Time’s Alex Perry Responds to FAIR

Time’s Alex Perry, the magazine’s Africa bureau chief, responded in the FAIR Blog comments section to FAIR’s Julie Hollar, who recently (FAIR Blog, 6/25/10) criticized Perry for neglecting to mention the U.S. and Belgium’s role in propping up the Mobutu regime in Congo.

Perry said:

The idea that the U.S. created Mobutu and maintained him in power belittles Africans and is typical of the kind of racism that dogs analysis of Africa from commentators and journalists who get as close to Africa as, er, America, like old Julie here. The U.S. did not create Mobutu. They certainly did support him. Equally, by backing Rwandan President Paul Kagame, they also helped overthrow him. The crucial dynamic here is support. Africans have been the main players in Africa since independence, and while outside powers have influence, that is all it is–influence and support….

As for this lame idea that I, and the “mainstream media”, are part of some giant conspiracy to lie, cover up, dissemble etc. in the name of, I imagine, the “military industrial complex” or perhaps the CIA, what do you think happens here? Do you think I have a controller with a husky voice who directs my coverage by meeting me in badly lit subterranean car parks? Grow up. People who do my job die sometimes. I’ve known three myself. Do you really think we’d take those risk to tell lies? Your cheap and half-arsed conspiracies are insulting and infantile. I challenge any one of you–just one–to actually go and do some reporting in Congo, and then come back to me. Until then, your comments are pretty worthless.

Hollar responded to Perry’s comments:

Alex, were you in Africa when Lumumba was assassinated? One’s physical location and experience obviously do not determine one’s ability to speak with authority on historical events. I have in fact been to Africa, more than once. Assumptions make for sloppy arguments, as well as sloppy journalism.

Highlighting the U.S. and Belgian roles in Lumumba’s overthrow and assassination and Mobutu’s ascension is hardly racist, and pointing out your failure to do so is hardly conspiratorial. It doesn’t take the CIA to produce bad coverage, it just takes a reporter who believes it’s perfectly legitimate to write about “what’s wrong with Africa” (specifically the “sucking vortex” that is Congo) without acknowledging the extraordinary Western role.

After Perry criticized Hollar for not contacting him for a “right of reply” to her post and saying that Hollar doesn’t do journalism, which requires “actual reporting and travel,” Extra! editor Jim Naureckas jumped into the fray, writing:

Alex, you misunderstand what we do here. We’re not reporters covering the Congo; we’re critics reviewing the work of journalists like you. If a writer for Time wrote a negative book review without calling the author to get a response, would that be a firing offense? If so, your magazine has a very odd ethical code.

As for a right of response–aren’t you taking full advantage of it? Though I must say you could have made better use of it than complaining about the “invective” of a blog post while throwing around words like “racist” and “libelous.” Julie’s post was factually accurate–unlike your response, which accused her of never having been to Africa. When she noted that was wrong–not to claim any special expertise in the region, but to point out that you were making false assumptions–instead of apologizing, you come up with fresh insults. If you’re trying to make a point about the superior ethics of corporate journalists, I suggest that you’re headed in the wrong direction.

Here’s one more response from Perry:

And as for right of response–yeah, I’m calling you out now. Julie’s piece was a shameless and crass piece of cant, and if she can’t stand the heat, maybe she should exit a kitchen she seems to have wandered into by mistake. The bigger point is, as you know full well, you’re supposed to give me a right of reply at the time, in the piece. It’s only by chance that I came across Julie’s piece. I give that chance to everyone I report on by contacting them, even if it’s for a review. Not that odd at all, not that you apparently know that.

Finally, Julie’s piece was not factually accurate. Congo did give the world Mobutu. He was Congolese. He came from Congo. He ruled it for 32 years. To suggest he was formed, shaped, maintained and only ever a puppet of the U.S. is a gross inaccuracy, and, as I say, a racist one: prejudiced against Africans for assuming they never control their own destiny, prejudiced against the U.S., for assuming it’s always some shadowy bad guy.

You can read the full discussion between Perry, the FAIR staff and other commenters here.