The Drone Flew Over Benghazi That Night…

…over the heads of the annoyed but unwitting denizens of the city. It didn’t make a distinctive sound, more like a vibration. You could hear it in your pulse, long and low and continuous. Sometimes it dropped lower and you could swear the windows were rattling in their frames.”

“Why should the drone appear now, after months of absence? Could it have something to do with those rumors of captured Americans? And if the city is unsafe for foreigner, who’s even operating the damn thing?”

“As usual, the list of unanswered questions in Benghazi remains long and confusing. The citizens no longer care much, with their focus being on surviving a day-to-day existence. That’s not to say that living in the city is impossible, but the string of bombings and assassinations have left people rattled. We’re not used to this type of violence. Hell, there’s a good chance it’s not even Libyans perpetuating the violence. With a grudge from the Syrian regime over Libyan fighters in their country, to terrorist organizations eyeing the country’s aimless young men as fresh meat to recruit, the list of possible suspects almost matches the list of questions.”

“The drone watches all of this. Flying, observing, collecting information to be processed by minds and machines more sophisticated. Is the government even aware that there is a drone flying over the second largest city in the country it governs? I’m sure the list of things the government is oblivious to could fill several libraries. But I’m not sure if this is one of them. They’re definitely getting help from “friendly” nations. But assisting the current Libyan government is like giving a screwdriver to a fish; it possesses neither the appendages nor the necessary brain power to do anything useful with it.”

And so concludes the saga of Benghazi’s drone…for now. I actually wanted to write a rant on the abysmal state of journalism in the social media era (did I rant on this before?), but the drone was interrupting my thoughts. Also, I didn’t have a opening paragraph in mind. Two and two!

Screw journalists. Those soulless word zombies, ready to tear out the organs of a nation, ideology or a struggling city just for a story. Facts? Verified witness accounts? Pfff, just type out a few superlatives in the title, make vague allusions to some righteous cause that people want to defend (or tweet about to look righteous, same difference) and BAM! you have a moderately interesting story that’s bound to get a few likes/retweets/reddits (I don’t actually use reddit so I’m not very familiar with the terminology, but I assume it has the same general premise as other social media sites. Plus the users are called “redditors” so whatever, not like I’m far off the mark).

My rage is not new, but it is amplified. Following the chaotic events that have happened in Benghazi these past few months, every major and minor publication is rushing to write some article about the city, because, hey!, the US ambassador was killed here, remember? (Of course you remember, every right-wing loon has the name of the city hashtagged in the bio of their twitter account, as though every stone in the city is responsible for the death of a guy they had never even heard of prior).

But they can’t actually visit Benghazi. The city is a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and sundry other terrorist groups (according to that one post in a facebook group. A reliable facebook group, mind you).

So these journalists, in their rabid search for material to write about a country they probably couldn’t locate on a map, send out tweets and emails and requests to anyone who’s written the word “Libya” more than twice. “Hi there, would you be interested in answering a few questions for XYZ magazine about the situation in your city? Nevermind that you might be lying about your identity and current whereabouts! It’s not like it would happen on a social media site. What is this, MySpace in 2005? Guffaw! Also yeah ask your friends for quotes, too.”

Let me simplify the equation in case my midnight writing is hard to follow:

Journalist + Seeking Story – On The Ground Reporting = Bullshit

Don’t get me wrong. Even journalists who are on the ground can excrete bullshit reports. But the equation above is a surefire way to find articles with more semicolons than there are facts. I’m not going to link the recent wave of Libya-related articles because I don’t want to pollute my page with yellow journalism, but just type “Libya” or “Benghazi” in your search engine and you won’t be disappointed (in the results, I mean. You WILL be disappointed in the level of garbage being published. Unless you hate Libya, in which case piss off).

Now, I’ve been known to rage against globalization and the rise in stupidity being imported and exported. But I genuinely feel that, now that we’re all “connected” in the age of technology, there’s just been less effort to do things right. Back when the internet was used almost exclusively for porn, journalists weren’t distracted by arbitrary popularity indicators. You either sold papers or got viewership. But now you not only need to check how well your story is doing on various mediums, but see who else is talking about it, thanks to the rise in sites who’s sole aim is to regurgitate links from other websites. 

If the average human’s attention span can be held in a head-lock by the thrill of human attention being given on their social media pages, what makes journalists immune to this same pitfall? I would even venture to presume that the phenomenon is magnified for them, since they’re not just dealing with a handful of likes or reblogs, but dozens, hundreds, in some cases even thousands. The rush they get must be huge, not just for being acknowledged, but because they will see the attention as validation for their performance as a journalist. “Whoa, 3,000 likes and counting! Man, I’m an awesome online journo!”, they say, fist pumped in the air once before it returns to the crusty Cheetos bag in their dank living room.

And who is the victim here? The poor developing countries they’re writing about. If semi-credible press agencies publish/air these unconfirmed stories, some people will believe them. These people will tell others, citing the semi-credible source. It gets around, until parties interested in dealing with this country reconsider, which leads to the actual deterioration of the country. Not because it really was a safe haven for criminals/terrorists/West-hating crazies, but because that’s what people believed. The terrorists catch wind and think,”Yeah, they said there’s a whole bunch of us in that city, let’s go join them!” You see where I’m going with this?

Okay, so perhaps the situation I outlined is stretching the bounds of reality just a little. There must have been some event that had happened which led to the rumors circulating, and which caused these rumors to manifest as reported events. But I have heard stories that ended up being complete fabrications too many times for my paranoia meter to be working properly anymore, and propaganda wars have been in full swing in the MENA lately. I’m not going to be wearing a tinfoil hat anytime soon, but I will continue to be wary of journalists who are interested in Libya.

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