Chris Suellentrop writes today about the fact that Al Jazeera is just as fair as CNN. Of course Al Jazeera has an Arab slant on the news, what’s less obvious to Americans is the strong slant toward America of the US news networks. To be frank, I’m willing to simply dismiss people who look at Al Jazeera as a propaganda outlet as simpleminded or ignorant. Today they suspended their broadcasts from Iraq because two of their reporters were expelled. Obviously they’re doing more to tweak Iraq’s government than folks like Peter Arnett.
My problem with the common dismissal of Al Jazeera as a propaganda network is that it betrays a lack of perspective that offends me utterly. I can deal with conservatives and liberals equally well, what I can’t deal with is people who can’t get beyond their own biases. For example, I’m amazed by people who think it’s perfectly fine for us to detain people captured in Afghanistan as “unlawful combatants” rather than as prisoners of war, but who howl with outrage when Iraqis don’t treat our captured soldiers properly under the Geneva Convention. Our soldiers should be accorded the rights of prisoners of war but so too should we honor the convention even when it doesn’t suit us.
The inability to step outside one’s own political outlook, or nationality, or race, or gender and look at the big picture from other perspectives is an intellectual flaw that I find to be fatal. Everyone comes at every issue with biases, I’m a liberal white male who grew up in a small town in Texas, and that background certainly colors my thoughts on pretty much everything. However, I pride myself on my ability to compensate for those factors and look at a situation from the perspective of other people, although I’m obviously far from perfect.
In any case, the one piece of advice that I’d give anyone who wants to achieve a greater understanding of the world is to examine yourself for your biases and then attempt to set them aside when reading or watching the news. Things that seem utterly irrational through the lens of your own experiences may seem perfectly reasonable through someone else’s. Those people may still be completely wrong, but at least you might get a clue as to where they’re coming from.