Lessons from “Control Room”

After watching the documentary “Control Room” I was dismayed at the complete lack of respect CentCom (and by extension the United States government in general) gave to the media with regards to the Iraq war. CentCom clearly appreciated that the media was a powerful tool that could be manipulated for propaganda purposes, but apparently failed to understand how it could also be used to reach out to the Arab community. American news networks were given the best facilities and access to information. Yet it wasn’t American support that was essential to the success of the U.S. in the Iraq war, and in the Arab region in general. What the U.S. needed was the support of the Arab public. The best way to gain that support certainly isn’t by dismissing al Jazeera, the most popular Arab news source, as nothing more than propaganda an unworthy of the U.S.’s attention.

Throughout the documentary, al Jazeera is consistently portrayed as fair-minded and open to analyzing all sides of an issue (although this likely reflects some degree of bias on the part of the producers of “Control Room” since some amount of bias is inevitable). If CentCom was willing to respect al Jazeera as a legitimate news outlet, the network could have been incredibly effective at portraying the American viewpoint. The press officer in the movie, Lt. Rushing, serves as an excellent example of the inattention and even blatant disrespect given al Jazeera in particular and the Arab media in general. Rushing was the most junior press officer at CentCom with absolutely no background in the Middle East, but was assigned to al Jazeera because he seemed to get along with some of the reporters. It seems obvious to me that more thought and strategy should have been given to attempting to influence public opinion than simply haphazardly assigning unqualified officers to the most important news network in the region.

That being said, I believe that people like Lt. Rushing are perhaps the military’s best hope of improving its image in the Middle East. Although he had no background or training in the region, Rushing displayed a genuine interest and curiosity in the Arab people, culture, and history. He was able to develop a positive rapport with the al Jazeera reporters and see them as reasonable people capable of expressing and listening to rational opinions. In turn, the reporters were able to put a human face on U.S. policy, even when they disagreed with it. Rushing’s curiosity of and respect for the region ultimately serves U.S. interests. Instead of insultingly dismissing Rushing’s suggestion to call on an al Jazeera reporter first at a press conference as a sign of respect, General Franks would have done well to listen to him. Such a simple measure would have cost Franks nothing and been a step towards developing a positive rapport. It appears the military could use more soldiers as open-minded as Lt. Rushing.

Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Turkish-Armenian communication in the blogosphere

This is an interesting post by a Turkish blogger written as an open letter to the global Armenian community. The comments are where things get really fascinating, as there are many in-depth and insightful comments by both Turks and Armenians.


I’ve been searching for evidence of interaction between Turks and Armenians on the internet (preferably interaction that goes beyond angry rants) and have had a tough time fining anything. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that many Turkish bloggers have temporarily stopped posting as a form of protest against an increased crackdown on blogs by the Turkish government, so this post is especially encouraging.

The post itself as well as the comments also bring up some interesting notions of identity, especially with regards to nationalism. Turkish and Armenian narratives are discussed, along with how the Armenian genocide fits into both these narratives in vastly different ways. One of the reasons it is so difficult for Turkey and Armenia (as well as individual citizens of those countries) to reconcile is that each country has very distinct and established narratives about what happened in 1915, and every citizen is indoctrinated into his country’s respective narrative from birth. The accuracy of the narrative is not what’s important, but rather the fact that the narrative is so firmly entrenched in notions of national identity.

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Web Censorship Is So Bad in Turkey That Blogs Are Shutting Themselves Down In Protest

Web Censorship Is So Bad in Turkey That Blogs Are Shutting Themselves Down In Protest

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Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 3:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Cyberspace as a means of equality?

Today in class we had a discussion about whether or not cyberspace was inherently liberating. At one point, someone mentioned that the internet gives the ability for everyone to be equal, as long as they learn English. That’s a pretty huge assumption, though. Just making that statement implies that there is something inherently superior about the English language (and by the same measure, something inferior about other languages). I’m reminded of a recent discussion in my French class where we talked about the difficulties involved in finding information online in foreign languages, since approximately 90% of the information on the internet is in English and English has become the lingua franca of the web. It seems pretty apparent to me that it is an incredible disadvantage to be a non-native speaker of English when dealing with cyberspace.

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Art is what you can get away with.”

We briefly discussed this McLuhan quote in class on Thursday, and I just wanted to expand on it a little. I took an introductory art history class last semester, and the professor referenced this quote (without attributing it to McLuhan) as part of a discussion about the definition of art. It’s something that has intrigued me ever since and is closely related to concepts of the public sphere.

When people think about art, they usually consider it to be something that has cultural significance or aesthetic beauty, takes skill to create, something that makes a statement, tells a story, or teaches us something about ourselves, or even just something that has monetary value. More often, it’s some combination of these factors. The difficulty is that it is almost impossible to gain any kind of consensus on these factors.

A degree of talent or skill above and beyond that possessed by ordinary humans is often used as tool to evaluate whether or not something is art. The works of Michelangelo are as universally acknowledged as anything can ever be as great art. He was almost incomparably gifted. I am able to look at one of his sculptures and marvel at how a human being was able to create such a work. Yet the works of Duchamp are also widely held (although certainly not without debate) to be art. Duchamp is the guy who wrote “Mutt” on a urinal and called it art. Many people look at such works and think “I could have done that, so it can’t be art.” Yet the “right” people think that is art and museums are willing to pay millions of dollars for a Duchamp. Thus there is no hard and fast definition of art. If enough people, or even just a few “important” people consider something worthy of the title of art then it is art. The art world then, is one area where concepts of the public sphere are incredibly important. Millions of dollars and a great deal of prestige depend on whose opinions are heard and whose opinions are considered important.

Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 5:24 pm  Comments (1)