'GEOGRAPHICAL CORRECTNESS' MAY COME AS A JOLT
by Norman Solomon
American Reporter Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- There were unconfirmed reports yesterday that the United S= tates is not the center of the world.
The White House had no immediate comment on the reports, which set off a= firestorm of controversy in the nation's capital.
Speaking on background, a high-ranking official at the State Department = discounted the possibility that the reports would turn out to be true. "If = that were the case," he said, "don't you think we would have known about it= a long time ago?"
On Capitol Hill, leaders of both parties were quick to rebut the asserti= on. "That certain news organizations would run with such a poorly sourced a= nd obviously slanted story tells us that the liberal media are still up to = their old tricks, despite the current crisis," a GOP lawmaker fumed. A prom= inent Democrat, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that classifi= ed briefings to congressional intelligence panels had disproved such claims= long ago.
Scholars at leading think tanks were more restrained, and some said ther= e was a certain amount of literal truth to the essence of the reports. But = they pointed out that while it included factual accuracy in a narrow sense,= the assertion was out of context and had the potential to damage national = unity at a time when the United States can ill afford such a disruption.
The claim evidently originated with a piece by a Lebanese journalist tha= t appeared several days ago in a Beirut magazine. It was then picked up by = a pair of left-leaning daily newspapers in London. From there, the story qu= ickly made its way across the Atlantic via the Internet.
"It just goes to show how much we need seasoned, professional gatekeeper= s to separate the journalistic wheat from the chaff before it gains wide at= tention," remarked the managing editor of one news program at a major U.S. = television network. "This is the kind of stuff you see on ideologically dri= ven Websites, but that hardly means it belongs on the evening news." A news= magazine editor agreed, calling the reports "the worst kind of geographical= correctness."
None of the major cable networks devoted much air time to reporting the = story. At one outlet, a news executive's memo told staffers that any refere= nce to the controversy should include mention of the fact that the United S= tates continues to lead the globe in scientific discoveries. At a more cons= ervative network, anchors and correspondents reminded viewers that English = is widely acknowledged to be the international language -- and more people = speak English in the U.S. than in any other nation.
While government officials voiced acute skepticism about the notion that the United States is not the center of the world, they declined to speak for attribution.
"If lightning strikes and it turns out this report has real substance to it," explained one policymaker at the State Department, "we could look very bad, at least in the short run. Until it ca= n be clearly refuted, no one wants to take the chance of leading with their= chin and ending up with a hefty serving of Egg McMuffin on their face."
An informal survey of intellectuals with ties to influential magazines o= f political opinion, running the gamut from The Weekly Standard to The New = Republic, indicated that the report was likely to gain little currency in W= ashington's elite media forums.
"The problem with this kind of shoddy impersonation of reporting is that it's hard to knock down because there are grains of truth," one editor commented. "Sure, who doesn't know that our country includes only small percentages of the planet's land mass and population? But to draw an inference from those isolated facts that somehow the United States of America is not central to the world and its future -- well, that carries postmodernism to a nonsensical extreme."
Another well-known American journalist speculated that the controversy w= ill soon pass: "Moral relativism remains a pernicious force in our society,= but overall it holds less appeal than ever, even on American campuses. It'= s not just that we're the only superpower -- we happen to also be the light= unto the nations and the key to the world's fate. People who can't accept = that reality are not going to have much credibility."
Norman Solomon writes a syndicated column on media and politics. His lat= est book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."