Since the beginning of the crisis provoked by the Islamophobic film The Innocence of Muslims, the media have written about it from almost every angle: Coptic extremism, the danger of Salafism, the "arrogance" of the West, the "backwardness" of the Arab world, the shock of civilizations between the Sacred and Freedom of Speech, the difference between Shiites and Sunnis, and so on.
In fact, they have written about everything except how this whole affair was treated by the media itself, given a boost in France by cartoons in the Charlie Hebdo weekly mocking the Muslim prophet. (On Wednesday, the magazine printed "responsible" and "irresponsible" editions - pictured above - to mock their critics)
When Egyptian television shows a video around-the-clock that was concocted by a handful of extremist Copts and fundamentalist Christians in California, when no one has ever heard of it on the banks of the Nile -- can this still be called journalism? The nonstop broadcast, followed by debates and talk shows, ended in the "desired" result: a violent demonstration in front of the American embassy by 2,000 people, not a great many in Cairo, a city of 16 million.
This pyromaniac journalism is the mirror image of the preventive journalism practiced on this side of the Mediterranean, which, during the evening of September 18, consisted of panicky alarms and a great hubbub of special editions and scary headlines announcing that trouble was coming because of cartoons in a satiric weekly that had not yet even appeared on the newsstands.
Predicting future events
In theory at least, consistent journalism consists of reporting facts as correctly as possible. In reality, it has largely gone off on a tangent, making predictions of future events, as expected or even unconsciously desired.
In Paris and Cairo alike, journalists announced the scandal more than they covered it, confusing a demonstration with a planned attack by al-Qaeda against the American consulate in Benghazi; demanding politicians react before trouble even started; forgetting to mention the very weak response to the appeals for protests.
The media, always looking for quantifiable facts, love to cite numbers, but it was as if the numbers suddenly made no sense. For once, the Arab world and the Western world spoke in unison. Unfortunately, there is no reason to be pleased about this.
Without handing out good or bad marks, we can point to a slippery slope, which consists of announcing events ahead of time for fear of missing them when they occur; and, in the end, by provoking these same events, for fear that they will not occur: for like Nature, the media abhor a vacuum.
Does no one remember the quasi-disappointment of commentators when the “Millennium Bug” turned out to be a flop? All that uproar over nothing, all those special reporters wasted, all those expert-predicted apocalypses harmless, all those politicians called upon to act, to announce measures and plans...
When information becomes a show, the show is at best disappointing -- but always bad.