Archive | July, 2014

The Age of (Mis)Information

14 Jul

Oh hey there, dear readers! Sorry, I haven’t posted in a while, but don’t fret because the Czech It Out Blog is far from dead.

I have been so busy these days because immediately after moving back home to USA from Prague, I landed a new job. I am currently working as a program assistant for the government-funded U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). Basically I get to move back into my university & live with 16 awesome, intelligent students from the Middle East & North Africa for the summer! Epic win!

While the job presented a great opportunity for my resume, I was especially excited to meet the students. Hailing from over 14 different countries, I was very interested to gain some new perspectives about lifestyles that are so different from my own.

While I went into the program with an extremely open mind (which is mostly thanks to my adventures living abroad), I was pretty shocked at the questions/comments I received leading up to the job.

“They are going to LOVE USA, it’s going to be so DIFFERENT for them.”
“Are you allowed to shake their hands or hug them?”
“Those poor kids, they’re so LUCKY to take a trip like this.”
“Have they ever seen an ocean before?”

“Their country is letting them leave?!”

Then the questions I received once I began working with the MEPIs…

“Why do they wear those clothes? Aren’t they hot? They know this is USA, right?”
“They’re fasting? Why? Just eat.”
“Have people said anything mean to them?”

While all these questions disturbed me in one way or another, the worst of all was:
“What are they like?”
Um, they are just like any other 20 something!

I know these questions were all asked out of curiosity & may have even been innocent, but they just didn’t sit well with me. Because they were such stupid questions. They were ignorant & uninformed. They were questions that presented a troubling ‘Us vs. Them’ model.

It’s no secret that ever since 9/11 Muslims (or anyone who appeared in any way to be from a Middle Eastern country) were not the most welcome in USA.

This was because the media & politics all pointed the blame there. It was Osama Bin Laden, it was Saddam Hussein, it was Al Qaeda, it was the Taliban. It was anyone with tan skin or a mustache. That was the profile of the enemy.

That’s what President Bush told me. That’s what the news told me. That’s what everyone around was in a panic about. So now my friends from India & South America get patted down significantly in airports & anyone with an Arabic last name gets side-eyed glances.

& It’s bullshit

Because now it’s almost 13 years later & Saddam is dead, Osama is dead & we have ‘eliminated’ suspect after suspect, so what are we all still so afraid of?

We should feel safe, right? We have one of the highest military budgets in the world & a 2nd amendment that allows us to all be legally armed with as many guns as we want. 

Yet today security is almost as high as the fear instilled in all of us. Fear that leads to assumptions & a widespread no-so-subtle racism that would cause my fairly educated friends & family members to ask those questions.

But can you really fully blame them?

These are the same people who religiously tune in to nightly newscasts that blanket how many drones their elected leader dropped on innocents that day…because a black man raped a white woman somewhere or cracked out teen parents abused their bi-racial newborn. & We all shake our heads at the tv.

Those are the people who are wrong with America, we say.

Well, did you ever think that maybe it’s US TOO?

It’s the people who sit on their couch in an air conditioned room munching on potato chips & sit down for a 6pm brainwashing. The people who have never left their town & only get news from one source, yet feel the need to lecture all those around them.

You are what’s wrong with America

If there’s one thing I learned while getting my Journalism degree it’s just how terrifyingly biased media is. It’s re-written & angled & edited & scripted & shifted & twisted so much that you barely get any real facts in the outcome.

Perspectives are cut out, buzz words are repeated, sponsors manipulate information. And let’s not forget that thing called a political agenda.

Any smart person would not only watch one newscast about a story, but read an article or two as well from some other sources. You think that would happen. But unfortunately, during my time traveling I realized just how little Americans do this.

idiot(Above: You all remember this handy little map, right? Thanks for the geography lesson MSNBC!)

I can remember being asked again & again about ‘Czechoslovakia’, about living in a Communist country & just plain dumb questions. I was getting lectured on a country I was living in by people who had never stepped foot on Czech soil.

And that bothered me.

Then I can recall getting lectured about Russia & Ukraine…from people in the U.S. who were simply regurgitating information from the newscast they had just watched.

I became extremely concerned when I checked Facebook & updates from people ACTUALLY LIVING IN THOSE COUNTRIES & their words were nothing like the U.S. newscast.

It was misinformation, & the spread of misinformation leads to some very dangerous ideas. 

Ideas that, at the lower level, are ignorant Americans asking me if the male MEPIs look down on me because I’m female, & but at a more alarming level is the news coverage discussing the current events taking place between Israel & Palestine. 

Having two MEPI members from this area, it is nice to hear what is actually taking place not what the news says is taking place. It’s refreshing to do something that top media rarely does–especially when talking about one of those poor unfortunate 3rd world countries we’re supposed to care about–put an actual human face to the story. 

To hear a real person’s story & opinions & heartache over the matter. Instead of just a dehumanizing play-by-play body count that once again makes it feel like we’re talking about some far off alien race. 

And this play-by-play IS RARELY ACCURATE. Exhibit A would be ABC News (one of the top news stations in the world) airing pictures from Palestine but captioning them as taking place in Israel. After over 50,000 angry phone calls & uproar, Diane Sawyer apologized for this ‘mistake’. (You can watch the video below).

Diane Sawyer ‘apologizes’

Personally, I don’t want to watch any station that knowingly makes such big ‘mistakes’ that suspiciously look like they’re on a very suspicious agenda. But hey, that’s just me!

Bottom Line: There’s always two sides to every story, or three or four. There’s rarely just one. So whether you’re commenting on a news story, or a whole cultural group of people, please, please, please make sure you have the facts. Because misinformation not only makes you sound like an idiot, but makes you miss out on a lot of cool friendships too!

-JG 🙂

ps: Supporting Palestine? Then you should probably stop drinking Starbucks & eating McDonalds! Here is are just some of the big companies with investments in Israel (aka: giving them money to build weapons to bomb innocent people/the families of my friends)