Our casualties matter; yours don’t

Why the Fallujah atrocities of last week are considered no big deal in the Mideast.

“Who cares?” said Fida Alsha’er, a columnist for a Jordanian women’s magazine. “It’s another example of how American life is considered something very expensive, very important, while the Arab life is worth nothing.

I read that this morning and it’s been buzzing in my head all day, particularly in light of all the attention we’re lavishing on one paragraph from the story of the Iraq war.

It could be argued we should value our lives above those of the Iraqi people, if we were at war with the Iraqi people. But we’re supposed to be their foremost advocate, the only nation brave enough and tough enough to rescue them from Saddam’s evil clutches.

I suspect that If we really cared about the people of Iraq, we’d have had a thousand high-profile, anguished debates about publishing pictures of dead-burnt Iraqis by now. My current count is that we’ve had, well, none that I can remember.

“Dead Americans are the news peg,” we tell ourselves, but these days we need to remember what that says to a global audience of English-speaking news consumers.

If the Liberation Tigers of Tamil blew up a bus and danced over the smoking corpses, it’d be three inches on Page 27A. If there were good video CNN might lead with it for a few hours, but it’d be forgotten about within a day’s news cycle.

The rest of the world sees us do this stuff, and it reinforces their notions that we don’t care how many die overseas so long as they are not Americans.

I had my share of blind fury at the murderers of Fallujah and their flesh-tossing cheering section. Yeah, it was an outrage, but why was I so mad? Because the dead were Americans sent there to help the Iraqis. Righteous indignation is natural, but it’s not news.

Back in school they taught us what news is, and those lessons enabled us to develop news judgment. I don’t remember any of my professors saying “any atrocity visited on Americans is newsier than any atrocity visited on anybody else.” That’s how we report it, though, because it’s how we view the world.

Our professors never lectured us on how to report the news as global representative of a lone superpower. We’re just going to have to teach ourselves.

It’ll be tricky because Americans prefer to ignore the possibility that we are not center of the universe, and the Amercian press prefers to ignore how its ingrained pro-America bias affects people who are not Americans.

At the very least, we could start by covering international stories with an eye to what they mean to people other than us.

4 comments for “Our casualties matter; yours don’t

Comments are closed.