Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ridicule by Association

Where to begin unpacking NPR's unprofessional and biased reporting on speeches at the UN's General Assembly? First, I have to say that I wasn't impressed with Chavez' speech ; I think his repeatedly calling Bush a "devil" undermined the seriousness of his allegation that the US is an imperialist state that endangers the world. Also, I am no fan of Iran's narrow-minded President Ahmadinejad--but to use these two men to belittle the speech of Bolivian President Evo Morales and Noam Chomsky's rigorous critiques of US foreign policy is unacceptable.
Consider Michele Kelemen's remarks in her report:
  • "[Chavez] took center stage…to call on nations to rise up against what he called America’s hegemony....Chavez even had some recommended reading for his colleagues, Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival: America s Quest for Global Dominance." She then mentions Pres. Ahmadinejad's speech yesterday and concludes with this description of Pres. Morales, "there was another bit of diplomatic showmanship last night by Bolivia’s new president Evo Morales, an ally of Chavez...[who] challenged US drug policy in the Andes, calling it a form of neocolonization....he seemed at ease making his UN debut reading off some notes scribbled on what looked to be the back of an envelope; the leftist leader talked about his indigenous roots and what he called the pillaging of natural resources in his country.
This was followed by Melissa Block interviewing Jeffrey Laurenti, who critiqued Chavez' speech. Block introduces the interview by saying,
  • Hugo Chavez' speech before the Gen Assembly was truly remarkable – one that startled both for its use of props: the Noam Chomsky book that President Chavez held up before the delegates....Chavez also railed against President Bush, the 'world tyrant' in his words, for trying to consolidate the United States' hegemonistic the way I spoke today with one of Noam Chomsky's publishers, Metropolitan Books, Sarah Bershtel there says she agrees with Hugo Chavez, she says everyone should read Chomsky’s book, Hegemony or Survival.
Notice how slyly the reporters deride the various subjects of their reports and blur distinctions. Morales' talk is "showmanship;" he's no more than an "ally" of Chavez, and he "scribbles" on the back of an envelope (how childlike!). Therefore we can ignore his assertion that Bolivia's resources have been pillaged even though it's true. Chomsky's scholarship and compassion are likewise reduced to nothing but a "prop," published by someone who "agrees" with Chavez.

Imagine a speech by Bush getting such a send up on NPR. You'll have to be content with your imagination, because on NPR his speeches are covered with great seriousness--never treated with such derision--regardless of how filled with lies and nonsense they may be (e.g FactCheck or Common Dreams ).

1 comment:

Porter Melmoth said...

Very right-on comments. I find it difficult not to be crabby about NPR's frequent smirking over something like this (e.g. the recent UN speeches). It was obvious that Melissa Block's mouth was curved into a smug little smile for the whole duration of the piece, and her voice had a tone and inflexion far more comfortable with a garden party story. So that's how she handled it. Her voice betrayed the triteness of her own condescension. The only good thing was that we didn't have to suffer through Robert Siegel's tut-tutting. So much of prime-show NPR is becoming unlistenable to me. Their on-air talent has either been around too long (i.e. Cory Flintoff STILL sounds like he's a middle school nerd trying to prove himself) or they're just plain terrible (Jack Speer reading the news!). Of course, they all take themselves so seriously that their opinions of themselves and their enterprise could not possibly be anything but self-congratulatory. Yet they're still the only viable alternative game in town as far as convenience is concerned.

As far as Chavez's speech is concerned, it was certainly a burlesque. But sober, upright characters like John Bolton may wish to learn that the Latin American world-view often integrates literary and theatrical techniques, sometimes involving 'low-brow' or surrealistic humor to make very serious points. I cite G. Garcia Marquez, Reinaldo Arenas, and J.L. Borges as masters and practitioners of this approach. NPR might have attempted to explore this angle, but I guess they were just too cool to bother.

Your site is welcome indeed, and intelligently and accurately argued. Full steam ahead!