The ignorance, arrogance and racism dripping from Western foreign correspondents’ and anchors’ mouths covering the Ukraine story in recent days will provide media ethicists with case studies for years to come.
While demonstrating empathy and providing verbal support for Ukranians forced to flee Russia’s war on their country, descriptions of the new refugees and internally displaced persons as “civilized,” unlike victims of conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, or what they termed “Third World” countries, was eye popping.
I monitored tweets and video clips of such offensive displays and responded to several but the venomous bigotry reflected a deeper problem with the offenders’ education (or lack thereof), extremely limited knowledge base, misguided religious beliefs and deep-seated insecurities.
The following examples are just the tip of the iceberg.
CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata, doing a standup in Kiyv, said with the Russians marching in, the calculus had changed entirely as tens of thousands of people tried to flee the city.
“But this isn’t a place, with all due respect, you know, like Iraq or Afghanistan that had seen conflict raging for decades. You know, this is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully, too — city, where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it would happen. So, it’s part of the human nature but they’re not in denial,” he said.
The dolt hadn’t heard that Iraq was the cradle of civilization.
My retort: “Relatively #civilized, relatively #European”…Industrial-sized ignorance/arrogance/racism. Is that the @CBSNews of @DanRather and #WalterCronkite? Is this #journalism? #Reporting or #editorializing? #MediaEthics anyone?
Lebanese journalist Sanaa Khouri, who covers religion for BBC News Arabic Online, chimed in, “very tempted to change my bio here to ‘relatively civilized’. Or shall we start printing it on tshirts and hoodies?”
She went on to say when several journalists/experts use the same language to imply people deserve more/less empathy based on their race, class, religion and origin, it’s not just a human “mistake,” but “a systematic f*cked up discourse that illustrates everything wrong with this world.”
Did Mr. D’Agata skip history class when his school taught “civilized” Europe’s 100-year war? According to the New York Post, he apologized Saturday on CBS’ streaming network, but the damaging bigotry had already left an indelible mark.
Halim Shebaya, executive director of the Arab Association of Constitutional Law in the Middle East and North Africa, was quite mordant. “Life goals of an Arab: become ‘relatively civilized.’”
As if D’Agata’s prejudiced plunge wasn’t bad enough, Michael Knowles, host of The Michael Knowles Show at @realDailyWire tweeted: “It just occurred to me that this is the first major war between civilized nations in my lifetime.”
Adham Hassanieh, a Lebanese political activist, countered with: “Yes, true, after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 cannibalism among Iraqis dropped from 100% to 0.01%.”
As the day progressed I had to throw in my dime’s worth on definitions so I tweeted:
“#Exceptionalism: the condition of being different from the norm also: a theory expounding the exceptionalism especially of a nation or region. #Ethnocentrism: the attitude that one’s own group, ethnicity, or nationality is superior to others.”
I followed it with three thumbs down emojis.
The insults didn’t stop there.
Manchester native Lucy Watson, a vividly excited gesticulating correspondent for Britain’s ITV, at the Polish-Ukranian border, blurted the following:
“And now the unthinkable has happened to them. And this isn’t a developing Third World nation. This is Europe.”
So I quoted her incredulity in my tweet, adding: “Really? So it’s OK to happen to Third World countries, but not to #Europe? Is this #journalism? #MediaEthics anyone? War is unthinkable anywhere. Let that sink in.”
Equally patronizing was an article by Daniel Hannan in Britain’s The Telegraph headlined “Vladimir Putin’s monstrous invasion is an attack on civilization itself.”
“They seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. Ukraine is a European country. Its people watch Netflix and have Instagram accounts, vote in free elections and read uncensored newspapers. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone,” was his contribution to “civilized” discourse.
One wonders if Mr. Hannan had ever set foot outside his back yard.
Another neo-colonial white supremacist ignoramus, an anchor on Al Jazeera network’s English channel no less, commented on refugees trying to get on trains or out of Ukraine thusly:
“What’s compelling is just looking at them, the way they dress, these are prosperous, if you’ll excuse the expression, middle class people. These are not, obviously, refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war. These are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to.”
Has this genius blinded by racism not been around Europe lately, including the Brexited UK, to see the rainbow of colors, ethnic backgrounds and multilingual mix of middle class people living next door to most?
Unless he walks around Al Jazeera’s offices with blinders to avoid dealing with the plethora of nationalities working at the network, or he resides in a guarded gated community that excludes non-whites and doesn’t mix with “bloody wogs.”
Sana Saeed, who also works at Al Jazeera, said she was horrified to see this clip. “The dehumanization is insidious & everywhere,” she tweeted.
Al Jazeera’s PR department was left with egg on its face and issued an apology in a news release. But again, the damage was done.
Across the English Channel, French pundits were no less odious on the 24-hour news channel BFM TV.
“We’re not talking here about Syrians fleeing the bombing of the Syrian regime backed by Putin, we’re talking about Europeans leaving in cars that look like ours to save their lives,” commented an analyst about the hundreds of thousands of refugees.
What did he expect? Horse-drawn carts?
“They graduated magna cum laude from #Bigotry University. Straight As in #Racism101,” I tweeted.
Reporting from a Polish reception center across the border from Ukraine, NBC News correspondent Kelly Cobiella uttered this despicable gem: “To put it bluntly, these are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from neighboring Ukraine, and that quite frankly is part of the concern. They’re Christian, they’re white, they’re similar to people (unintelligible).”
Middle East analyst Emaddedin Badi who tweeted the video clip from his TV set said the report was nauseating to hear, since few can empathize with Ukraine’s refugees more than Syrians.
My tweeted reply: “Beyond the pale racism. The reporter should be educated about Christianity and where it originated — the #MiddleEast, not the #Midwest, #DeepSouth or continental #Europe.”
It may also interest this uninformed NBC correspondent to know that citizens of the Syrian town of Maaloula still speak Aramaic, the language in which Jesus Christ preached, and that people in the Middle East were Christians long before her ancestors were converted from paganism or were probably among the huddled masses who didn’t speak English and were subjected to disinfection procedures by immigration officers when they landed at Ellis Island.
To remind Ms. Cobiella, who seems worried about protecting Christians, and from this Christian who traces her roots over 2,000 years in the region where Christianity was born:
“Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the laws and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:36–40, King James version.
The Bible didn’t specify the skin color, religion, national origin or gender of the neighbor.