The Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel reported on a video from 2010 that was released by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaking against Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs.” (Transcript here.) It took some time before the U.S. media developed interest. The comments were reported by the Jerusalem Post on January 4. By January 11, Forbes columnist Richard Behar wrote a piece headlined “News Flash: Jews Are ‘Apes And Pigs.’ So Why Is Egypt’s Morsi The Elephant In America’s Newsrooms?” He wrote:
Last Friday, the sitting president of Egypt – the world’s 15th most populous nation — was exposed for calling Jews “apes and pigs.” And he did it in a TV interview (in Arabic) in 2010, less than two years before he took office.
Needless to say, this was HUGE NEWS for American mass media! Only it wasn’t. (Knock, knock, New YorkTimes? Anybody home?) In fact, to be fair to the paper of record, not a single major outlet has covered it. Not AP or Reuters. Not CBS News or CNN. Not Time magazine or U.S. News & World Report. Not the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or USA Today. Etcetera. And therein lies a story, which this column can only begin to skin open here.
Behar goes into quite a bit of detail about Morsi’s comments and how they weren’t covered by media outlets. For instance, after the news broke, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spent an hour with Morsi in Cairo in what the network billed as an exclusive interview. He never asked about it. And people without such access to Morsi didn’t even mention it.
Is my own Jewishness clouding my own news judgment here? For a reality check, I turned to Gene Foreman, one of the most respected editors in the newspaper business over the past half-century. (He also happens to be a Methodist, not that such things should matter in judging whether anything is newsworthy.) Foreman is the author of The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Pursuit of News – a 2009 book described as “a GPS for sound decision-making.” And his wisdom is invaluable for any fledgling reporters out there: Gene’s accomplishments include 25 years managing the newsroom of the Philadelphia Inquirer — during the time the paper won 18 Pulitzer Prizes.
“I think you are onto something here,” Foreman reassures me after reviewing the Jerusalem Post’s front-page story about the Morsi Tapes. “On the face of it, this is newsworthy. These were interviews that Morsi made a couple of years ago, but they reveal his thinking — the attitude of a key player in the Middle East. It’s legitimate to ask the reporters who are covering the Middle East beat whether they knew about this story in the Post — and if they did know about it, why have they not pursued it on their own?”
I’ve been trying. So far nobody wants to talk with me about it on the record. And the off-record things they tell me just don’t add up. At least not yet.
For MEMRI’S president, Yigal Carmon, it’s been an uphill battle since he founded the group 15 years ago to get western media to pay more attention to this kind of genocidal hatred and incitement. “This is déjà vu,” he says about the lack of major press coverage of his Morsi material. “Well-meaning journalists have told me that exposing this kind of stuff is serving the enemies of peace. I think quite the contrary. You don’t serve peace by cover-ups. Only by exposure.”
Obviously the language barrier combined with the decline of foreign bureaus makes coverage of this nature more difficult. But when something like this is brought to late, it should be reported on.
Thankfully the New York Times is reporting out this story now. In a piece published January 15, David Kirkpatrick began his report:
CAIRO — Nearly three years ago, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhooddelivered a speech urging Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists. In a television interview months later, the same leader described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”
The piece is very well done, and full of context about Egypt’s anti-Semitic culture:
Representatives of Mr. Morsi have declined repeated requests over more than three days for comment on his remarks. One reason may be that the re-emergence of his previous statements has now trapped him in a political bind. While his past comments may be a liability abroad, he faces a political culture at home in which such defamation of Jews is almost standard stump discourse. Any attempt to retract, or even clarify, his slurs would expose him to political attacks by opponents who already accuse him of softness toward the United States and Israel.
Signs asserting Mr. Morsi works for Mr. Obama are already common at street protests. Perhaps “the Muslim Brotherhood is so desperate for U.S. support that it is willing to bend over backwards to humor the Israelis,” Emad Gad, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, suggested in a recent column.
One thing I would have liked to read in any of the stories covering these comments is if there’s any religious basis for these slurs. Does the Koran, for instance, refer to any groups of people as apes or pigs? Oh it does? Might it not be helpful to not just put these comments in political context but religious context as well? Is this an accepted point among Muslims in Egypt or is there any diversity of thought? It would be helpful to have answers to these questions, too.
A follow-up report is headlined “Morsi Says His Slurs of Jews Were Taken Out of Context“