U.S. media focuses on national, rather than world, news

Two bombs were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon April 15. This act of terrorism killed three people, injured more than 250 and shook up the media world.

On the same day, there was a U.S. bombing strike in Afghanistan. Although supposedly targeted towards suspected terrorists, it wound up missing its target and instead hit a wedding party, killing at least 30 people.

Recently, there was also an earthquake in central China that killed approximately 200 people, a collapse of a factory in Bangladesh that killed over 500 and bombings during Iraq’s presidential election that wounded more than 250 people.

But don’t look to mainstream news media for fair coverage of most of these events.

Even as late as the morning of May 2, a full 17 days after the Boston bombings, the front page of CNN.com continued to be dominated by updates regarding the Boston case.

Meanwhile, other events, such as the escalating violence in Iraq, continued to be relegated to inconspicuous links and back pages.

This Americentrism has penetrated the media and impacts many Americans’ awareness of other world news.

“Obviously, there’s a huge buzz surrounding the bombings here,” said Nir Shtuhl, a student at Northeastern University in Boston. “But at the same time, a lot of people haven’t been aware of some of these other events. I honestly haven’t even heard of the bombing of the wedding in Afghanistan.”

Is it that the American media finds it easier to focus on specifically American events? Or does the media truly value the lives of Americans that much more over the citizens of other nations?

“This is, on one hand, based on financial considerations,” said Scott Hibbard, an associate professor of political science at DePaul and former legislative aide in the United States Congress.

“Instead of maintaining overseas news bureaus, the move in recent years has been to simply fly reporters in and out of foreign nations to cover specific stories.  That inevitably affects the quality and quantity of news from foreign sources. But also, this is driven by a desire to cater to the American market, and what is perceived as a preference for domestic and human interest stories. American interests – or perceptions of American interest – can be fickle.”

Americentric media has led to a long-run paucity of political and world awareness within the American population.

Seeing as the United States is a nation where elected officials represent the desires of their electorate, a misinformed public can be especially dangerous.

“The U.S. government is ultimately responsible to the American people,” said Hibbard. “It is important, then, that the electorate be cognizant of what its government is doing overseas. An educated electorate is essential for democracy, and having a public that is knowledgeable of foreign affairs is the only way that foreign policy makers can be held accountable.” 

Clearly the consequences of a misinformed public are high. Considering that many Americans do not, and will not, get information beyond the front headlines of their local newspaper, it is essential that the media change their tactics.

They need to stop valuing the lives of Americans over citizens of other nations and paint a more representative picture of the rest of the world on their front pages.

“Hopefully the American people will someday be aware of foreign tragedies as they are of American tragedies,”said Shtuhl.