Why American Media Outlets Should Open Their Eyes



American media outlets seem to prefer squinting to, pardon the trite expression, keeping their eyes peeled.

What’s going on in the world right now? ISIS and Ukraine with plot lines as simplistic as a Michael Bay film.

We good. They bad. Got it.

This is the type of narrative American media outlets are drawn to. Simple and easy to explain in terms of “us versus them.” And news of these international situations will continue to dominate television screens until the next James Bond villain draws our collective ire. Russian jihadists wearing furry ushankas, perhaps.

Surely there is more to be seen in the world, no?

Focus Our Lens

No surprise there is, indeed, more to the world than regions that hold geopolitical interest for the United States. In fact, conflicts in other corners of the globe are arguably more dire and deserving of international attention, such as the Northern Triangle of Central America. The nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador combine for the world’s highest violent death rate. The Atlantic points out that Honduras itself has nearly four times the murder rate of Mexico while receiving little media coverage. India, too, discovered earlier this year that citizens are more likely to die of a bomb blast there than in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, our mighty American media outlets reserve the front page for one British jihadist, giving them the attention they so desperately want.

Not that the happenings in Iraq and Syria or Ukraine are not worthy of our national lens. They most certainly are. I would not even say international conflicts deserve proportional coverage from American media based on some quantifiable number like conflict deaths. With American involvement in the aforementioned regions, we should pay close attention, perhaps more so than in other regions.

But that does not mean we focus our lens so that the rest of the world remains a collective blur. There are a multitude of reasons for expanding our international coverage.

First, media has the power to levy pressure on oppressive regimes in a way military intervention cannot — peacefully. The last thing the Maduro regime in Venezuela wants is more cameras pointing his way, highlighting corruption and the dismantling of political rights. Sure citizens within each respective nation have a responsibility to hold their leaders accountable. But there is only so much they can do within broken political structures. Venezuelan activists are finding that out now.

Occasionally telling these stories in American prime time not only better informs our own people about the world, but shows solidarity with those struggling for the same rights we, for the most part, enjoy in our everyday lives. Rights we constantly find ourselves preaching to the world at-large as if Uncle Sam were a televangelist of democracy.

There are, as always, exceptions to the rule. Sort of.


John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight has taken an international-slant at the satirical level, but it’s still difficult to find much substance on the cable or network news front. Watch an episode of Oliver’s show and you’ll likely notice a handful of international stories most outlets haven’t touched. I admittedly find myself learning more about world events from Oliver than I should. Though the world deserves more than 30-minutes of our time, once a week.

PBS NewsHour might very well be the exception to all this in terms of so-called serious news outlets covering world events. But unfortunately Fox News, CNN and MSNBC — the three stooges of cable news, if you will — remain some of the most popular news outlets in the country. These are the outlets we need turning their eye toward world events, though preferably without their partisan slant.

We already know they have no problem talking for 24 hours, 7 days a week. Why not try something new for once? It would be better than spending countless hours reporting on the same topic and overusing “breaking news” for the most banal event, all seemingly to feed the evening opinion hosts.

The less we know of the world and pigeonhole ourselves into simple international narratives, the less educated we become as a citizenry. As Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”


About Joe Baur

Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at joebaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe
Posted in: Society, Uncategorized