Timelines and Distractions

Friday, March 04, 2005

Timelines and Distractions

I received a copy of the new documentary Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journey Of Romeo Dallaire the other day and, while watching it, was reminded of something that has been bothering me for a while.

Over the last ten years, it has been universally recognized that the US media did a rather lackluster job in covering the genocide in Rwanda. The fact that nearly one million people were killed in 100 days yet the majority of Americans heard little or nothing about it is indeed shocking. Yet somewhere along the way is has become conventional wisdom, when explaining this fact, to claim that Americans were, at the time, obsessed with the OJ Simpson case.

The idea is that the Simpson case was taking up so much air time and space in the newspapers that coverage of the genocide was simply drowned out.

I, when I first heard this, bought the explanation myself because it seemed to be a useful way to explain how the genocide utterly failed to break through my apathy or register with me at all.

But then I did a simple Google search and came across this timeline of the Simpson case and realized that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were not murdered until June 12, 1994 - more than 2 months after the beginning of the genocide.

Clearly the US media's failure to adequately cover the genocide in Rwanda and my failure to even realize what was taking place cannot be attributed to OJ Simpson overload.

No matter how much we try to explain away our failure to pay attention ten years later, the fact is that the media provided very little coverage of the genocide mainly because it was assumed that Americans are not interested in these sort of things.

And, for the most part, we aren't.

Until we hear about it.

The tsunami last December certainly isn't the sort of thing that Americans really care about, but the constant media coverage fed upon itself and it became the lead story for weeks afterward which, in turn, ended up generating hundreds of millions of dollars in donations for aid organizations. [As Eric Reeves notes in his latest analysis
Moreover, it must be noted that even in its commitment to humanitarian assistance, the international community is failing badly. Oxfam International reports that "the international community has provided $500 for each individual affected by the tsunami, but [ ] for Sudan, [where the UN has appealed for $1.5 billion], the [international organization] has so far received only 5% of this total. This amounts to just $16. per person." (Oxfam International [Boston], February 25, 2005)]
It has now been more than ten years since the genocide in Rwanda and there is another genocide taking place and the US media and the American public are reacting in exactly the same manner.

I wonder if, ten years from now, we will all tell ourselves that it was the Michael Jackson trial that caused us all to miss the genocide in Darfur.

It'll alleviate our guilt, but it won't be true.

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