Friday, July 18, 2014

The Ayman Mohyeldin Thing at NBC

I was quite struck by Ayman Mohyeldin's reporting from Gaza for Al Jazzera during the horrid Cast Lead operation by Israel against Gaza; he was intrepid, obviously trying to true and accurate reporting, and he was clearly affected by the carnage he witnessed and the lies of the Israelis about it. All of this made for compelling news.

Later, he was assigned to the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo, and he appeared to be one of the only reporters on the scene who actually knew what was going on, who the major players were, and who could conduct his investigations in native Arabic and thus get closer to the truth than most other reporters. Richard Engel also speaks Arabic and has been widely respected for his reporting on events in the Middle East, but Ayman was able to get even closer to the principals and the action.

Ayman was on Democracy Now! in 2010 and gave a fairly comprehensive account of his background.

When Ayman joined NBC News, apparently at a huge increase in salary, his reports were somewhat less intense and frequent, but they were sometimes more informative and often quite personal, making the people he featured into real and very human, mostly victims, of the carnage unleashed upon them.

The other day, he was a witness to the slaughter of four children on a Gaza beach and the wounding of several more in front of his hotel. He helped to rescue and treat the survivors. He reported quite passionately what he saw and did during the incident, and his reports were widely considered outstanding first-hand accounts of a terrible tragedy.

Strangely, though, his reports were not featured on NBC Nightly News, in fact, there was not mention of him. Richard Engel, reporting from Tel Aviv was made the lead reporter on the story, a story which was covered extensively on the program, and during which Engel appeared to report accurately and pulled no punches, using footage shot by Ayman's team.

It was just that Ayman himself was missing from the story and the reporting. It seemed odd to say the least.

The next day, Glenn Greenwald reported that Ayman had been abruptly "pulled from Gaza" by an NBC executive and was not being permitted to report on the story any more. The story of the 4 children killed on the beach in Gaza was modified to include Israeli defenses of it, and eventually the story was all but scrubbed, or at least was no longer featured on news cycles.

Down the Memory Hole?

Or something even more sinister? Observers noted that as the story of the children killed on the beach faded, more and more Israel-centric stories appeared, often with no recognition of a Palestinian point of view, and featuring intense denunciations of Palestinians/Hamas to the exclusion of any reporting on the miseries and death the Palestinians -- especially in Gaza --  are enduring as a result of Israeli operations and bombardments. As the death toll rises, the victims more and more are being dehumanized and blamed.

As a rule, Engel has not engaged in that kind of reporting, and to the extent I know anything about it, Ayman never did.

Many are questioning Ayman's removal from Gaza reporting for NBC, but if I recall correctly, he was also expelled by the Israelis from Gaza during the Cast Lead operation and had to report from the border fence rather than from inside Gaza. Engel is widely respected in the field, so he's not the worst replacement for Ayman under the circumstances. The issue is that Ayman was replaced at all without explanation or reason given. He was just gone suddenly, completely and inexplicably.

Of course Greenwald is speculating on motives the way he does, but NBC is keeping mum, and apparently Mohyeldin has been successfully gagged.

Americans have fewer and fewer reliable sources of news from areas of conflict, and while he was reporting from Gaza, Ayman Mohyeldin was one of the few whose reports could be considered both informative and accurate. While I wouldn't consider Richard Engel to be a complete propagandist and tool, he does have a very different approach, one that is based in a certain viewpoint about the United States and its role in the Middle Eastern conflicts (not necessarily a positive one, but one that starts from the American viewpoint) and so his focus tends to be less involved with the realities of Palestinian life under siege and attack -- which was a specialty of Mohyeldin's -- and more how it all looks from an American perspective.

Some of Ayman's reports before he was pulled:

He also Tweeted extensively about the events he witnessed and provided numerous images on his Instagram account.

By now, we all know that commercial as well as much alternative news is very tightly controlled in the West and the United States in particular in order to promote a particular version of events; we could go into extraordinary detail about how our "news" is often intended not so much to inform as it is to shape opinion and promote propaganda, to set narratives, and to extend the power of elites. 

Ayman was not immune from the pressures to conform to those interests, but his reporting was a distinct contrast to those who saw their role as one to support rather than challenge or provide other insights than the dominant narrative (which we have notices is nearly universal throughout the media).

Ayman Mohyeldin's reporting was actually a small portion of a whole, and his removal doesn't affect that whole to any great extent. What it does is narrow the narrative NBC has been marketing. That's a business decision that will mean that the public which relies on NBC News will have less information by which to understand events in the Middle East, and the less information they have, the more closely the public opinion can be manipulated.

The more we see this happening, the fewer alternative points of view we have to consider. 

None of this is new, but to see it again, so starkly, is more than a little disturbing.

I'm sure we will see more examples as time goes by and the grip of the oligarchs tightens. 

UPDATE: According to word out of NBC, breathlessly announced and spread via internet outlets, Mohyeldin will be returning to Gaza this weekend. NBC's announcement is terse and uninformative, the way they tend to be, but Mohyeldin twitted thus:


There is a good deal of high stepping blogger triumphalism at the moment, but exactly what happened is still as murky and mysterious as ever, and we will likely never know the full story.


  1. Classic "propaganda model" via Chomsky. Amazing how they can make the aggressors committing genocide into the victims.


    1. Amazing, true. But those who are skilled at it are able to get away with just about anything.

      This is turning into one bloody summer...