10 January 2022

World Politics Review: “America’s TV News ‘Desert’ is a Problem with Global Implications”

The ins and outs of television news programming in the U.S. might seem on the surface to be a strange topic for a column that focuses by design on international affairs. But the case will be made here that the ongoing and worsening crisis in American democracy is, to some serious extent, a crisis of its journalism, too, and none more than television news, which is where most of the country’s citizens get their information.

The area of the TV news business that has declined most dramatically during my life in journalism, though, has not been domestic coverage, as truly awful as it can be. What has almost entirely disappeared from the airwaves is any kind of purposeful or energetic coverage of the world. Regular world news segments have long ago disappeared from most programs, and viewers of primetime news in the U.S. can go days on end without learning a single interesting thing about what is happening elsewhere on the planet.

Because of habits like these, Americans, who are already somewhat isolated from the rest of the world geographically, tend more and more to see their problems as being sui generis and self-contained, and this impedes clear thinking on many fronts. Understanding that most problems are in fact broad, human problems, rather than peculiar to oneself or one’s country, helps relieve a great deal of fruitless and sometime dangerous moral panic. Opening one’s mind to the methods adopted and solutions attempted by others offers the best hope of managing these challenges in more productive, and often more cooperative ways.

Howard W. French

Interesting points; I obviously don’t know enough about American TV media to have an opinion, but from the chatter on Twitter, the article feels entirely on point. And it helps explain American society’s self-obsession: you can’t worry or care about the outside world if you know so little about it. And a less informed population is more susceptible to manipulation by politicians and corporations… This decay of journalism is another aspect brilliantly depicted in the movie Don’t Look Up.

President Donald Trump during a FOX News Channel town hall, Scranton, Pa., March 5, 2020
Then-President Donald Trump speaks during a FOX News Channel town hall, Scranton, Pa., March 5, 2020 (AP photo by Evan Vucci)

I can think of several examples from my Twitter feed just over the past days: journalists associating the James Webb Space Telescope solely with NASA, even though the project is a collaboration with ESA and the Canadian Space Agency; the scant coverage of current events in Kazakhstan; and the scarcity of information about how other countries are handling the pandemic, a topic that should be at the forefront of media and public attention.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is certainly not an issue limited to the United States, and I mostly stopped following the news in Romania because of their narrow reporting. Every time I come into contact with Romanian media I am more grateful for Twitter, where I can get a much broader perspective on the world than anywhere on TV or in the written press.

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