Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Fair and Balanced?

I am not shilling for Fox News by the title of this post—in fact, I can barely bring myself to watch Fox News, but I want to pose the same question that their signature byline statement should urge us to consider. (I say "should" ironically because the last thing Fox News wants to be is “fair and balanced.”)

This past week’s news coverage in the U.S. has shown in stark contrast how little attention our national news sources pay to various countries in the world. For a long time, the “rule of thumb” for local news has been “if it bleeds, it leads.” And it seems the rule of thumb for
national news is “if it happened in the U.S., it leads.”

Here’s a quick test—how many people died in a
major train crash in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last week? OK. Now, how many people died when the I-35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis?

My guess is you know the answer to the second question, and didn’t even know about the first question. Briefly, over 100 people died in DRC, and 5 people died in the bridge collapse, although this number may go a bit higher as bodies are recovered.

So what, you might ask? Well, each of these disasters occurred on the SAME DAY—August 2. Yet, national television news coverage in the U.S. has extensively covered the Minneapolis story, and I have yet to see any television mention of the Congo crash. The only press coverage I came upon in the U.S. was a 1 inch story in the NY Times. And, while looking for coverage of this story, I did come upon an online story on the Congo crash on USA Today.

And what does any of this has to do with your day to day life, you might ask next. Well, maybe nothing. There is no requirement that any of us be attuned to what is happening elsewhere in the world. However, I would suggest that if we want to be good citizens of the U.S., and even of the world, we need to have some sense of what happens. Absent information, how can we determine whether our national leaders are representing us well?

I am on a national advisory committee for the Presbyterian Church; this committee overseas collecting and distributing money in response to various disasters around the world. Our committee knows that charitable giving tracks almost exactly the amount of news coverage a given disaster receives. So, after Hurricane Katrina, millions of dollars were donated to
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, but when the earthquake in Pakistan occurred the same year, few contributions came in. Of course—people won’t or can’t respond to things they don’t know about.

I will throw one more observation into this mix—for a long time, I have been concerned that U.S. news organizations do not pay enough attention to news stories coming out of Africa. (I remedy that by reading
BBC News online.) It would be easy to ignore this large continent that many U.S. citizens will never see. But, there is one country in the world that is not ignoring Africa—China. China is pouring astonishing amounts of money into various African countries. Here’s just one such story.

I suppose along about now, I should be drawing some conclusions. No—I think I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Note about the photos used above--the Minneapolis bridge photo came from CNN. When I went looking for a photo of the Congo train crash, I couldn't find one--but I did find a DRC map. . .on the Al Jazeera website. Folks, the rest of the world is paying attention to Africa!


Laurie said...

I call it Faux News myself. :-)

dguzman said...

To me it's Fox Nazi Channel....

I think about the US-centric news every time I hear the latest number of Americans dead in Iraq--what about dead Iraqis? Does anyone care how many men, women, and children we've killed there with our occupation? Similarly, I heard some pundit call 9-11 the most significant event in history! I believe the Japanese might have something to say about a couple of little places called Hiroshima and Nagasaki....

Body Soul Spirit said...

An excellent post!
Our Canadian newscasts tend to be more international than CNN and Fox news, but I go to the BBC newscast and website for my world news. I find the US weather maps amusing. There is no country north of your border even though our weather systems affect you too. When I visit the USA, I am amazed at how little people know about Canada and the world. But they are interested, if they had the chance to learn more.

possumlady said...

Oh, I totally agree. Although I haven't done a lot of international travel (except for Canada, France, Kenya and Tanzania. Every time I came home from a trip I was always amazed at how little international news there was/is. I too watch BBC news and we have a great tv station here called Mhz (maybe its on all cable systems?) that broadcasts daily news from other countries. I usually watch France 2 and Russia Today.

Pam said...

Absolutely terrific post! A lot of our news programs seem to be more about ratings and sensationalism than an actual representation of what's going on in the world. I, too, like the BBC.

Anvilcloud said...

It's a big country down there with a lot going on. Still ...

Cathy said...

I don't watch news anymore. Call me ostrich woman. There's so much pain in the world. . But I do read blogs wherein people like yourself, Donna, direct my attention to worthy causes. Laurie's and Lynne's posts about the need for blood products were particularly compelling. It just helps to have a trusted voice delivering the message.

I think I'd cancel my cable TV if my hubby didn't need his sports broadcasts.

vicki said...

But didn't you know? It's all about US? Not THEM, US. Don't get me started. This is an excellent post. I set myself the goal of reading nothing but international literature this summer and I've read some exceptional books: Things Fall Apart, Blindness, etc. We are just so insular- it will be (is currently) our downfall. Thanks for this post.

Rhonda said...

Not to downplay the seriousness of either of those August 2 events, but there was yet another momentous occasion on August 2 that received NO NATIONAL or INTERNATIONAL attention.

The event, you ask?

My 39th birthday! Tee, hee!

However, I do agree with you 100%, as you can well imagine.

Anonymous said...

Such an interesting and thoughtful post Donna. I think our Canadian news is politically controlled so I listen to/or watch the BBC news mostly now and the CBC nightly radio news from around the world and I am amazed at how little coverage is given here in Canada to world-wide events also.

We just watched the Last King of Scotland about Africa -- I wonder if you saw that film Donna??

How can we help when our news media does not cover the story of starving poor people's disasters but does cover wealthy vacationers disasters and so on.

Dorothy said...

Oh Donna you've struck a chord with me on this. I've a good friend in Australia who amazes me because she knows more about what goes on in the world, including the USA, than we know here. When I found that out, I started keeping an eye on world events via this link -

I also keep an eye on the news via

Great post!!

Mary said...

The only time I turn the TV on is to watch the news - never FOX. It's peculiar that the Congo crash wasn't covered as quickly and as extensively as the bridge collapse.

Agreeing with Cathy, watching the news is quite depressing most of the time. There are only certain times or days when I can handle it.

Another great eye-opening post, Donna!

LauraO said...

I don't have a television (by choice), but I remember FoxNews from a few years ago and didn't like it then. Don't like much news at all - always just crime, murder, mayhem, blood and gore.

Thanks for the BBC News link. I've got that in my favs to keep up on the news.

Climenheise said...

I didn't check, but for a map of the Congo, go to the BBC and look up the appropriate country page for the Congo. I suspect you'll find it there.

You know, of course that I share your thoughts about news of Africa -- I lived there even longer than you! I'm not sure what to make4 of our collective turning away from news reports. It makes sense to me: there's too much around us and we become numb; but I wonder how we can be good citizens of the world without knowing what's going on?

Mauigirl said...

Great post. This is one of my pet peeves as well. I am always amazed when we go to other countries and see the wide spectrum of news that they cover compared to here.