Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2005/ 22 Elul,
Darfur: The missing media
Eric Reeves of Smith College in Massachusetts the principal
historian of the horrors in Darfur wrote on Aug. 11
(www.sudanreeves.org) that the genocide there could become "much
worse" as "the international community has abandoned these people to
genocide by attrition." And on Sept. 8, Salih Booker, executive
director of Washington-based Africa Action, warned: "The death toll
continues to mount."
The American media, with few exceptions, have also largely abandoned
Darfur. In "All Ears for Tom Cruise, All Eyes on Brad Pitt" in the
July 26 New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has often
reported from the killing fields, writes: "If only Michael Jackson's
trial had been held in Darfur."
Kristof noted that: "According to monitoring by the Tyndall Report,
ABC News had a total of 18 minutes of the Darfur genocide in its
nightly newscasts all last year and that turns out to be a credit
to Peter Jennings.
"NBC had only 5 minutes of coverage all last year, and CBS only 3
minutes (except for '60 Minutes') about a minute of coverage for
every 100,000 deaths. In contrast, Martha Stewart received 130
minutes of coverage by the three networks.
"Incredibly, more than two years into the genocide, NBC, aside from
covering official trips, has still not bothered to send one of its
own correspondents into Darfur for independent reporting."
This appalling performance by broadcast and cable television is not
surprising if you believe newspapers are invariably the source of
in-depth coverage of vital stories.
There has indeed been serious reporting on Darfur in The Washington
Post, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington
Times and other papers; but most of the print media have little to
be proud of in their coverage of this genocide, whose total deaths
could well reach more than a million by the end of the year
thereby topping the number of corpses in Rwanda.
In the July 26 Editor & Publisher, Joe Strupp interviewed editors
across the country ("Newspaper Editors Shoot Back at Kristof's
Steve Butler, foreign editor of Knight Ridder, explained that, "We
have been keeping our Iraq coverage going and that is a more
important story. It has U.S. soldiers there, people are very
interested in it, and it lends itself better to breaking news."
Of course, Iraq requires extensive coverage, but to what extent are
a newspaper's priorities dependent on the degree of current reader
interest? Isn't it also our responsibility to inform readers of
crucial stories in which they would have little or no interest
until we tell them through our reporting?
As for Darfur being deficient in breaking news, every morning before
I go to work, I click onto a number of Web sites, starting with the
Paris-based Sudan Tribune (sudantribune.com). I start there because
I have been covering the Khartoum government's crimes against its
people for more than six years.
From a range of international news sources on the Sudan Tribune
site, I have picked up many breaking stories, and have included them
in previous columns.
In the Editor & Publisher roundup, most editors tried to exculpate
themselves by agreeing that "the Darfur story should get more
attention due to its seriousness. But, each reminded Kristof of the
realities at today's daily papers. Budget cuts, other worldwide
stories like Iraq and terrorism, and limited reader interest,
require a broad approach, they said."
Broad, indeed! How many stories about Darfur, and how often, have
you seen in your daily paper? Well, it's your fault if you haven't
seen much. You haven't shown sufficient "reader interest."
After all, as John Yearwood, world editor of the Miami Herald, told
Editor & Publisher: "If we don't cover the Michael Jacksons, that
will be our demise. That is what the public wants. But, we ought to
make the commitment to also give Darfur or Rwanda attention if we
It's too late for Rwanda. And the refrain "if we can" conveys more
of a dismissive approach than any sense of urgency about Darfur.
Years from now, if somebody makes a movie on Darfur as powerful as
Terry George's "Hotel Rwanda," I expect there will be a compelling
editorial on the tragedy of Darfur in the Miami Herald and other
newspapers, whose readers hadn't somehow "demanded" more about
Darfur back then.
But Nicholas Kristof reminded all of us (in the March 2 "The
American Witness"): "As Martin Luther King Jr. put it: 'Man's
inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions
of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating
inaction of those who are good.'"
On Sept. 18, Kristof reported: "One group, www.BeAWitness.org,
prepared a television commercial ('Genocide is News') scolding the
networks for neglecting the genocide and Washington affiliates of
NBC, CBS and ABC all refused to run it."
Have they no shame!
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