tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Dregs of Journalism? Toronto Star serves hot cup of prejudice

At the Tuque Souq, we are obviously very forgiving when it comes to using bad puns in headlines. But we draw the line when bad journalism follows bad pun.

Take Oakland Ross's column from Saturday's Toronto Star: "Logo lands Starbucks in Middle East brew-haha." Mr. Ross picks up on a story that has been around the Middle East blogosphere for weeks and decides to write it with an egregious, if subtle, anti-Arab bias.

At the heart of the matter is Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi delivering a tirade against the U.S. coffee chain because he thinks its logo resembles the biblical Jewish queen Esther, which obviously--to Higazi--makes Starbucks part of some amorphous Zionist conspiracy.

If the lunacy of this may be self-evident to you, think of how your average Middle Eastern coffee drinker feels about it. The problem is, Oakland Ross didn't bother to find out. It appears he didn't attempt to seek out anyone else authoritative in the Arab world to provide a rational counterclaim to Higazi's remarks.

If Ross were in America capturing conservative televangelist Pat Robertson likening the Starbucks logo to a Jewish conspiracy, do you think he'd be able to publish an article without first seeking out some other Christian leader to remind us that Pat Robertson is a loony.

It is a subtle generalization like Ross's about the Arab world that feeds a greater mischaracterization about Arabs (maybe Israelis too) as twitchy, reactionary, unable to think rationally (and no, I don't think Ross or the Toronto Star are being ironic*).

Take the opening line of the article:

"Sometimes it seems a person can't have a simple cup of coffee in the Middle East without making a political statement."

What this says to a reader is: "Read me, I'm another quirky article about those wacky Arabs always making a fuss over something. And don't worry, I'm not burdened with investigative reporting or journalistic nuance. Instead, I've got a link to YouTube."

Then, he finishes with a tidy insult to the Arabs: your resistance to economic exploitation is futile.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Canadian media! We have a new guest in the Tuque Souq doghouse.

[Thanks for the link, Quinn.]

*Editor's mitigation: The Toronto Star is not a bad paper. It's not a tabloid. It has a circulation of over 440,000, largest in Canada. It wins awards for Investigative Reporting (see: Cribb, Robert). Which is why this piece of claptrap from Ross is all the more vexing.

Blast from the Tuque Souq past: The last time the Toronto Star ran afoul of the Tuque Souq, it was over a terrible crossword-puzzle clue. Read more.

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