The American Disconnect

by: Diana Cenat

February 20, 2012

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart lambasted Time Magazine over a “fluff” cover story used for a recent U.S. issue. While European, Asian, and South Pacific editions led with a piece on Italy’s new prime minister and his struggles to stabilize the country’s economy, the American edition led with a story on the friendship between animals.

As Stewart remarks, this isn’t the first instance in which Time has pushed important world news off its U.S. cover in favor of lighter fare. It’s baffling that the Arab Awakening, arguably one of the most important movements of our time, would be trumped by a story on the benefits of anxiety. Even more troubling are the magazine’s subtle title changes. Note the difference in Syria mentions on the Mario Monti/Animal Friendships covers:

While the other editions were printed with the “Slaughter in Syria” title, the American version was altered to read “Syria Under Siege.”  Why the change? Why didn’t the U.S. get the same cover its international counterparts received? As a news outlet, we trust this magazine and countless others to give us the facts, not shape the argument. Walter Cronkite once said that the media’s job “is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.” Unfortunately, with its vast number of political pundits, op-ed pieces masquerading as objective coverage and a penchant for overlooking global issues, American media has slowly deteriorated, leaving the public to sift for substance or find information elsewhere.

In March 2011, when speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touched on the U.S. struggle to make headway in global news, despite being more technologically advanced than many outlets in the Middle East. She went on to make mention of Al Jazeera, the Qatar owned independent channel and TV network:

“Al Jazeera has been the leader in literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective. In fact, viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.”

Jeff Jarvis, creator of the blog BuzzMachine and director of the media program at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, made an impassioned plea to get cable companies to carry the network, stating that  “vital, world-changing news is occurring in the Middle East and no one–not the xenophobic or celebrity-obsessed or cut-to-the-bone American media–can bring the perspective, insight, and on-the-scene reporting Al Jazeera English can.”

Yes, the argument can be made that being consistently bombarded with hard news can be disconcerting, and the occasional focus on lighthearted fare makes it all easier to swallow. That being said, it seems absurd that while pumping billions into developing superior technology and finding ways to help American students compete in science and math on the international stage, we continue to isolate ourselves from vital information about the world around us. It’s reprehensible that while boasting the world’s freest and most democratic nation, our citizens are being forced to look outside for proper reporting.

How can the public see when there’s no one holding the mirror?

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