Adeel Ahmad Aamir was a visiting journalist at KGW NewsChannel 8 from Lahore, Pakistan. He was on a US Pakistan Journalism Exchange through the International Center for Journalists, funded by the U.S. Department of State. He wrote the following blog for kgw.com, during his visit:
PORTLAND, Ore. -- When leaving Pakistan, I never imagined it would be the most wonderful time to visit the United States of America.
But a day after I landed in Washington D.C, the Osama Bin Laden episode happened, and that made us celebrities at the Newseum where we were attending World Press Freedom Day.
Everybody was standing on tiptoes to ask, “Why was Osama Bin Laden living near Islamabad?” Even the great U.S. media was trying hard to prove that Abbotabad was a suburb of Islamabad. I could not find a single person who was aware of Pakistan’s geographical boundaries.
I could not find a single media practitioner to tell me why no photos of Osama bin Laden were released. I also found nobody who could tell me why a video without sound was released, claiming bin Laden was watching himself on Aljazeera. (By the way, why did people in America trust that the person in the video was Osama bin Laden? He never turned in that video to smile and say, “Hi, this is Osama bin Laden and you are watching my video.”)
I could not find a single American questioning the authenticity of the event, and that strengthened my preconceived notions about the United States of America. My mind was made up. I knew I would find all my assumptions to be true. But that was not the case. My seven days in Washington D.C were quite intense. The most hectic day was at the Pakistani Embassy, where I met with Ambassador (His Highness) Hussain Haqqani. I found him to be a literary person, despite his great temperament. He turned down most of the legitimate queries and questions from my group of fellows.
When I was in Pakistan, my perceptions about Americans were varied and complex. One perception was that Americans were bossy and short-tempered; that they could not mix easily with new people. Moreover, staying a week in D.C. and observing their mainstream media, it was natural for me to fortify my opinion. Specifically, the way they covered Osama bin Laden’s story convinced me that the U.S. media outlets were among the most hostile in the world.
My next destination was Portland, a beautiful city and the most-health conscious in the state of Oregon. When I was packing my stuff to leave for the U.S., I Googled the weather in Portland in May and I was told that I would find some great sunshine and normal summer weather in the Northwest. Alas, that was not what I found when I landed. In 25 days, not a single day went by without raining. I found Portland to be quite an unpredictable place, and that unpredictability remained intact for the entire trip. And it changed the assumptions I had.
My fellowship attachment was with KGW NewsChannel 8. I landed in Portland believing its media would be exactly the same as U.S. media, in general. I expected KGW to be part of the same hostile market I observed D.C.
The first day everyone greeted with a warm welcome. Being a journalist, I tend not to judge situations by my first impression. I waited several days, and every new day they all greeted us with the same hospitable smiles. I was astonished, to some extent, that nobody asked about Pakistan’s role in the war on terror.
Everyone in the newsroom was very interested in Pakistani culture, food, clothing, and people. I could not find a single person in 25 days who tried to group us together in the nasty context of Osama Bin laden and the war on terror. They never tried, or I should say bothered, to talk about those issues. Mostly we spoke of Pakistani culture when we discussed U.S./Pakistan relations.
On our second day, Kyle Iboshi (a wonderful reporter and a great human being) invited us to a family dinner at his home. He wanted us to experience American culture and the family dynamic. His three (naughty and) intelligent kids knew a lot about Pakistan, and I was surprised when they talked to me about Urdu language and the national anthem of Pakistan. I was quite amazed to hear the Pakistani anthem sung by a 5-year-old kid. They prepared it in a day or two. It was a wonderful feeling for me that they considered us important enough to prepare themselves in advance, and to build a socio-cultural bond with us.
Rich Kurz, the producer of special projects at KGW, strove indefatigably to make our weekends great by taking us out for dinner. He arranged our visits to several places, like Mount St. Helens, the Columbia Gorge, the Bonneville Dam, Mount Hood and Timberline lodge. He went to great lengths to make our trip useful and informative. He arranged several dinners for us to meet his friends and the people of Portland. All those dinner parties provided me with opportunities to observe the guests silently. I kept meeting people—many, many people—and tried hard to find someone who could endorse my previous perceptions about Americans, but unfortunately I could not find a person who was domineering or inhospitable or intolerant in Portland.
I got an opportunity to visit many places in Portland and other parts of Oregon. Mount St. Helens is a wonderful place that is now declared a national heritage. The whole area is preserved as it was at the time of a catastrophic eruption on May 18, 1980. The wonderful Columbia River Gorge provides some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. The gorge is a popular recreational destination that maintains federally-protected status as a National Scenic Area and is managed by the United States Forest Service. Mount Hood and Timberline Lodge both are marvelous places, as are the Bonneville Dam, Columbia River, and the banks of Willamette River. Visiting those places showed me how serious the nation is about preserving nature, as well as American heritage, for future generations. Timberline Lodge, which was built during the Great Depression, is a great example. Workers used large timbers and local stone, and placed intricately carved decorative elements throughout the building. I believe this was the part of American life and culture that I enjoyed most. During every one of my 25 days there, I reflected on the fact that Americans have not only preserved their history, but they also enjoy their present. And they work toward providing a secure and peaceful future society for their kids.
The society I belong to is a quiet different society than in the U.S.: I have never experienced such straight-forwardness as I experienced there. What they like, they will express immediately. On the other hand, they also say when they do not like something. Back in Pakistan, another opinion nurtured day-by-day is that Americans have double-standards. Visiting the U.S. proved this theory wrong. I met many local people in Portland; I had dinner with them, went on outings, worked with them, traveled with them, met their families, and spent time with their kids. I found them to be self-aware, I found them good listeners, and I found them respectful to others’ opinions. They listened—they listened to me a lot--and showed respect for my opinions.
I was observing KGW NewsChannel 8 for two and a half weeks: their work style, newscasts, editorial style, and demeanor of their news anchors. And I found them very professional very adept at their jobs. I believe Pakistani anchors who hosts news shows in Pakistan should come here and watch them. Specifically, how they give more and more time to news content, and less and less time to simply being on the air. During our last days, I got a chance to be on a live program: Stephanie Stricklen’s Hot Box. I found that anchor very profound and skilled at her job. She gave me more and more time to share my impressions about the U.S. and the things I have experienced here. She did not put herself in front all the time or attempt to put her guests in malicious situations, like the anchors tend to do back in Pakistan. I want to say here that we only watched selective U.S. news channels in Pakistan, which contributes to a one-sided perspective.
In Portland, I had enough time to make a parallel comparison between mainstream cable TV channels and locally-operated channels. I came to conclusion that U.S. media is a huge industry. There are 50 states and thousands of TV channels; one cannot draw a proper perspective by just observing two or three channels. Upon further observation, I was able to negate the viewpoint that all of U.S. media is hostile and biased. I did not even mention the thousands of newspapers, social media sites, radio stations and magazines.
Another interesting fact I want to share: Back in Pakistan a section of society thinks all the time that the whole American nation is busy conspiring to emasculate other nations—especially Muslim nations and their people. I did not find that. I tried to find an example of that, but I guess people were much too busy skiing, surfing, hiking, jogging, cycling, fishing, scuba diving, boating—and the list goes on, guys—they haven’t got enough time to think of anything else. They have much more productive stuff to do. That is what I found.
Adeel Ahmad Aamir was a visiting journalist at KGW NewsChannel 8 from Lahore, Pakistan. He was on a US Pakistan Journalism Exchange through the International Center for Journalists, funded by the U.S. Department of State.