Voice

The delicate art of objective reporting on Egypt

Your humble blogger has not posted about Egypt during the most recent phase of the Great Unpleasantness.  This is partly because Marc Lynch knows a lot more about this topic than I do, and mostly because there are only so many variations of saying "Egypt is pretty much f**ked, and U.S. foreign policy in the region is totally f**ked."

The New York Times' David Kirkpatrick, Alan Cowell, and Rod Nordland do report yet another layer to the worsening situation on the ground: 

The judicial authorities in Egypt have ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak, who has been detained on a variety of charges since his ouster in 2011, according to state media and security officials on Monday. It remained possible, however, that the authorities would find other ways to keep him in detention and his release did not appear imminent.

Egyptian state media reported that Mr. Mubarak would remain in custody for another two weeks under a previous judicial order before the authorities make a decision on his release. The outcome is likely to be read as a pivotal test of the new government installed by General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi and its desire to replicate or repudiate Mr. Mubarak’s rule.

The development threatened to inject a volatile new element into the standoff between the country’s military and the Islamist supporters of the deposed President Mohamed Morsi as Egypt entered the sixth day of a state of emergency following a bloody crackdown by the military in which hundreds of people have been killed. (emphasis added)

Now, not that there's anything funny about it, but I confess that I laughed out loud when I read the bolded phrase in that story.  See, "threatened to inject a volatile new element" is one of those classic Timesian journalese phrases that occasionally highlights the absurdity of "objective" reporting.  I suspect 99% of informed observers would have written, "The development will worsen the standoff..." or "The development will inflame the conflict" or "the development is a massive clusterf**k" or some variation of such -- but not the New York Times

So, anyway... Egypt is pretty much f**ked, and U.S. foreign policy in the region is totally f**ked.

Am I missing anything?  Seriously, is there any course of action that the U.S. could take that would improve the situation?  Because from David Kirkpatrick, Peter Baker and Michael Gordon's fascinating backgrounder yesterday on ineffective US/EU pressure on Egyptian authorities, the answer appears to be no. 

Daniel W. Drezner

I'd like to thank the Internet...

I see that earlier this week there was a small kerfuffle on the effect of the internet on journalism/punditry.  See Robert Samuelson grumping his way through this column, followed by Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman responding. 

In some ways, this all echoes some older columns by Matthew Yglesias on the internet's effect on journalism.  His latter post, connecting it to MOOCs, made a key point: 

You've heard a lot over the past 10 to 15 years about the crisis of American journalism, but it's actually been a crisis for American journalists. A lot of people have lost jobs. A lot of people have had to work harder, or work in ways they find less pleasant. Journalism has become more competitive and in some ways less prestigious. It's simultaneously more ideological and more commercial than it used to be. There are a lot of reasons journalists gripe. But the journalism is fine. Not just fine, it's fantastic. More people have easier and cheaper access to more great coverage than ever before. You can delve much deeper into issues than ever before, hear from a much wider range of people, and learn about news faster. There really has been an amazing explosion of journalistic productivity, and voracious readers are way better off than they've ever been. The fact that journalists may not like it is neither here nor there. If an explosion of higher education productivity occurs, the people who currently teach in colleges and universities will find it discomfiting and that should not be the relevant consideration.

I bring this all up because, while the debate about MOOCs focuses on the teaching side of the academy, my experience finishing up my book manuscript speaks to the research side.  Simply put, the accessibility of data over the internet has improved dramatically just in the time between writing All Politics Is Global and The System Worked.  Back in 2006 I don't remember being able to download usable spreadsheets on IMF or UNCTAD or WEF or Transparency International data while I was writing All Politics Is Global.  I was able to do all of that inside of twenty minutes last month, and it was wonderful.  I was able to collect information in two weeks that likely would have taken me a year to do back in the 1990s.  Furthermore, the internet is now generating its own data that can be useful to scholars. 

That's  a significant increase in research productivity, and it is truly glorious.  So I'd like to thank the Internet for all its help during the writing of this latest book.  Yes, this technology is going to complicate my profession for quite some time.  But, to paraphrase Yglesias:  there are a lot of reasons that academic researchers gripe, but the academic research is fine.