The anecdote is a useful device in broadcast journalism. To illustrate the ongoing recession and a recent spike in unemployment, NBC Nightly News made the effort, as they’ve done a million times before, to expose their viewers to the reality of the economic struggle millions of Americans are enduring. Sharon Tatra, Brian Williams’s voiceover told us, has been out of work since January 2010. Her unemployment benefits run out in six months. Once that happens, “she doesn’t know how she’ll pay rent or buy food.” The segment ends with Sharon in tears, frightened about her future and rueful at the crumbling of her American Dream. It’s a rending portrait of an honest woman in hardship.
But while the media often work to make these hardships a reality for Americans, broadcasting the worst of things is out of the question. Sharon Tatra is made human for us. The victims of our empire are kept nameless, faceless, and quiet.
Take Indochina, for example. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos were virtually destroyed by the time the war ended over 30 years ago. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. Over 20,000 Laotians have been killed or injured since the end of the war because of the over 75 million units of unexploded ordnance in Laos left behind. This past June, Mr. Seng (25) and Mr. Thon (20)were walking together on a plantation they keep to support themselves when Mr. Thon stepped on an unexploded grenade. Mr. Thon died of his injuries and Mr. Seng was left with severe arm, leg, and back injuries. How about something on the nightly news about how this already poor family, struck with this undeserving violence, will sustain themselves? Will they starve? Do they have any available tears for the camera? Do Americans have any notion that the leftovers of American Empire are still murdering innocent people? Are there any lessons Americans might benefit from by broadcasting this anecdote alongside Sharon Tatra’s?
It’s not that the media establishment is heartless. It’s just that the people of Indochina don’t meet the criteria for pity and awareness. The criteria for broadcasting the suffering of people abroad is generally to keep to the crimes of our enemies, white-washing our own. The people suffering famine in Somalia qualify, probably because it draws attention to the state’s new boogie man, al Shabaab, and how cruel they’re being to Somalians. Or, judging from this CBS News segment lamenting the reluctance to intervene in Somalia- entitled “Memories of 1993 Hamper Response to Somalia” – perhaps it’s adding justification for intervention. We hear a lot less about about the 23 civilians killed last February in a “mistaken” airstrike in Afghanistan, or about Noor Mohammed, 10 years old, who “lost both eyes and both arms” back in 2001 when our bombing campaign was still thought of as retaliatory. There’s a lot on the news about the hated Syrian regime‘s crimes, but much less about the beloved friend and allied regime in Bahrain. Hardly any Americans know about the terror war being fought in their name in Colombia and all the violence and tragedy that results, or about the hundreds of thousands of innocents killed in East Timor by U.S. supported militias, just as the thousands in Indochina still dying from chemical warfare and unexploded munitions are simply ignored. The media is inherently subservient to power in Washington and rarely explores tragedies caused by the overlords in government.
To a certain extent, the reason the U.S. is permitted to continue to be a leading terrorist state is because the vast majority of the public is clueless. Insofar as that is the case, the subservient media is as guilty as the imperialists.
Addendum: I should say that this is beginning to change with the decentralized nature of the internet and personal media-sharing devices and the like. At present though, the mass media is still concentrated in a few hands with close relationships with those in government, thus this subservience is still the predominant feature of news media in America.