From Massacres to Genocide: The Media, Public Policy and Humanitarian Crises
Edited by Robert I. Rotberg and Thomas G. Weiss
Brookings, 1996, 196 pp.
These two Brookings volumes detail how media coverage shapes foreign policy. Hess’ volume documents the declining and increasingly superficial coverage of foreign events and its continuing bias toward Europe, the Middle East, and political violence. The Rotberg-Weiss collection gives many examples of how the media’s treatment of humanitarian crises distorts perceptions of the Third World. Of particular interest is Steven Livingston’s chapter explaining why the humanitarian disaster in Somalia led to U.S. intervention while an equally tragic war and famine in Sudan were ignored. (The most important factors were access, safety, and the attitude of the Khartoum government.) While Hess fails to move beyond traditional broadcast media, Rotberg and Weiss delineate how new information technologies such as the Internet are critical to the humanitarian activities of nongovernmental organizations. Both books sharply criticize the media, which has unprecedented access to information but fails to inform the public adequately about foreign affairs. But in an age when many Americans do not know the names of their congressional representatives, the problem of inadequate knowledge may start closer to home.