Friday, February 24, 2012

What About CNN's Role John?

There was an odd moment at Wednesday's Republican Presidential Debate (number 386 in the series, I think), moderator John King of CNN posed a question by beginning with the statement: “The American people don't often pay attention to what's going on in the world until they have to…”  Politico picked up on the comment and wrote this brief piece that included this photo illustration of the covers of different regional editions of Time magazine from two different weeks:

Time Covers USA vs. The World

The US version is clearly out-of-sync with the rest of the world, and focuses on “fluff” pieces while the global editions feature hard-news stories.  While it would seem to bolster John King's point, there is a certain chicken-and-egg quality to this story: does the US media tend to shy away from coverage of international affairs because Americans don't care that much about them, or do Americans not closely follow international affairs because the US media gives them so little coverage?

It wasn't always this way, historically, and especially in the post-World War II era, major media outlets would maintain bureaus in major cities around the globe with full-time staff dedicated to providing coverage of their particular region.  CNN, the world's first cable news network (hence the name “CNN”) made its mark by providing in-depth, intensive coverage of global events.  But times have changed, budget-cutting has meant that outlets like the Associated Press, New York Times and even CNN have drastically cut back on the number of foreign bureaus they operate.  The result has been a corresponding drop in the amount and quality of international affairs reporting in the American media.  We can infer that this has also led to Americans being less informed about the world outside their borders.

And this brings us back to John King.  He's likely right about Americans lacking knowledge about international affairs, but what about his own role in the affair?  King is one of CNN's featured personalities.  This is the same CNN that spent a solid week of doing almost wall-to-wall coverage on the death of Whitney Houston, a pop singer whose career, for all intents and purposes, ended over a decade ago.  Perhaps Mr. King, Americans wouldn't be so poorly informed if CNN had actually dedicated some of the time and coverage wasted on Houston to actual global events that matter: unrest in Syria, possible conflict with Iran, elections in Russia, take your pick, there's not a lack of stories out there, that is if you're willing to look for them. 
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