Dissent Of The Day

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

I saw a movie last night, The King's Speech, that allowed me to boil down what bothers me about your coverage of the events in Egypt and other countries where popular revolutions have tried to get off of the ground. I think it's a Dish-wide thing – it's actually been kind of amazing to see how similar the coverage without Andrew has been to the coverage of similar events in the past when he was in charge.

There are two broad things happening in The King's Speech. On one hand, they're trying to describe things that actually happened to real people who actually lived through them. But on the other hand, they're trying to fit stuff into a narrative. And in the movie, the narrative always wins out when it collides with history.

The movie says, basically, that what the King really needed was a friend. And that the King was important because the nation needed him to galvanize people so they could defeat Hitler. It's a British film, but it does something really Hollywood there – it creates this situation where the fate of the world depends on the friendship between those two men.

The problem is that neither of those two key structural points are true. All sorts of people who ought to know have said that the relationship between the two men depicted in the film couldn't have happened and didn't happen – that business about Logue calling the King "Bertie" and sitting on the throne was nonsense. And far from being the one indispensable man in the struggle against Hitler, the King was actually an appeaser.

So the result is a movie that's false in a fairly deep way, even as the people who made it go on and on about how concerned they were with historical accuracy. They spent a lot of time getting Helena Bonham Carter's gloves right, but they were willing to warp really important central things in order to make the story work better.

You guys are covering events in Egypt through the lens of a narrative. I absolutely don't think you do it dishonestly or deliberately, or even that you have any awareness that you're doing it. And I don't think that your narrative collides with with reality in the same way the one in the movie does. But that story about people going out there and standing up for their freedom is almost like a Hollywood story, it has that same kind of appeal, and I think you guys get caught up in that. I think your affinity for that narrative damages your coverage.

I don't know what's going to happen in Egypt. It seems momentous and complicated to me. It's not at all clear to me that the government that will follow the one that seems likely to fall now will be more free. It seems very likely to be hostile to the US. I understand that we've backed the dictator there, kept him in power, and benefitted greatly from our relationship with him. I am not at all proud of that – shame seems to be a more reasonable response. Oil prices are going up, and the dictators we back in neighboring countries are getting nervous.

These kinds of uplifting narratives don't cause you guys to misrepresent the facts. But they skew your coverage – there is lots of breathless coverage of the brave protesters in the streets, while the other stuff is neglected. Not ignored, but neglected.

It seems likely to me that if the Dish and the internet had been around during the Iranian revolution, your coverage of the early days of that event would have fit in to the pattern of coverage typified by your response to the events in Egypt. The Shah was worse than a dictator, he was a monster. And the people who stood up to him were brave. They wanted to be free. But in hindsight, we know that the Iranian Revolution was a lot more complicated than that.