US Media, Donald Trump, and Prevalence of Orientalism

(By Simran Grewal, Queen’s University)

The media has always been a powerhouse of knowledge and information, and as relationships between individuals, states, and the global community become increasingly connected, the responsibility of the media to report the news has increased. It serves as a powerful tool that spreads awareness of economic crises, societal conflicts and objective knowledge. It is often the first medium people look to, in order to develop opinions on various domestic and international issues. However, the media must be held accountable for the proliferation of negative attitudes and unjust first impressions it creates on issues concerning the Middle East. Specifically, we will be looking at CNN’s promotion of Donald Trump’s misinforming, bigoted, and ethnocentric anti-Islamic rhetoric.

American media has the power to filter information in order to mold its audience into a homogenized frame of mind; it prevents people from developing their own opinions, and establishes the herd mentality of “us versus them”. The media’s presentation of the Middle East is detrimental to the audience’s ability to critically develop a more accurate understanding of reality. The media’s specific interpretations, sharing of certain facts, and prevention of disclosure of others can be observed in the CNN’s (Cable News Network) coverage of Donald Trump.

The issues with the media, in relation to CNN’s portrayal of Donald Trump during his presidential campaign from 2015 to the present, will be my focus moving forward. Firstly, Western media is responsible for propagating the oppression of the Middle East by focusing on exaggerated binary differences. CNN is one of the most influential news organizations in the world. While generally considered a liberal news network, CNN is responsible for giving attention to and, consequently, promoting the ethnocentric views of Trump. For example, during an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, Trump was asked if he believed he was destroying the wealth of Iraq by planning to go after the country’s oil fields. Trump responded by arguing, “there is no Iraq…[and] there are no Iraqis”. He even went so far as to say he “would bomb the shit out of them”. This specific interview with CNN provided Trump with a large platform to spread his hateful propaganda. Despite knowing that Trump’s ideology does not align with CNN’s, this interview was organized to enable a misrepresentation of the East. While maintaining the view that the US deserves to expand its business ventures into Iraq, Trump explicitly illustrates stark difference between Iraqi and American politics by painting Iraq as corrupt and US as democratic. Trump’s “us versus them” mentality is detrimental, but is also accepted and publicized by the media. By deliberately asking Trump leading questions, to get a reaction out of him, CNN actively contributes to the propagation of anti-Middle Eastern sentiments. By broadcasting this interview, knowledge is spread, and accepted, despite being selective and destructive in nature.

Secondly, CNN also incorporates a “West knows best” attitude in their broadcasts, to the detriment of the Middle East. For example, when asked, by Jake Tapper of CNN, about the state of affairs in Middle East politics, Trump was adamant about the fact that the region would be more stable if autocrats, like Gaddafi and Hussein, were still in power. Although CNN might not identify with Trump’s views, he was encouraged by Tapper’s questions to reveal his ethnocentric attitudes. Trump argued that, “[Gaddafi and Hussein] would 100% make the world a better place”. By describing Iraq as the “Harvard of terrorism”, Trump completely disregards the other political and humanitarian concerns of the region; CNN allows for this to happen by providing him with a platform to speak. Trump’s ignorance to the complexities of the problems in the Middle East are rooted in a specific image of the region and by expressing this on CNN, the media has contributed to the propagation of Middle Eastern oppression.

Taking his propaganda one step further, Trump believes that he holds superior knowledge on the issues and can thus form policies that will benefit the entirety of the Muslim population when implemented. For instance, CNN provided extensive coverage of Trump’s announcement to order a “total and complete shutdown” on Muslims entering the country. Trump supported this outrageous statement by claiming that he is “doing a big favour…[and] tremendous service to the Muslims”. Trump’s opinions are so rooted in ignorance that he is unable to understand the Muslims perspective in the US and Middle East. His views are based on a caricatured version of Muslims, in which he claims their population to be a threat to the entire country. Ultimately, the media has looked out for the interests of the US but it has come at the expense of the Middle East. Even if the media does not explicitly support his claims, it is providing support by broadcasting his rhetoric to the world.

Finally, the media’s emphasis on post-9/11 fear of the Middle East and Muslims has negatively affected people of oriental backgrounds living in the US. The media has used his rhetoric to further isolate those of Middle Eastern descent, to the extent that the isolation would be implemented at the US borders. In a press release on Trump’s official campaign website, he said the following: “until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life”. This was immediately picked up by CNN and Trump was called in for an interview, during which he argued that this policy would help “make America great again”. Trump’s anti-Islamic views isolated the Muslim-Americans who are now being seen as a threat to their own country. By highlighting this story and presenting the views of such a prominent American icon, CNN actively participated in the propagation of Middle Eastern oppression.

Ultimately, the media acts as a platform to spread anti-Middle Eastern sentiment. The media will always take a specific pro-American stance on all issues, resulting in one-sided information being presented to audiences. This prevents US citizens from being exposed to the other side of the narrative, let alone given the opportunity to form educated opinions. For example, after Trump’s announcement to ban Muslims in America, CNN reporters spoke to civilians to ask if they agreed with his stance. One American man responded, “yes, I do. I don’t want them here. Who knows what they’re gonna bring in to this country…bombs, ISIS…they need to go”. Clearly, his biased opinion is the result of what the media has socialized people to think. Viewers have been exposed to Trump to the point where his views are accepted as the viewers’ own. Another American argued that Trump had a “very prudent idea” because “[we] have to protect American citizens”. Again, this is a case of labeling the Middle East as a fearful entity, from which the US, and democracy, must be protected.

In conclusion, when analyzing CNN’s broadcasts of Donald Trump, the media is blatantly responsible for promoting oppressive values by focusing on binaries, for conveying strong pro-American views at the expense of the Middle East, and for Trump’s publicity which, has resulted in the severe isolation of Muslims in the Middle East and within US borders. Ultimately, we should strive for a world in which the media presents an accurate representation of the Middle East. For as long as the media and US interests are intertwined, the propagation of Middle Eastern oppression will only worsen.



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