Arab News panel at AMF examines solutions to Mideast’s image problem

From left: Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News, Mark Donfried, director of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, Hadley Gamble, reporter and anchor for CNBC, and Nathan Tek, US State Department spokesman in the Middle East, at the Arab Media Forum.
Updated 17 May 2017
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Arab News panel at AMF examines solutions to Mideast’s image problem

DUBAI: An Arab News panel discussion held on Tuesday proposed solutions to the Middle East’s image problem in the West, as new research emerged illustrating the severity of the US “knowledge gap” about the region.
The panel, held at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, detailed the importance of cultural diplomacy, effective government communication and the importance of student exchange programs in boosting awareness.
It was held on the same day as the publication of an Arab News/YouGov survey, which found that 81 percent of Americans are unable to point out the Arab world on a map.
“The Arab Image in the West” discussion on Tuesday featured three international speakers and was moderated by Faisal J. Abbas, editor in chief of Arab News.
Panelist Hadley Gamble, a reporter and anchor for CNBC covering the Middle East, Africa and US politics, pointed to the lack of emphasis on geography in the US school system.
But she said that Americans’ lack of geographical awareness was not limited to the Arab world.
“Americans are going to have the same problem when you’re talking about Portugal, Asia, China, Thailand... This isn’t a just Middle East-centric issue,” she said.
Gamble said the lack of American awareness highlighted by the Arab News/YouGov poll could actually mark an opportunity, because it could allow the region to set its own narrative. “A lack of knowledge can actually work to your advantage,” she said.
Nathan Tek, US State Department spokesman in the Middle East, also spoke on the panel.
He said that the findings of the poll on American awareness about the US were “a challenge” but no reason to despair.
Solutions to addressing the Arab world’s image problem in the West include appointing government spokespeople who are authorized to speak immediately to journalists.
Tek also mentioned the value of longer-term initiatives like exchange programs so that Americans can “experience the Arab world first-hand.”
Tek said that he sometimes sees Arab media outlets misreporting and attacking US foreign policy.
“My response to that is not to get upset, not to boycott channels… The answer is always to engage. The answer is always to go on air, to go in that space,” he told the Arab News panel.
“If you don’t tell your own story, someone else will do it for you, and they won’t do as good a job.”
Fellow panelist Mark Donfried, director of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin, pointed to the fact that most Americans do not have passports as being a factor behind the knowledge gap about the region.
But he said it was not too late for the Arab world to build a better image in the West. He pointed to the example of Germany, which he said had a very bad image after World War II, but now enjoys a good global reputation. 
Cultural diplomacy is an important factor in this, Donfried said. 
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” he told the panel. “The world is realizing the importance and benefits of cultural diplomacy.”
The findings of the Arab News/YouGov poll on “The Arab Image in the US” were published on Tuesday to coincide with the Arab Media Forum. 
The poll, conducted from March 17-21, found that 65 percent of respondents admitted to knowing little about the Arab world, with 30 percent having no interest in understanding the region further.
The “The Arab Image in the US” poll follows a recent partnership between Arab News and YouGov, which was officially announced at the Arab Media Forum. 
The deal will see YouGov conduct regular polls relating to the Middle East and North Africa, which will help shed light on regional sentiment toward international events, as well as producing credible research on international opinion on Arab affairs. Findings will be published in Arab News and online at www.arabnews.com. 


America revisits ‘Pizza Bomber’ mystery with new Netflix series

Updated 26 May 2018
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America revisits ‘Pizza Bomber’ mystery with new Netflix series

WASHINGTON: As bank heists in America go, this was one of the weirdest: in 2003, a pizza delivery man walks into a bank with a bomb around his neck and a note demanding a quarter of a million dollars.
Police in Pennsylvania apprehend him, but shortly thereafter, the explosive device goes off, ripping a hole in his chest that kills him minutes before the bomb squad arrives.
Netflix has now come out with a mini-series on the robbery and returns to a question that has divided opinion for 15 years: was that man, one Brian Wells, a willing accomplice, or was he the unwitting victim of a bizarre plot?
The four fast-moving episodes of “Evil Genius,” directed by Barbara Schroeder and Trey Borzillieri, look back at all the puzzles that made up this heist in Erie, a small city in the Great Lakes region.
It all begins when Wells, 46, walks into a branch of PNC Bank with a gun shaped like a cane. Around his neck is a collar with a bomb on a timer.
He hands over a note demanding $250,000, but was given just over $8,000, and leaves sucking on a lollipop he grabbed from the counter.
In his hand he carries pages of rambling, hand-written instructions for a sort of a scavenger hunt for keys and combinations hidden around Erie that would remove the collar.
But he never got as far as that hunt. Wells was apprehended near the bank, and handcuffed. Police realized he was wearing a bomb, and kept their distance.
That scene was filmed and broadcast by TV stations around the world.
“I don’t know if I have enough time now,” Wells told police. He said he had been tricked while delivering pizzas.
“I am not lying,” Wells said as he sat on the sidewalk. “It’s gonna go off.”
The collar starts to beep. Wills gets more and more agitated. Then it explodes and kills him.
To recover the explosive device, police had to cut off Wills’ head.
Then, in the following days, odd things start happening in Erie.
Robert Pinetti, a former colleague of Wells, is found dead in his home, apparently the victim of a drug overdose.
Then another man, Bill Rothstein, tells police there is a body in his refrigerator.
The body is that of James Roden, boyfriend of one Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, whom Rothstein describes as a woman who manipulates people.
Diehl-Armstrong, once a brilliant student noted for her striking good looks, suffers from bipolar disorder. Twenty years earlier, she was accused of murdering her then-boyfriend, but argued she had acted in self-defense and was acquitted at trial.
It gets even more complicated, so pay attention.
According to a drug addict named Kenneth Barnes, Diehl-Armstrong planned the bank heist so as to get money to hire him as a hitman to take out her own father, whom she accused of spending the money due her as part of her inheritance.
Rothstein, a former boyfriend of Diehl-Armstrong and a mechanically-gifted eccentric, allegedly designed the bomb.
Diehl-Armstrong is therefore the “Evil Genius,” as the Netflix series is entitled.
Obsessed by this woman, co-director Borzillieri communicated with her for more than 10 years, in writing and over the phone, to better understand the case — becoming particularly focused on the subject of Brian Wells.
“In the beginning, very much like the residents of Erie and law enforcement, I believed that he was involved in this case and did so for a good long while,” said Borzillieri.
“By the end of the journey, my opinion is that he was innocent,” he told AFP.
A long FBI probe found that Wells was a “co-conspirator” — a conclusion which meant that the others involved in the plot could not legally face the death penalty for his murder.
“I think the whole plan initially started out as a way for them all to make some money. But it developed into more than just making money. It became almost a game to them. A diabolical, maniacal game,” said FBI special agent Jerry Clark.
Diehl-Armstrong, who died of cancer last year aged 68, also fascinated Schroeder, who is a journalist.
“Marjorie can be abrasive and off-putting, but she is also fascinating. She is like a train wreck where you have to turn your head and look and then she keeps your attention because she is eloquent,” said Schroeder.
“She was the most fascinating female I have ever come across.”
The last episode of Evil Genius adds a reasonable clue to the so-called Pizza Bomber mystery — previously unheard testimony from a prostitute named Jessica Hoopsick.
Hoopsick claimed she became friends with Wells and developed feelings for him, despite the fact that he was also a paying client, and says she wants to resurrect his reputation and name.
She says she was paid by Diehl-Armstrong and her people to recruit an easy target for their heist plans. She says she suggested Wells.
“He had no idea what would happen to him,” Hoopsick says in the Netflix series.