BROOKE GLADSTONE: On this program we sometimes present what we call the "media diet" of a particular individual -- a neurosurgeon in San Francisco, say, or a teenager in the South Bronx. This time we turn to America's Most Wanted Terrorist List. That includes several members of Egypt's educated middle class. That class included Mohammed Atta, one of the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center. New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg has just returned from Cairo where he surveyed the city's leading newspapers. He says the papers have a profound impact on opinion there.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: In Cairo, which is not only the intellectual center of Egypt but the intellectual center of the Arab world, they guide how radio covers events, how TV covers events, and more importantly they also provide weekly fodder for the sermons that millions and millions of Egyptians hear when they go to mosque. They probably play the most important single role in shaping public opinion in Egypt.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So you covered some of this ground in a New Yorker piece recently, and you started with the writings of Mustafa Mahmoud, the founder of a leading mosque in Cairo. He has a column in the largest and most respected daily in Egypt called Al-Ahram.
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Al-Ahram, yeah, which is actually a government daily meaning that the editor is actually appointed directly by the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak. He's written any number of fascinating pieces including one which blamed the bombing not on Osama bin Laden but on a conspiracy of Israeli Mossad agents and Branch Davidians. I mean when he told me this, I couldn't actually believe that he believed this, but what I found in subsequent days was this was an accepted version of, of what happened.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why does no one ever seem to make an effort to correct the record or offer a countervailing voice in a place where people are likely to hear it?
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Well, there are people at Al-Ahram, for instance, that have -- especially since September 11th -- begun to criticize these kind of, of views. You do hear it in some papers. But you have to recognize that when you're criticizing Al-Ahram for running a column promoting murder of Israelis, for instance, that it's not the view just of an editorial writer and his editor and the publisher. These are papers that are run by the government! So it's, it's almost as if you're criticizing a government spokesman for promoting let's say the murder of Israelis or justifying attacks on Americans.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You also talked to the people behind a paper called Al Ahkbar [sp?] which features Holocaust denial and, and several opinion pieces defending Hitler!
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: The three top dailies are Al-Ahram, Ahkbar is in the number two position in terms of circulation, and then Al-Jumhuriyah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So these are not way out in the fringe. These are not papers of, of-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They're the center! They're not the fringe. They're the center! Al-Ahram -- there's no, there's no equivalent in, in America. To say that it's the New York Times doesn't even do it justice because it's so much more than the New York Times -- it's, it's the New York Times plus Ari Fleischer in a kind of way if, if you know what I mean.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jeffrey what would you say is the role of newspapers in Egypt?
JEFFREY GOLDBERG:Dennis Ross said something interesting to me -- the former Middle East peace negotiator. Before the World Trade Center bombing he and a lot of other officials in American government thought of the anti-American and anti-Israel and anti-Semitic content of Egyptian newspapers as possibly something like - akin to a safety valve --that this was just people letting off steam. What he thinks now is that these papers and these preachers in the mosques have set a climate that made acts like that of Mohammed Atta possible.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:What the newspapers are running is essentially what the Mubarak government wants them to run, and what the Mubarak government wants them to run--
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- is in many cases a load of garbage!
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: I'm entirely comfortable saying that if Hosni Mubarak did not want Holocaust denial to run in government newspapers or any newspapers in Egypt, he could make sure that Holocaust denial wouldn't run in the newspapers! So then you have to ask the question: why is it being allowed to run? They do it to keep their attention away from failing education system and a failing infrastructure. If the people are angry at Israel, they'll have less time to be angry about the conditions of their own lives.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jeffrey Goldberg, thank you very much!
JEFFREY GOLDBERG: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jeffrey Goldberg is a staff writer for the New Yorker.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, a look at PSY-Ops -- that's the word for propaganda in Pentagonese, and why the Koran is on back order.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media from National Public Radio.