A Dutch journalist’s reflective take on the difficulties inherent in covering the news from the Middle East, where he was a reporter from 1998 to 2003.
When Luyendijk was hired by the newspaper Volkskrant and Dutch Radio 1 News to be their Middle East correspondent, the novice journalist gradually came to the conclusion that good journalism in a dictatorship is a contradiction in terms because of four factors: fear, the absence of verifiable facts and figures, the vulnerability of sources and, finally, the most important element, the dictatorship itself. The author takes readers behind the scenes of so-called on-the-spot reporting, where the journalist has no more access to facts than his editor in an office half way across the globe. The wire services—Associated Press, Reuters, etc.—are the principal sources of news, and Luyendijk compares the production of news to that of bread in a factory: “The correspondents stand at the end of the conveyor belt, pretending we’ve baked the white loaf ourselves, while in fact all we’ve done is put it in its wrapping.” What the public wants to hear, he asserts, is often what the media reports, providing people with views that jibe with their preconceived notions. Luyendijk divides his report into three parts: his early years learning the ropes, his time covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the lead-up to the war in Iraq. In the author’s view the Israelis are masters of public relations, much better than the Palestinians at fighting the media war, with the result that terrorism receives more coverage than the occupation. As for the American government’s public-relations effort preceding the invasion of Iraq, Luyendijk writes that “the creators of Disney World were at work.” Personal anecdotes and jokes lighten the author’s serious message about the flaws in the system that produces what passes for news from the Arab world. Originally published in the Netherlands in 2006, the book includes an Afterword in which Luyendijk summarizes the problems and offers suggestions for change.
Opinionated, self-deprecating and humorous—and for supporters of Israel, an unwelcome interpretation of the situation there.