It's no contest. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption is way more entertaining than Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe's. A parent having in vitro octuplets on top of six prior in vitro kids is a lot more attentiongrabbing than the usual massive famine and cholera epidemic half a global away. The $1.22 million that ousted Merrill Lynch head John Thain spent redecorating his office provokes far more American outrage than the $7.3 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which was confiscated by Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank.
It can make perfect sense that network news obsesses about Florida tot Caylee Anthony's disappearance and death. Tease us with shocking tidbits about her indicted mother Casey, and we'll patiently consume minute after minute of ads for mattresses and Malibu rehabs before the melodrama resumes. But billboard a tale about Zimbabwe, and instantly we're grabbing the clicker in search of something less alien of looking after about.
If you fit in with the dwindling tribe of Americans who read national newspapers such as the New York Times and also the La Times, you may have run into last week's story about Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai receiving join Mugabe's government after months of pressure. (When the La Times is your paper, you may justifiably fear that the shoehorning from the California section into the A piece implies that both international and local news competing for the same news hole will suffer.)
If you read through all of the inches from the latest dispatch from Zimbabwe, you may have found that Mugabe stole last year's presidential election; the annual inflation rate in Zimbabwe has reached 516 quintillian percent; which seven of this country's 12 million people risk starving within the next 8 weeks.
I have to confess that I didn't read those stories, in publications or online. There's only so much amount of time in each day, and the onslaught of information clamoring for our attention inevitably requires some kind of triage. Domestic politics? Check. But Somalia? Sudan? Not so much.
The only real reason I googled up those articles about Zimbabwe was a few horrifying seconds of BBC News I happened to catch in a car deutschland trikot last week, around the public radio program "The World," concerning the Un World Food Program having to cut in half the already inadequate monthly rations it offers that country. It takes approximately 36 pounds of corn a month to keep an adult alive. However, due to donor shortfalls (america and Europe are unwilling to lift sanctions, including famine aid, on Mugabe), the planet Food Program is being instructed to reduce its rations to 11 pounds of corn per person monthly. They merely way someone can survive with that would be to scavenge enough wild fruit to stave off malnutrition and disease. Seven million people could die by April.
"Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain asked the Creator. Are Zimbabweans our siblings? Of course. So might be the women raped and mutilated in Darfur, and the child soldiers conscripted in Congo. So are the political prisoners in Burma, Sri Lanka and China. So might be the terrorized and the tortured, the wounded and also the dead, in the centre East and southwest Asia. And so are the tsunami victims of Malaysia and Thailand, the earthquake victims of Kashmir, the flood victims of Katrina.
Where do we draw the road? Said Presidentelect dfb trikot Obama, "Empathy strikes me because the most important quality that people need in America and around the world." However, if the American media relentlessly reported all the world's miseries, surely compassion fatigue would set in among its consumers.
Therefore the principles the press uses to select what global misfortunes to pay for, like the principles that figure out what disasters we audiences can absorb, come down to scale and similarity. The worst catastrophes, and the ones whose victims are probab us, generally get the most attention. To be sure, a crusading journalist, an enterprising news outlet or perhaps a heroic nongovernmental organization will often place a remote or untold story onto our radar screen. But generally, we often hear about horrors too huge to disregard, and also to care about those who are, one way or another, like ourselves.
This is not inherently shameful. Chances are a consequence of our hardwiring, our evolutionary instinct to protect our very own gene pool. The task of civilization, then, and the responsibility of its wisdom traditions, including religion, would be to expand the borders of our empathy beyond our ethnicity, to show us to see the Other as our brother, and to recognize strangers as neighbors.
It would be nice if our news media as an indication of our being civilized shouldered a heftier share of this responsibility. But since news became a revenue center for conglomerates, rather than a public service for citizens, the calculus of what to cover is continuing to grow crueler. No advertiser will expend 100 thousand dollars per second, as they did during the Super Bowl, to rent the eyeballs of people watching news from Zimbabwe. But surely there also exists a moral currency that values the distribution of news like this at a lot more than nothing; surely there also exists an attention economy that pegs the worth of consuming news like that to not dollars, but to decency.
UPDATE: Jon Liden, communications director of The Global Fund to battle AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, points out in a comment that whenever considerable pressure, Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank released the $7.5 million, and contains since been put to use saving lives in Zimbabwe.