I’ve been musing over the London bombing fall week. Not about why. One of my fellow bloggers, Greg Burgas has an interesting theory on that. He’s kidding. Sorta.
It’s more about what is news and why do we respond the way we do. It was the late House speaker Tip O’Neill that famously said: "All politics is local." And in THIS country, it seems that almost all NEWS is local. Oh, yeah, there’s an international segment in the broadcast, but it’s so often about OUR soldier in Iraq or OUR local celebrity. When Ismail Merchant of Merchant-Ivory films fame died, it was a LOCAL story in the local paper, because Merchant had a farm in nearby Columbia County. (Two mentions of Columbia County in three days. Gads.) Of course, it does not always have to be positive. The Houston trucker who transported illegal immigrants in his vehicle, several of whom died, is a local story because he used to live in Schenectady.
Some guy I read was complaining, and this is a heavy-duty paraphrase, "London was bombed. Why is the second lead, 'Is America next?' Why is it always about us?"
If someone conducted a poll, and the responses were honest, I’m betting that the 7/7 bombing in London was more palpable to most Americans than...let’s take a comparable example, the 3/11 bombing in Madrid last year. Both attacks likely the work of the same organization, and twice as many people died in Spain than in Great Britain. So why IS that? Is it because the Brits speak our language? (Actually, we speak THEIR language, but let’s not complicate things here.) Is it because of our common heritage? (They’re more like US.)
I remember seeing a story on ABC News about a young black woman of 22 who disappeared in Illinois, and her mother, who was NOT well spoken, trying to get the media involved in her disappearance. Her mother was told, "No, she’s 22. NO one would be interested." Then Dru Sjodin, 22-year old blonde student from North Dakota goes missing and it’s national news. Indeed, now there’s Dru’s Law, the National Sex Offender Public Database Act of 2005 being offered up in Congress. Meanwhile, I don’t even remember the name of that young black woman or know whether she was ever found. Was it that Dru Sjodin looked more like US (well, not me specifically...)
Bam, Iran was destroyed by an earthquake on December 26, 2003. The initial reports said that 30,000 were killed, later upped to 43,000. It barely made two news cycles. I had initially thought that the reason that the Christmastime tsunami of 2004 was so newsworthy, long before anyone knew the death toll, was because there were so many people with video cameras showing the devastation, and that may be true. But inevitably, there were those stories about how Americans and people like US who lost their lives, because we can RELATE to them.
Indeed, there have been floods in Bangladesh and China over the past 40 years that have taken more lives than the tsunami, but that barely hit our consciousness, if at all. Maybe it was also the novelty of the tsunami. Or maybe it’s that news people like to say "tsunami" and hope that the graphics department spells it correctly.
Why Laci Peterson and not other victims of violent crimes has something to do, I'm told, with identification with Laci - heck, we call her by her by her first name, as though we KNEW her.
When I’m close to the border with Canada and watch the CBC news, it seemed to be more...balanced. When I watched the news in Barbados in 1999, the same thing- a greater awareness of the whole world picture.
How is it that the Great Melting Pot can be so xenophobic? I ask, not out of anger, but out of concern.
(I always hate posing questions that I really can't answer.)
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