I’ve been trying to find an interesting “angle” on the Murdoch Parliamentary hearings that took place two days ago. An angle, you know, something interesting to say. Mostly I’ve been waiting for transcripts to emerge so that I could base my opinions on more than my memory of what transpired and/ or third party accounts. Alas, so far, I haven’t been able to find any. The reason I haven’t been able to write about the hearings is because I have “feelings!”; actually, LOTS OF FEELINGS about this. And I really do not like to write from a place of emotional responses, I prefer to dissect events when I am guided by sharpness, not by raw reactions that amount to the reporting equivalent of shouting at a screen. I lose focus when that happens and in a case as serious as the Murdoch inquiries, one should remained focused, because a lot is at stake.
I am particularly interested in the transcripts because I thought I spotted a contradiction (that might be minor but, if true, could cast doubt about the veracity of the whole affair) between something Rupert Murdoch said and how later on Brooks responded to the same question. Namely, if I recall correctly, Murdoch claimed he only spoke with the editor of News of the World sporadically, maybe once a week to check what was going on. Later on, Brooks claimed they spoke as often as every other day (and she had to be pressured to provide an answer about the frequency of their talks). I have googled more than once in the hopes that this discrepancy was spotted by someone else (or perhaps I misheard?), but to not results so far.
But, while we are on the subject of focus and interesting angles, I’d like to bring this article from The Daily Beast, by Robin Givhan to your attention. The opening blurb to the article, Rebekah Brooks ‘Distracting’ Do, already gives us a taste of what’s to follow:
The ex-CEO’s wild red mane at a Parliament hearing on Murdoch’s phone-hacking scandal was ballsy—and unwise—for someone under fire for allegedly defying laws, says Robin Givhan.
and then, the same old appearance policing:
Brooks’ hair was a distraction because it was a ballsy rebuke of our expectations governing how people on the defensive are supposed to tread. There was no suggestion of humility, timidity, or caution. There was no attempt to disappear into doleful anonymity.
That was look-at-me hair—stare at me, remember me. Me, me, me.
The reactions to Givhan piece have been mostly negative. Adam Clark Estes at The Atlantic Wire put together a useful compilation of the many ways in which Brooks hair has been referenced and he poignantly reminds us that the jabs amount to attempts to dismiss her by reducing her to ambitious woman cliches.
Eh, what can I say? As someone in possession of an unruly mane as Brooks’, I immediately get on the defensive. First of all, the sexist ideas, pushed once again, about women’s looks and expectations. I am immediately reminded of certain rhetoric that we have all heard before: “but she doesn’t look like a victim!”. And certainly, Brooks is not a victim in this scandal, but to base the presumption of innocence or culpability on her unruly hair is all too familiar and plays on the prevalent misogyny and sexism that dominate the discourse about every woman in the public eye.
So, while I was looking for the “angle” that I mentioned in the preface, I saw that Jessica Reed, editor of The Guardian’s CiF, was being interrogated on the current focus of media on the Murdoch scandal in detriment of Somalia’s hunger crisis. She rightfully pointed out that both issues were equally important and deserved widespread attention. Today, Paddy Ashdown even wrote a piece for CiF about the public’s lack of interest in the humanitarian crisis while children are dying of starvation.
And then it occurred to me, how have the opinion makers of English speaking media been portraying Somalia? What have we been told about Somalia and the people living there lately? How much empathy has media helped create for the country and its inhabitants? Why should we love Somalians as a people deserving of compassion, help and international assistance in this time of terrible need? So I ran a search for headlines on Fox News (the most ubiquitous of Murdoch owned English speaking media), and this is what I found:
- Report: U.S. Drones Target Al Qaeda Militants in Somalia
- Somalia Jails Westerners for Bringing in Millions
- Bin Laden Directed Al-Qaeda Attacks in Somalia and Yemen
- Suicide Attack on Peacekeeping Base in Somalia
- Somalia’s Top Pirate Catchers Need Boats
- U.S. Africa Embassy Bombing Suspect Killed in Somalia
- 2 African Union peacekeepers killed in Somalia
- Sweden’s security service on Tuesday arrested a man suspected of plotting a terrorist attack in Somalia
- Denmark navy helicopter foils pirates off the coast of Somalia
- Millions in cash payments missing in Somalia
And then I thought, fair enough, Ashdown’s piece focuses on the British public, so I ran a similar search on another outlet under the influence of Murdoch’s editorial ideology, Sky News:
- Chandlers Freed By Somalia Pirates
- Somalia: Kidnapped Couple Paul And Rachel Chandler Appeal
- Al Qaeda’s East Africa Chief Killed In Somalia
- Somalia: Fierce Fighting Leaves Dozens Dead In Capital Mogadishu
- Somalia: Civilian Slaughter As Islamist Rebels Clash With Troops
Not a single headline in the first one hundred results of either search that portrayed the country as anything but a place filled with murderers, terrorists, pirates and corruption. Let me repeat that: not one single headline.
And maybe that’s the “angle” I was looking for: how media influences the way we see the world, how we care (or don’t) for those in need, how our responses to humanitarian crisis are shaped by the stories we are told. And since we are on the subject: how Murdoch owned media has contributed to our apathy responding to these times of need for Somalia. The Butterfly Effect applied to media analysis, because I strongly believe there is a connection between these two seemingly disparate facts. Just like there is a connection between our focus on Brooks hair and the expectations of women’s behavior, rape culture and victim blaming. In these times of a pervasive media presence, I cannot help but see how all of these are interconnected and dependent of one another. But maybe that’s just because I was looking for an “angle”.