of problems in journalism at large. This much softball usually involves 18 women, underhand pitching, and the NCAA.
The clip in question is embedded here. Keep in mind, as you watch this, that the entire reason Anwar Ibrahim is making this media appearance is that he’s spent all of 2010 attacking Jews. Count the number of times CNN mentions this:
That’s right: zero. The interview in its entirety mentioned the major news about Anwar Ibrahim exactly zero times.
I’ll be blunt: this is what a good rolling of a major media outlet looks like. Whomever Anwar has hired to do his U.S. public relations clearly has solid media contacts, particularly in CNN proper.
The charade doesn’t just extend to omitting Anwar’s excursion into Jew-baiting — it permeates the entire piece, from the narrator declaring that the politician “Fight[s] on no matter what the odds,” to a narrow focus on the martyr-narrative surrounding his sodomy trials, to ludicrous revisionism on the 2008 Malaysian elections.
On the latter, CNN’s narrator intones, “Most believed Ibrahim’s political career was over, but in the 2008 elections, he led Malaysian opposition parties to historic gains.” Of course, inside Malaysia itself, the ‘08 elections were widely regarded as a tremendous failure for Anwar, after he publicly guaranteed he would form a government, and then did not.
(It was also during these elections, the reader must be reminded — as CNN won’t do it — that Anwar told Islam Online that he had “evidence proving that the government is backing the Jewish lobby in the U.S. and some parties inside Israel.”)
To top it all off, CNN’s interviewer spent several minutes lobbing easy hits at Anwar, mostly along the lines of, “Are you in favor of good things, and opposed to bad things?” Does Anwar like racial tolerance? Yes. Is he against corruption? Yes. Is he for a fair judiciary? Yes. Edward Murrow this is not. It’s not even Perez Hilton.
But the interviewer did come within a hair’s breadth of doing his job, and making news, when he asked Anwar whether he supported the dual system of shari’a (Islamic) and civil law in Malaysia, or whether he believed all Malaysians should live under one legal code. The politician’s answer is almost incomprehensible, and worth reprinting in full:
“One must not assume that once we believe in some aspects of the shari’a law to be implemented that it will be adjudicated fairly and justly. Therefore, we must have adequate reforms. Sure, there is just administration of these laws. But the way we draw the line is we — is not to allow in any way that these application of the shari’a laws to either compel or force onto the rights of non-Muslims in Malaysia.”
Well. That doesn’t answer the question. Almost certainly by accident, CNN’s man caught Anwar Ibrahim in a tight spot. Of course he can’t be seen endorsing shari’a law in front of a Western audience. And of course, his major coalition partner, the hard-line Islamist PAS party, won’t countenance anything but exactly that.
The interviewer wasn’t interested in committing journalism, of course, so Anwar wriggled away in a cloud of platitudes.
But he won’t always be so lucky.