Jolie: UN Panned, Praised by Fox TV & the New Yorker, "24" and Harr
on Chad, Dueling Propaganda
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of
Inner City Press at the UN: Media Analysis
January 4 -- The UN couldn't buy
better publicity than it received in the January 5 edition of The New
magazine, in a lengthy "Reporter at Large" piece entitled Lives of
the Saints, by Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action. Harr describes
glowing terms the work of UN system staff in eastern Chad, and adopts
without critique their analysis of Darfur. He is treats more lightly
favoritism for Chadian president Idriss Deby, ultimately implying
that it is better that
Deby stay in power. Despite this, it is a beautifully written piece and
draw more humanitarian workers to eastern Chad, perhaps even to the
forgotten Central African Republic. Stranger things have happened.
approached Inner City Press in UN headquarters in mid-2007. He had been
commissioned by the New Yorker, he said, to write anything he wanted to
the UN. He had watched a few UN noon briefings, and now asked Inner
for suggestions on what or whom he should cover. Suggestions
were made, more briefings
attended -- including a July 20, 2007 briefing at which Inner City
Press asked Serge
Male of the UN refugee agency UNHCR about Chad, click here
to view -- and
finally Harr told Inner City Press he has fastened on Male, UNHCR and
was 17 months ago.
2008, still no article having been published in The New Yorker, Inner City
Press met Serge Male in Chad. It was a surreal reception on the
lawn of the French Ambassador, complete with tuxedo-ed Chadian waiter
whiskey on ice and a small deer frolicking on the lawn. When asked
by Inner City Press, Male nodded but said he had no idea when the
months after that, the article has appeared. It discloses that the
reporting largely ended in January 2008, a year ago. What took so long?
understand perfectionism in writing, but this is ridiculous. It not
the article less newsworthy, it makes it misleading in ways. Certainly
International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo will like
article, given that it simply posits as the case that Bashir is a genocidaire.
not, for example, mention the UN's $250
million no-bid contract with Lockheed
Martin in Darfur. Lives of the Saints, indeed. Even about Chad,
Harr does not
mention a major news event in the Chadian NGO world that broken while
there, the kidnapping
of refugee children by the French group L'Arche de Zoe.
Harr lucked into that story, and then didn't cover it. But this
his purely positive presentation of European NGO workers in Chad feel
Jolie and Pitt with previous S-G, bad peacekeepers
Is it that
Harr, having concluded that the humanitarian enterprise in Chad is on
good, decided that readers couldn't handle nuance or any countervailing
Did the UN shepherding Harr around in airplanes and 4x4s create a
interest, or bias akin to the Stockholm syndrome? (Harr was evacuated
battles between Chadian rebels and Deby's forces heated up.)
this explains of the disjointed, dare we say under-edited, instances in
article. The town of Abeche, which the UN Security Council visited in
2008, is first described in the article as "Abeche, one of the largest
cities in Chad," then is re-introduced as if for the first time as
"Abeche, a town once known among aid workers as a place of drunken
revelries and romantic flings." Such moment are more than made up for
similes like comparing a UNHCR complaint line in Chad with "a D.M.V. in
land where people had no motor vehicles."
But if you
were a well-known writer well paid to write whatever you wanted about
system, why would you turn out a better written version of the type of
propagandistic hagiography that the UN itself churns out every day?
question we hope that Harr will answer.
highbrow but wider seen, Fox TV's program "24" in late November 2008
teased its upcoming seventh season called "Redemption" with a two
hour prequel shot in Composite Africa. There were child soldiers,
a General Juma standing in for Joseph Kony. His movement was called the
People's Freedom Army, instead of the Lord's Resistance Army. But there
diamond mines -- think Sierra Leone -- and references to exterminating
cockroaches, straight out of Rwanda. The country name, made up, is
is funding Juma? A vague and sinister businessman named Jonas Hodges,
Jon Voight. Some of it feels like an old Seinfeld episode.
The UN is
represented, or misrepresented as it were, by a bitter European
assigned to a
school run by Jack Bauer's / Keifer Sutherland's friend Carl. The UN
judges Jack about torture, but then hides with children in the
basement. He did
nothing to protect the children from Juma, insisting on being
"neutral." (The liberal New York Times opined that "the United
Nations peacekeeper with a foreign accent is an appeaser and a coward"
called this a "gratifying caricature.") Finally to save himself he
sells out the children to Juma. Ouch --
how does one write a letter to the editor to a television show? And
more one-sided, Harr's hagiography or Fox's facile caricature?
belated article and Fox's Africa conflation are, as relates to the UN,
propagandas. They do, however, intersect on one point, a now-standard
Western discourse at all levels: the complex(ed) do-gooder working for
in Africa. Running the school in Sangala is one Carl Benton, like Jack
former agent haunted by extreme interrogations past. (Benton is played
Carlyle, previously deployed to Central America by British director Ken
to much the same effect.) Benton is trying to gain redemption for
tortured a detainee to death in Lebanon by saving Sangalese children
recruitment by the warlord Juma.
in Harr's article, Western NGO workers are described as either seekers
or runners from the past. One NGO worker in Chad left unnamed by Harr
a runner, she said, but offered no details." Perhaps she was a guard in
Ghraib. We smell a past-deadline and over-budget movie coming on,
role for Angelina Jolie. Watch this site.
Click here for Inner City Press'
review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate
Click here for Inner
City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger
Click here from Inner City Press'
December 12 debate on UN double standards
Click here for Inner
City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics
Click here for Inner City
Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo
Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on
UN, bailout, MDGs
and this October 17 debate, on
Security Council and Obama and the UN.
* * *
usually also available through Google
News and on Lexis-Nexis.
for a Reuters
AlertNet piece by this correspondent
about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click
for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali
Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an
undefined trust fund. Video
UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017
Reporter's mobile (and
earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available
in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.
2006-08 Inner City Press, Inc. To request
reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at]