Saturday, November 14, 2009

On Pandering, Part Four, Foreign Policy

Some years ago I heard the editor of the Wichita Eagle describe his paper's approach to news as "relentlessly state and local". He said this without any hint of embarrassment, but if Paul Simon is to be believed, the editor should have been greatly embarrassed at his paper's policy of ignoring national and international news.

In his book "Our Culture of Pandering", Simon documents how foreign affairs have been covered less and less in recent times. He asks the question, "which is more important, the O.J. Simpson trial or the fall of the Berlin Wall?" The answer of course is self-evident, but you wouldn't know it by measuring media coverage of each. Air time and ink were weighted overwhelmingly on the side of the Simpson trial. Many other examples can be given, but the conclusion is inescapable that the U.S. media is seriously failing in its responsibility to inform the public.

Simon says that when a constituent complains about money going for foreign aid, he asks what percentage of the budget the complainer thinks goes for this purpose. The usual answer is in the neighborhood of 15-25%. In fact, less than 1/2 of 1% goes for foreign economic aid. Of the 22 wealthiest nations, the U.S. is dead last in % of GDP going for foreign aid!

Chicago columnist Steve Chapman hit the nail on the head when he said that "We often resemble one of those talking dolls that has an inexhaustible voice but no capacity for hearing". That is, we like to boast of being the greatest country in the world and we like to tell everyone else what they should be doing, but we put precious little effort into *listening* to others and learning what their needs really are, as opposed to what we think they are.

What it comes down to is that both politicians *and* the media are guilty of failing to show enough interest in foreign policy. Politicians here get elected by focusing on domestic issues, not foreign issues. Most elected Presidents have little interest in foreign affairs (Bush Sr. being a notable exception), and they don't give it the attention it needs.

The education system comes into play here also. I have long felt that any high school student should have to identify the countries of the world as a condition of getting a diploma. At least to some reasonable level, say 70%, the traditional dividing line between passing and failing.

In a world that we know is shrinking rapidly, it is insane to continue this pandering to the isolationist tendencies of most Americans. Let's wake up and join the world community!

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