If you were to make a list ranking the value of human life according to nationality, what would your top 10 countries be?
Regardless of this question's apparent absurdity, nobody who views the American media as legitimate has a right to reject it.
As you read this text, rescue workers are desperately working in San Juan De Sabinas, Mexico, attempting to save the lives of 65 coal miners trapped by a gas explosion. Although it has gained brief mention in most American news outlets, overall coverage in the United States of this tragedy has been severely lacking.
Judging by recent history, it would seem coalmine accidents have come to command the national spotlight. Earlier this year, a West Virginia mine accident that killed 12 dominated newspapers and network news. Why, then, is the current disaster — one that could bring 65 casualties — going largely unnoticed in the American media?
Unfortunately, the following question must be begged: Are the lives of Americans worth more than the lives of non-Americans? The media certainly seems to think so.
Consider the major world issues that have been slighted by the American news establishment in recent years. According to the United Human Rights council, Bosnian genocide in the early 1990s killed 200,000 people, and Rwandan genocide during the same period took the lives of 800,000. The U.S. State Department estimates that up to 181,000 people have been killed since the inception of Sudan's ongoing slaughter. American news coverage of these atrocities has been appallingly slight at best and criminal at worst.
Now, look at topics the U.S. media have deemed worthy of attention lately. The disappearance of a single American, Natalee Holloway, monopolized cable and network news coverage for months. Before that, the Scott Peterson fiasco was front-page news for nearly a year. Even further back, the media swarmed when Elizabeth Smart vanished.
With no disrespect intended, maybe I was simply unaware that Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway and Elizabeth Smart were the greatest Americans of our generation. If not, however, it's pretty sad how much media attention their respective cases received.
The U.S. media's discrepancy between American lives and non-American lives might not be more obvious than in coverage regarding the continuing conflict in Iraq. Usually, the American media take one of two routes in covering the war's death toll: list American and Iraqi deaths separately or list only American deaths.
Ironically, coverage of this quagmire might be indicative of how it began. It's easy to understand how Americans were able to disregard the ramifications of their country's actions on another people, considering the American media portrayed said people as less valuable than U.S. citizens. If the American media valued lives abroad as it does those in the U.S., perhaps Americans would reconsider some of their country's decisions.
The absolutely ridiculous concept of one nation's populace being worth more than that of another has long been accepted among the U.S. media establishment, but it's doubtful many people can understand why.
Are Americans better people than Greeks? Are we smarter than the Chinese? Are we stronger than Russians? These questions would be hilarious if they could not be asked legitimately. Unfortunately, they can.
I find it hard to believe that a Texan living closer to Mexico than West Virginia could explain why his local newspaper offers less coverage of the present coalmine tragedy than the one in January. Maybe crossing the invisible line that is the Mexican border automatically lowers the value of one's life by 75 percent.
People in the United States have the power to save lives around the world, but they cannot be expected to do so if their news coverage continues to disregard the value of said lives. The American news media is as responsible for deaths abroad as anybody.
Rob Rossmeissl ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism and political science.