The major conclusion of the latest Zogby poll of Arab attitudes toward the US - that Arab opinions of the US are at an all-time low - confirms results of numerous other recent polls, for example, those conducted by the Pew Research Center for The People and The Press.
More interesting is this Zogby finding: For over a third of all those surveyed, the principal source of information about the US was seeing or hearing Arab commentaries about the US in the Arab media. Among this group, "the overwhelming majority" has no direct experience of the US, and therefore relies on "received knowledge", i.e. media, for their information.
But pollster Zogby - head of the Arab-American Institute - goes on to conclude: "The central problem separating Arabs from America is not the Arab media, nor is it lack of information - it is all about policy."
Of course it's about policy. But how did these Arab readers and viewers learn about US policy? Largely through "received knowledge", i.e. from the Arab media.
What are the characteristics of Arab media? First, many Arab newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets are owned by Middle East governments, and are often used to say things that governments won't tell the US face-to-face. Second, many parts of the Arab media subscribe to myths such as Jews own most of the banks and mass media in the US. For most of the "Arab street", Jews and Israel are synonymous; and being Jewish equates absolutely with being pro-Israel, pro-Sharon, pro-settlements, and anti-Arab. Finally, just as US media tends to "frame" its stories through an American lens, the Arab media presents the news through Arab eyes. This kind of cultural baggage is understandable, almost instinctive, and virtually inevitable. In most Arab journalism, the American "cult of objectivity" in news reporting is non-existent (and vastly overrated in the US).
This is one of the reasons the US government spends many millions of dollars promoting its own media - like Al-Hurra TV and Radio Sawa. Compared with Arab TV channels such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, these ventures have not met with great success. They are seen - often justifiably - as outlets for US propaganda.
Writing in the Jordan Times, Zogby notes that "some of the leading proponents of expanding US public diplomacy efforts in the Middle East are approaching the Arab world as if it were the Soviet bloc behind a 21st century version of the 'Iron Curtain'," and making "serious mistakes" in the process. "The expenditure of huge sums on the development of alternative media, a la 'Radio Free Europe' (is) not useful," he says.
He encourages increased visitor and exchange programs - certainly worthwhile, but not an easy achievement in these days of visa delays and, at times, harassment at US airports. Nonetheless, he says, Arabs "want to visit the US, (and) meet Americans." However, he adds, "as long as the US policy in the region remains as it is, these public diplomacy efforts are, at best, fingers plugging holes in a leaking dyke."
One can agree or disagree with this conclusion. But media does not make policy; it reflects policy.
If policy is the only aspect of American life Arabs are interested in, and policy change is required before Arab audiences find America's messages credible, then the US might as well say nothing. This is not a solution; it is an abdication. The challenge is for the US to do a much better job of presenting a more rounded picture of American life. American public diplomacy needs to project fact - not propaganda - against a background of both hope and realism about what America is and what it is not.
Based on what I have seen, Al-Hurra TV is about as "fair and balanced" as Fox News is an oasis of liberal Democrats. It is filled with American "success stories" - there are no warts. The US would be more credible if, first, it made better use of Arab media, and, second, if it revealed itself as a society still wrestling with huge social, political and economic problems. Those attributes might resonate more effectively with Arab audiences. But Arab audiences have no experience whatever in some of the taken-for-granted constructs we broadcast - for example, the concept that ordinary citizens have the power to change policies - and presidents. This notion is alien to most Arabs, who lack the power to change anything. How America works needs explaining.
There are millions of Americans who believe there is an urgent need to change both the substance and the tone of much of US Middle East policy. The current electoral process will be a measure of just how many millions. Meanwhile, the country that virtually invented broadcasting ought to be able to do a better job of presenting itself to Arab audiences. As former US Ambassador Richard Holbrook wondered recently: How can a man in a cave out-communicate the mother of modern communications?
William Fisher served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy administration.
Did the presedint follow Powel or Rice? Did he follow Wolfowitz, Perl, And Rumsfield?
He did not listen to Powel and Rice as they are his trophy educated slaves. They are not advisors with all meanings of the word. The USA has fought a war or more not in its own interest, but to please Israel. Who dares mentioning the Israeli abuse of Palastenians, who dares to follow up in their nuclear programs?
Who could critic the butcher -Sharon?
Tell me if that is not the behavior of a puppit?
As the saying goes: a lie can go round the world several times before truth gets it's shoes on. (and be as immortal as the devil)
The US government is only as fair and honest to Muslims as it isn't a Zionist occupied government. Which is to say not much.
But this is to be expected as Israel is a spiritual discriminator. Jews that support it identify themselves as not understanding the meaning of "thou shalt not steal" while Christians that support it identify themselves as not following Jesus's teachings.
Truth may stand out clear from error but not everyone has the where with all to stick with it in the face of popular error. And they must win their spiritual failure.