Yesterday, on The O’Reilly Factor, Bill had Dick Morris on to theorize how, amongst other things, the Japanese nuke disaster might hurt President Obama’s poll numbers. The other things in question, of course, included the civil war in Libya and the ousting of President Mubarak in Egypt. Later, on a different program, I saw a guest speculate on how Sarah Palin, of all people, was poised to benefit politically from the post-Japan uncertainty over nuclear energy, since she was the likely presidential candidate possessing the most robust energy policy.
On some level, I find trite coverage of this sort — which aims to connect heavy foreign issues to lighter, domestic ones — even more offensive than no coverage at all. At least when the media ignores a substantial piece of overseas news, you can accuse them of just that — ignorance. But when an issue of obviously substantial geopolitical, humanitarian, or environmental consequence is only covered through the narrow prism of How it Affects Things Here, the taste left is even sicker, since it implies a public too cloistered and self-centered to consume foreign news as an end to itself.
Obviously it’s just as sheltered to suggest we have absolutely nothing to learn from developments outside of our borders, or that international precedents cannot prove useful in shaping our own domestic policies or politics. Yet there’s an appropriate time and place to draw such conclusions, and I think it’s rarely while the events themselves are still unfolding. It seems more than a bit absurd, for instance, to declare that America’s entire relationship with nuclear power needs to be re-examined before the Japanese themselves even have a chance to survey the full extent of their own system’s presumed failures.
One of the many troubling consequences of the War on Terror, and the war in Iraq in particular, seems to be a sense of growing fatigue with the problems of the rest of the world. Public faith in outside intervention — and not just war, but also aide, advice, and support — as a means to solving terrible tragedies seems to be at an all-time low, and it’s easy for such dejected feelings to segue into outright callus disinterest.
But it’s not always about us, nor our “responses.” Sometimes tragedies just begin and end with the tragedies themselves, and in such a context, compassion and attention are often the best things we can give. In theory, one can always do more, but at the very least, giving someone else’s problems your prolonged, undisturbed focus is an act of unselfish support vastly superior to the awkward “watch the global, but only care local” attitude displayed by so much of the mainstream press.
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