15 years ago the Atlantic Rim Network hosted a symposium here on the dangers of the decline of international news coverage and the importance of making world events relevant to parochial audiences. It was January 1999. One participant, a CBS news producer, pointed to the other panelists (e.g. CNN, USA Today, NYTimes), telling them they were missing the most important story of our lifetime. She said she and her students at Princeton had been anxiously tracking chatter on the Internet about some guy called Osama bin Laden. They were having a hellish time getting news organizations, the government and the public to heed the warning signs. Later, the university used for the panel reneged on its promise to publish the proceedings because, it said, nothing important was discussed.
I thought of this not long ago reading the names of Americans who have been killed recently in Afghanistan, largely ignored by all except family, friends and George Stephanopolis on his Sunday morning ABC program. The drawdown is not complete, but most have moved on. Even Hamid Karzai’s duplicitous gamesmanship elicits little more than a shrug.
Despite more high quality sources for international news today, including the outstanding Boston-based global website http://www.globalpost.com (started by my friend Phil Balboni), The Economist, CBS and NPR, to name a few, I think our old parochialism is back with a vengeance. Along with human rights compassion fatigue, there’s a whiff of neo-isolationism in the air, a growing indifference to world affairs and a desire to disengage. Baseball’s spring training presents more compelling storylines. Believe me, I get it.
But I’m concerned that even after this interminable winter ends, we will still carry with us a bunker mentality. There may be no looming crisis comparable to 9/11, but all around there are regional stories from other countries that directly and indirectly could affect our lives.
A “coup” driving out President Yanukovych in the economically strapped Ukraine. Corrupt Hamid Kharzai cutting deals with the Taliban. Right-wing extremists in Europe continuing to gain political power. Russians and Egyptians negotiating arms deal. Sunni militants in Lebanon going rogue. Japan changing its investment plans for Africa. Israel planning to export natural gas to Jordan. Iran paralyzing nuclear talks.
Demonstrations in Caracas and Bangkok threaten governments. Erdogan loses power in Turkey. China reconsiders its climate change responses. What are the local and global implications of these events. What would Maduro’s ouster in Venezuela mean for Joe-4-Oil?
Just because there are no clear black hats and white hats fighting in Syria and no readily identifiable way to discern our interests there doesn’t mean we should ignore what’s going on. One way or another there will be serious consequences.
How about some news that connects the dots, helps us understand why some apparently obscure events could become consequential? Just because we’re exhausted from years of war and decidedly opposed to America’s being the default world policeman, doesn’t mean that we should run and hide from complex policy choices. Head in the sand has never been a pretty position.
I welcome your comments in the section below.