My Reston – How to Report on Egypt

James (Scotty) Reston was a great journalist, the best in many generations according to many in the profession. Himself an immigrant, he served as an ideal introduction to the value of the press in a free country for those unfamiliar with it. Here is the beginning of his dispatch from Cairo on a fateful June 4 1967

An alarming fatalism seems to be settling on this city. Cairo does not want war and it is certainly not ready for war. But it has already accepted the possibility, even the likelihood, of war, as if it had lost control of the situation.

There is very little relationship here between word and action, The Government seems to be provoking trouble without preparing for the consequences. Except for a few workers filling and piling sandbags in front of one or two public buildings, there is no evidence of civil defense.

Few soldiers appear in the streets, and the Cairo airport is more open to attack than even La Guardia in New York. The newspapers talk incessantly of war but make no effort to protect their own property. There is no public debate on the issues. There is no organized political opposition to question the Government’s course of action, And there is no voice of protest in the press.

This is not because Cairo does not have brilliant journalists. The editor in chief of Al Ahram, el-Sayed Mohammed Hassanein Heikal, is a worldly, intelligent and handsome man. He has built his paper into the most powerful voice in the Arab world.

His a confidant of President Gamal Abdel Nasser and prides himself on his independence from a Government he could have joined long ago. But he expresses absolutely no doubts about the present drift to war, either in public or in private.

Cairo today is not one but a series of separate communities, each viewing the emergency in a different way. The people stand apart from the issues as if they had nothing to do with events, as indeed they do not.

For those who experienced these fateful days, Reston’s precise and restrained tone can still evoke the shivers of that time. Today’s foreign journalists could learn a trick or two about mastering the right combination of accuracy, empathy and clear vision. Egyptians could read this dispatch and look inward in recognition and possible redemption.

— Maged Atiya



3 Comments on “My Reston – How to Report on Egypt”

  1. […] Maged Atiya wrote a superb piece about journalist James Reston’s coverage of Egypt a day before the 1967 Six-Day war. Despite Western media’s fundamental antipathy to the Nasser regime that was equally (if not more) oppressive as that of Sisi, the report focused on Egypt as a country, not as a regime. Atiya rightly pointed out that, “Today’s foreign journalists could learn a trick or two about mastering the right combination of accuracy, empathy and clear vision.” […]

  2. […] Reston – How to Report on Egypt on Egypt. Maged […]

  3. […] Reston – How to Report on Egypt on Egypt. Maged […]

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