No Cheering in the Press Box, Please

Here we go again.

These days, the mainstream media are openly cheerleading for the rebel forces in Libya. Before that, they were in love with the demonstrators who occupied Pearl Square in Bahrain. And before that, the protesters who brought down the regime of Hosni Mubarak. And even before that, the crowds who sent Tunisia’s Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali packing.

Forgive me, but I’m gagging at all the gushing.

Without defending any of the Middle East’s more despotic rulers, is it too much to ask for a little straight reporting? Journalists tend to fall in love with a good story, and the revolution sweeping the Arab world is a great story. But openly taking sides, which is what has happened repeatedly in recent weeks, diminishes the reporting and the reporters.

It’s a familiar phenomenon, a kind of journalistic puppy love with arresting images and appealing characters. They have been in abundance in the Arab revolt, from the vendor who set off the Tunisian tumult to the pro-democracy demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo, to the 70-something American woman defending her apartment with her rolling pin and big knife.

NBC’s normally professional Brian Williams and the estimable Richard Engel were positively giddy as they larked through Tahrir Square among the protesters. It was a party, a picnic, a love-in. Most of all, it was Great TV.

When it was learned that CBS’s Lara Logan had been stripped and sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square, the pro-democracy forces didn’t seem quite so admirable. But by then, Mubarak was gone and the camera’s eye had shifted to Bahrain’s Pearl Square. Then it was on to Yemen, briefly back to Tunisia, and then, suddenly, to a new story: Libya! Tobruk had been liberated, now Benghazi! Tripoli must be next! Gaddafi can’t last long.

But now Gaddafi is fighting back and what seemed at first to be an irresistible popular revolt is turning into a grinding civil war. It is going to take a while before this story plays out. And even longer to see what develops in Egypt.

Extraordinary winds of change are blowing through the Arab world. Sclerotic regimes are collapsing. It is huge news, so let’s treat it with the professionalism and independence a truly monumental event deserves.

No cheering in the press box, please.