March 23, 2003

Why I Read Salon

Whenever I read a revelatory piece of writing like Paul Berman's article in today's New York Times magazine about Sayyid Qutb, the executed Egyptian philosopher whose Islamist arguments form the underpinnings of Al Qaeda's fundamentalist beliefs, I tend to question the breadth of my own knowledge.

How could I have not known of Qutb, his writings and his intimate philosophical connection to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and their subsequent global reactions, including the current U.S. invasion of Iraq? Am I that uninformed, that parochial? Has the American press reported on Qutb and I missed it? Or was he hidden in the large blindspot that developed as journalists focused on the simpler, horse-race stories of the war in Afghanistan, homeland security and the Bush administration's countdown to Iraq?

A few moments later, when I put down the Times magazine and turned to Salon, my questions were answered - by Paul Berman himself.

"Then it became obvious to me on Sept. 11," Berman told Salon associate editor Suzy Hansen in a lengthy interview published on Saturday, "that the giant screw-up by the FBI and the CIA and the Pentagon was also a giant screw-up by the journalists and intellectuals and everyone else. We too hadn't been paying attention."

I'll leave it to you to read Berman's piece on the Times and Salon's interview with him. If you're better sourced than I in Islamic history (which would not be hard), they may be old news to you. To me, both were fascinating.

My point is this: Salon continues, with far fewer resources than those of most mid-sized, mediocre newspapers, to report on provocative ideas that typically only make into the elite American papers and are ignored by the rest. It is this type of contextual reporting, of providing the theater of daily news with a supporting cast of history and global perspective, of answering the "why," that separates mass media from media with class.

The news industry, hooked on habits necessitated by the demands of production schedules and news holes, recognizes change slowly. As Berman said in the Salon interview, explaining the narrow Western view of the world:

"These series of attitudes have flowed together to make it respectable or normal for intellectuals and journalists to pay no attention at all to these vast tragedies deploying across huge parts of the world. Only when these vast tragedies came and hit us in the face did a lot of people wake up. Among those people was me."

Never in my lifetime has the need for context been greater. Newspapers who dare to discard the event-driven daily news menu in favor of an idea-driven commitment to innovation have an opportunity to provide it.

Until they do, there's Salon. And the Times.

 New York Times  The Philosopher of Islamic Terror
 Salon Bush is an idiot, but he was right about Saddam

Posted by Tim Porter at March 23, 2003 05:09 PM

Tim: I felt precisely as you did when reading the NYT piece. We may be somewhat educated in Western philosophy, but we aren't even half the world. I believe this guy is exactly right, and it is interesting because I have been re-examining my feelings for about two or three weeks once I knew the war would take place. It seemed to me all along that we were there for the right reasons if only we could carry them out, but with our bungling history it seemed (and seems) somewhat unlikely unless people of good will put pressure on the administration to complete the job they have begun. The reason I felt so anti-war was because of the ineptitude of the President and the fact that the "right" almost never seems to have the right motives, or at least what I consider the right motives.

Posted by: shari esterkyn on March 24, 2003 08:14 PM
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