Dover Bitch

Friday, April 06, 2007

Isolationist American TV

It's been six years since this blogger took a trip to Europe. That means the last time I was over there was shortly before 9/11. It seems like a lifetime ago.

DB watches TV news somewhat obsessively. The brain vacuum is pretty much always on over here, mostly as background noise, but spewing out its nonsense nonetheless. I have always taken one thing for granted: If you want to learn about the outside world, you don't look for that information on the boob tube. That's what the papers are for. That's what the international press is for. Cable news? Nope.

When I arrived in London and checked into the hotel, the BBC was airing a groundbreaking story: Teenagers use slang (and adults don't understand it!!)

I turned the TV off to go search for what turned out to be an obscenely expensive dinner (news flash: the dollar stinks). As I dined, I thought my brief experience with that broadcast confirmed TV is pretty much the same everywhere. I was wrong.

My arrival and departure from London coincided almost perfectly with the incarceration of those British sailors by Iran. Now, let me just say this up front: I was on vacation, I didn't bring a laptop and I had a list of museums, friends and theaters I intended to visit. I was not there to watch television, blog or read the news. But I did turn on the television when I was in the hotel and, frankly, it was impossible to be unaware of the situation with the British soldiers.

Whenever the story came up, I thought about the news in the States, imagining how it was being covered/spun. I was certain that the usual suspects were calling for WWIII. And I kept listening for that kind of talk in London. I never heard it.

It would have been very easy for the media in London to drum this event up into a cause for war. Not only is England already at war in Iraq, but Monday marked the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the Falklands War and the media was already broadcasting retrospectives and celebrating its heroes. Still, I heard, in my limited exposure, nothing like what I imagined was bouncing around the airwaves back home.

When I got back to my desk here at home, I visited Glenn Greenwald's blog, among the sites I visit most frequently, and read that, indeed, the war drums had been beating loudly in America.

As Glenn and I exchanged emails, I thought more about the television news in London. It wasn't just that the bloodthirsty warmongering and complicity of the MSM was so frighteningly and distinctively American... the narrowness of the topics here in the U.S. is simply stunning.

Anybody who travels often or lives abroad certainly would not have been as shocked as I was to turn on a television in London and see an airing of BBC's "HardTalk", in which they spent an entire show grilling Martha Karua, Kenya's Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs with specific questions about things like the tribal origins of Kenyan cabinet members.

When was the last time you turned on an American cable news program and saw an interview with an African leader? Forget about how simple the questions would have to be. A cabinet member from an African country where we aren't currently planning on shooting at anybody? Never happens.

Even in our own hemisphere, unless it's a Mexican border-jumper, Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez, when does the U.S. television media even talk about any of it?

As I was getting ready to go to the Tate Museum in London, I saw a report about Zimbabwe. The life expectancy of a woman there is 34.


The lowest in the world. Four out of five people there are unemployed. Inflation is over 1,700 percent. Ten years ago, it took 12 Zimbabwean dollars to buy a U.S. dollar and today it would take 20 million. The government is in shambles and the country is in complete collapse.

Journalists are being murdered there, but that didn't keep it off the TV in London. Have you heard a single word on your television about that in the United States? It's in the papers, but in London you can learn more about the world in one day than you can in a year of watching CNN here in America.

It's not just that there is an entire nation in an absolute death spiral. Look at this headline from our ally, Australia's Sydney Morning Herald: US admits working to undermine Mugabe.

Do you think that maybe the people in the United States deserve three to five minutes to be appraised of the fact that our government has a hand in the total disintegration of a country of 13 million? I'm not blaming the administration for what is happening there. I don't know enough about it and I know that Zimbabwe has made some disastrous decisions in the last 10 years. But I do know that there is no reason in the world that a nation should crumble to pieces without even a passing mention on the news.

If we aren't at war with a country, looking to launch bombers from its airfields, digging in its land for oil or trying hard to keep its people away from us, you will simply not hear a peep about it on the television.

I knew that was the case before I went to Europe for this vacation. I just didn't really internalize the fact that it doesn't have to be this way.