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HE WAITED A LONG TIME TO CONNECT

New York, October 2001. The bombing of Afghanistan had begun and Edward Said was visibly agitated. He had not yet been able to get an al-Jazeera connection. Having to depend solely on the American media was, to him, “impossible”.

It was not just a “lifelong exile’s” longing for news in his own tongue. The Palestinian scholar who died last week had long had a love-hate relationship with the American media.

Incensed by its coverage of Iran’s Islamic revolution and the 1979 hostage crisis, he came out with a slim volume in 1981 that forever changed the way the world looked at the media. In fact, the central thesis of Covering Islam — that the Western media is responsible for the popular perception of all Muslims as terrorists and barbaric — appears quite commonplace today. Said said it first.

Since then he has often scoffed at “preposterous” media creations like the “Arab street” and the “Muslim mind” — but to little avail. “I wish I could say that general understanding of the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam in the US media has improved,” he wrote just two months before his death. “Alas, it really hasn’t.”

Handsome, articulate, dapper, he himself was quite a media favourite though. In the Eighties, he would often have to cut classes to appear on television — arguing the Palestinian cause. In recent years, such encounters could cause extreme irritation. “Once,” a friend writes, “when I went on air the Israeli consul in New York said I was a terrorist and wanted to kill him. And what did the anchorwoman say to me' ‘Mr Said, why do you want to kill the Israeli consul'’ How do you reply to such garbage'”

Edward Said got his al Jazeera connection shortly before the war in Afghanistan ended.

Where’s the bite'

At last, a “serious” magazine. Or at least one that is self-professedly so. There is little that scares the popular press more than this word. Lively, credible, unputdownable, sabse tez, there are many ways the media would like to describe itself. But not serious. To most, it’s just another word for boring.

The first, October, issue of National Review, a monthly magazine, marks itself out to be different simply by declaring “NR is a serious magazine.” The opening note from editor-in-chief, Inderjit Badhwar (ex-India Today), claims, “NR will add a new dimension and bite to the media world of political analysis…Our purpose is to become the voice of the intelligentsia.”

If only it were so easy.

It doesn’t help that the inaugural issue is full of tired and over-exposed names like J.N. Dixit, Inder Malhotra, Bibek Debroy, Farrukh Dhondy...Hardly the people to turn to to “make a difference”.

The deeper problem is the magazine’s own thinking, its lack of a worldview apart from such vague notions as “the creed of humanism”. The hallmark of both The Economist and the New Republic, the two role models Badhwar cites, are their clear, rather trenchant points of view. The National Review has none. It needs to get hold of one and get it fast, if it really wants to, as it says, “add a new dimension and bite to the media world”.

Fodder fixation

How do you get your news, Mr President' George Bush did not equivocate. “I get briefed by Andy Card and Condi in the morning,” he told the Fox News interviewer last week. “They come in and tell me. I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavour for what’s moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage.”

That should put all journalists in their place. But the most powerful man in the world still can’t better the strongman of Bihar. A few months ago Laloo Prasad Yadav told his supporters, don’t read newspapers, feed them to your cows instead.

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