Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why Did the Media Get Egypt So Wrong Today?

So I was driving back from lunch in Manhattan to my class at Fordham up in the Bronx this afternoon, and I'm listening to Mubarak's speech, and it becomes clear after a while that he's not going to "stand down" (that phrase used non-stop today) after all.   Why did the media get this so wrong?

  • Maybe Mubarak changed his mind.
  • Maybe the Egyptian military, whose spokesman stood up in  Tahrir Square and told the protesters they would get everything they wanted, were pulling some kind of elaborate feat of disinformation to gauge the consequences.
  • Maybe we should not give the media quite so much attention when they predict rather than report the news.
This last point, of course, isn't an explanation of why the media got Mubarak's resignation wrong, but it's very likely the truest statement above.   The media were right to report what the Egyptian military spokesman said.   But they did not need to spin that into a virtually certain conclusion that Mubarak would, in fact, be resigning.

Indeed, by that very action, the media provided a vivid reason for following what the Egyptian administration said to the Egyptian people today: stop paying so much attention to what you hear and see in the media.

That's generally very bad advice.   We and everyone in the world should be paying attention to what the media are saying - democracy is impossible without information.   But this means the media need to be more careful than they were today in their reporting.   When the fate of a nation hangs in the balance, the best course of action for news media is to show a little more restraint - less speculation, more facts.
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