One of the things of which I've become acutely aware since moving to Qatar is that the news has more bias than I ever imagined. The difference in journalistic angle was most noticeable to me when I returned from spending time with family over the holidays. When I left the U.S.A. on January 3, 2009, the news of Israel's bombings in Gaza was being mentioned as a brief item in the national news - nothing in the local or regional news. By the time I got back to Qatar on the evening of January 4, 2009, the news was 75% about Gaza and it has remained that way. The news I watch in Qatar is CNN but it's not the same as the programming carried throughout the U.S.A. CNN in the Middle East carries some about the U.S.A., quite a bit on Europe, and a lot on the Middle East and Asia.
I've struggled to inform myself of the difference in angles between the West and Middle East during the last year and now more intensely during the recent Gaza crisis. I never questioned the U.S.A.'s constant support for Israel over the last sixty years. Now that what I hear from colleagues and in news media here is very different, I've been through a long and deep reorientation in my views. While previous posts reflect some of the changing orientation, the bottom line that I've concluded is that far too many lives have been destroyed and the death toll (documented by humanitarian agencies as exceeding 1,200 children, women, and innocent citizens) has been far too great in the immediate Gaza crisis. Battles have raged far too long as a result of the partitioning that took place in 1948 at the hands of Western countries that presumed to draw lines across lands that did not belong to them. The lines didn't make sense to many who lived in this region of the world then and resolution of the conflicts over the borders is unlikely until the West ceases to intervene to serve its own purposes.
At the same time that I've been watching the news, I've been reading about the news. Anderson Cooper, CNN anchor, wrote (2006) a book entitled Dispatches form the edge in which he recounts a number of the stories he has covered in his career. He wove among these stories of tragedy his own story of family and crisis. The major crisis, and the realizations of himself as he covered it, was Hurricane Katrina. A turning point in the book (p. 187) was when he described an encounter with a man in a bar who expressed surprise when he met Anderson and blurted out "When people say your name, they shake." When Anderson denied it, the man replied again, "No really, you have the power of a thousand bulldozers."
Anderson went on to describe his reaction to the encounter:
I've never paid much attention to the business of news - who is watching, how big the audience is, what time slot I am in. That information always seems to take away from the work. Katrina, however, is different. So may times in Africa I wanted people to know the suffering of others, but I long ago gave up believing that it would really change anything. Now people are watching and I feel that maybe I can be of some help. I see it in people's eyes; they talk to me on the street: "Hey, Anderson, somebody's got to do something about what's happening over in St. Bernard," they'll say. Or: "you gotta do something about the bodies. Why aren't they being picked up?" I don't want to let these people down, this city, down.
Why is covering the news so important? Because there are just some stories that are so important that we have to get it right. Anderson felt the weight of Katrina on his shoulders and he wanted people to know how badly handled the emergency response had been and how much it cost in devastation. It is our responsibility as global citizens to try to get the story right. Sometimes the media will help us and sometimes it will not. To sit in the comfort of homes soaking up what we presume to be true may result in incomprehensible wrong. Hey, man, you have the power of a thousand bulldozers...