Feb
03
2011

USA Today Shows How Not to Report on Egypt Protests

Start with USA Today's headline (2/3/11):

Mubarak Supporters Weigh In: Anti-Government Rallies Shaken by Rival Protesters

The forces attacking the pro-democracy demonstrators in Tahrir Square were not "rival protesters"; they were government agents, complete in many cases with police ID cards that were confiscated when violent provocateurs were apprehended by activists (Al Jazeera English, 2/2/11). As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (2/3/11) put it in his firsthand report from the square:

The events were sometimes presented by the news media as "clashes" between rival factions, but that's a bit misleading. This was an organized government crackdown, but it relied on armed hoodlums, not on police or army troops.

The USA Today piece, by Jim Michaels and Theodore May, was a prime example of the kind of deceptive coverage Kristof was talking about. In USA Today's version, the thugs bringing violence to heretofore peaceful demonstrations were civic-minded individuals "worried that groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood would take over if free elections are held" and "saving Egypt from the Islamic extremism that has infected the Middle East." The piece even quoted Egyptian state TV as explaining that the camel-riding goons running down protesters were actually "pyramid workers who were protesting the negative economic impact of the crisis."

Contrary to other eyewitness accounts, in USA Today's world both sides are equally responsible for violence, as "protesters took chunks of concrete from the street to use as ammunition and occasionally tossed Molotov cocktails at each other."

Michaels has a history of deceptive, credulous reporting from the Middle East and Afghanistan (FAIR Blog, 7/1/10, 8/6/10, 8/27/10; Extra!, 9-10/08). But this report is a poor effort even for him.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.