Egypt and our Orwellian news media

In the New York Times’ e-mail to me this morning, the lead story, “Egypt Erupts in Jubilation as Mubarak Steps Down,” is summarized thus:

The departure of President Hosni Mubarak was a pivotal turn in a revolt that has upended one of the Arab’s world’s most enduring dictatorships.

Mubarak was the leader of Egypt for 30 years. He succeeded Anwar Sadat, who succeeded Gamal Abdel Nasser, who took over Egypt in a coup in 1952 and created Egypt’s modern secular nationalist state. Since I began reading the New York Times, around 50 years ago, up until the beginning of the uprising 19 days ago, I do not remember the Times ever describing the Egyptian regime of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak as a dictatorship. In my whole life, prior to the uprising, I do not remember any mainstream U.S. media organ referring to that regime as a dictatorship.

Why the change? It has to do with the liberal “script.” Prior to the uprising, Mubarak’s Egypt was generally described as one of the “moderate” Arab regimes, which were good, as compared with the “extreme” Arab regimes, such as Syria or Libya or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which were bad, and regularly described as dictatorships. The uprising in Egypt created a new set of “good guys,” whom liberals had to cheer. For the good guys to be really good, the regime they were opposing had to be really bad. Hence it suddenly became a “dictatorship.”

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Paul K. writes:

To verify your recollection that the New York Times had never previously referred to Mubarak as a dictator, I did an advanced search of the Times’ on-line archives and searched for several possibilities: “Egyptian dictator,” “dictator of Egypt,” “dictator, Mubarak,” and “Mubarak, the dictator.” Not one previous use of these terms in reference to him came up between 1981 and the beginning of 2011. There were only two references to Nasser as the Egyptian dictator, one in 1991 and one in 2006.

LA replies:

Thanks much for that. What about “dictatorship”?

Paul K. replies:
Good question. Under “Mubarak dictatorship” I find a single reference in an op-ed piece on June 3, 2009, written by an Egyptian journalist. For “Mubarak’s dictatorship” I find one editorial reference, on July 20, 2001. Nothing for “dictatorship of Mubarak,” “Egyptian dictatorship,” or “dictatorship of Egypt.”

LA replies:

Sorry for all this work I’m giving you, but you need to look for those terms without double quotes: look for:

mubarak dictatorship [without quotes]

and prior to January 2011.

I just tried to do this myself, but Google’s “advanced search” I was led to would only allow limiting the date to the last week, the last year, etc., not to the period preceding the last month.

February 13

Paul K. replies:

I don’t mind researching things—I’ve gotten pretty good at it. With the New York Times, after you click on the Advanced Search option, you will see a choice on the right for “custom date range.” That allows you to narrow the search to 1981—January 1, 2011 (before the uprising).

Searching “Mubarak” and “dictatorship” without quotes turns up a lot more articles, but in many of them Mubabark is mentioned in the context of regimes in the Middle East, but the term is not applied to him. Also, a lot of references to Mubarak’s dictatorship appear in op-ed pieces, and I assume you are more interested in how the NY Times itself characterized his regime.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 12, 2011 11:12 PM | Send

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