TIME Glosses Over Egyptian Unrest In U.S. Cover Choice

Time Magazine Covers

TIME Covers For 5 December 2011


Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? What do these covers say about American news consumers, compared with news consumers globally, and what do they say about the editorial policy of TIME Magazine?

In the U.S., TIME tells consumers that “Anxiety Is Good For You” but in the rest of the world, TIME acknowledges the upheaval that has returned to Egypt and that is reflected, albeit on a smaller scale, in the domestic Occupy Wallstreet movement, which is ongoing in cities across the U.S.

From Voice of America, the official external voice of the U.S. government (emphasis added):

On Friday, security forces and protesters clashed in Alexandria. At least 42 people have been killed in protest-related clashes across the country over the past week.

Given the holiday weekend, with turkeys, parades and football all taking top billing in the news, the odds are good that you did not know this, if you rely on domestic MSM for your news. After all, this is the headline on the FOX News website: Egyptian Protesters Clash With Police, 1 Dead. In the VOA story, the death data are in graph three; in the AP story on FOX, the data are in graph 13. Both stories are dated Saturday.

Here’s the lead on Sunday 27 November at The Financial Times (free registration required):

Tens of thousands of Egyptians demonstrated in central Cairo on Sunday calling for the ruling military council to step down, in a deepening political crisis that has overshadowed Monday’s parliamentary elections – the first post-Arab spring poll and a crucial step on the route to democracy

Shining a spotlight on global events such as these is an important role of media. From Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (2008, p 38, pdf):

Most Americans continue to track local and national news most of the time, while most say they follow international news only when important developments occur. A 57% majority follows local community news closely most of the time, whether or not something important is happening. Similarly, 55% follow national news most of the time. By contrast, only 39% follow foreign news most of the time, and the majority (56%) follows it only when something important is happening. (emphasis added)

Let me repeat that: 6-in-10 Americans follow foreign news “only when something important is happening.”

Is the grassroots insistence on democracy in Egypt “important”? TIME doesn’t think so, if you’re American, but it does if you live anywhere else in the world.

I think it’s important. Egypt, known as the Mother of the World, has been called the birthplace of civilization. Moreover, the democratic uprising there is more than symbolic. Derek Plumbly, a British diplomat who has served as ambassador to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, writes:

Egypt is uniquely significant in the Arab world by weight of its population, its history, the role it played in modernising the Arab world, and the influence it had in the second half of the 20th century in furthering Arab nationalism. It made itself then very much the epicenter of the Arab world.

A Question of Democratic Rule

What has motivated the protests? Again, from the Financial Times:

Kamal Ganzouri, a 78-year-old former prime minister brought out of retirement by the army council to lead a new government has been rejected by protesters, but the military council urged politicians on Sunday to back him.

“The military are only seeking to patch up Mubarak’s regime,” said Khaled Abdel Hamid, a political activist. “These protests are about getting rid of the regime – something that won’t happen through elections.”

Think about this as you read about the elections that took place Monday. Here are the first round of headlines … it’s important to read the fine print (otherwise known as the end of the story):

The strong turnout and smooth voting in a country with a long history of vote rigging and electoral violence were a boost for Egypt’s military leaders, who promised a quick transition to civilian rule after they took control of the country in February but have since sent mixed signals about their commitment to a democratic transition.

Army generals have made clear the new assembly would have no right to remove a government appointed by the ruling military council.

The council’s head, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, defended the army’s privileged status in Egyptian society, declaring Sunday that “the position of the armed forces will remain as it is,” even after a new constitution is passed.

But instead of seeing a cover that highlights this important movement taking place halfway around the world, Americans are treated to “me, me, me” journalism. What a tribute to the First Amendment.

Tip to +Alida Brandenburg and BloggingBlue