Non-news

When I first saw this, I rushed to post about it but then thought better of it. Consider the story, reproduced here in its entirety:

CAIRO (AFP) - Key players in the search for Middle East peace have reached understanding on a plan that could lead to a comprehensive settlement.


"An important understanding, that could constitute an agreement in principle, has been reached by Egypt, Israel, the Palestinians and the significant international parties -- the United States and the European Union -- on a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the official news agency MENA quoted senior Egyptian sources as saying Tuesday.


As we can plainly see, it contains actually nothing. Not only are there no on-the-record sources, but basically it talks about an "understanding." Pretty vague. Subsequent stories based on the MENA report (do a Google News search on Egypt and you'll see at least twenty of them) all started with an optimistic tone about the impending breakthrough and then actually saw that no one else knew about this. Still, they kept pretending that something had actually happened. It finally took someone getting an Israeli official saying that there was nothing happening for people to die. In other words, MENA managed to manufacture a story when there was actually nothing there and got the world's major news outlets to play along with it. And no one along the way thought it might be a little strange that an "understanding" had been agreed to so soon after Arafat's death and while Sharon is facing a political crisis.


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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.