Some are saying that American television journalism is dead. That entertainment has risen in its place. And while that makes for great viewing, with long legged beauties reading scripts prepared for them by short baldheaded, young men, fresh out of graduate school, it represents all kinds of new dangers.
For one, American may be headed toward wars we don’t need and shouldn’t have to fight. A recent example is the widely carried story of Russian warships visiting Cuban ports. It made headlines here but there was sadly no context. The long legged beauties and handsome young men of TV Land assured us that this was yet another Russian provocation.
What was not reported was that the Russians were only responding to the visit of American warships to Sevastopol. In fact, if news is still defined as “man bites dog,” then how our provocation went unreported is itself a news story and lets you know just how far we have fallen.
Yep, several months ago, American warships blew into the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Ukraine. This is the same port city that the Soviets hung onto for 250 days as the Nazis laid siege in World War II. And this recent American visit, with guns gleaming in the sunshine, was such an affront to Russia, that even the Ukrainians were appalled. What was America doing? Was this a decision made at the presidential level? A lame duck, George W. Bush, saber rattling? Or some loose cannon in the Pentagon acting on his own? Not likely on Robert Gates’ watch. But what did Bush seek to do? Did he want to signal an American military presence in the Black Sea? Was this part of the program of “defending the world for democracy?”
Ukrainians, which our news media assures us are “next” on the Russian hit list were so outraged that a spontaneous crowd jammed the port and stood in candlelight vigil to protest the Americans. The poor American sailors were rushed off to hotels away from the port but the Ukrainians found the new location and started a demonstration, with pots and pans banging throughout the night, the crowds spontaneously taking turns to keep the Americans from their sleep.
The fact is that this misunderstanding cuts both ways. Not only are Americans woefully ignorant of the Russian speaking world, but the best Russian analysts are positively brainless about us. One recent report by a respected former KGB analyst, which received widespread distribution, claimed that there is a 50% chance that America will disintegrate by 2010, with open civil war between the states, and other powers stepping in to take their part. California and six western states would go to China, Alaska to Russia, 15 states in the great plains would go to Canada, Texas and select southern states to Mexico and the Eastern seaboard would join the European Union. And remember, there is a 50% chance that this will actually happen. (The Moscow Times, Jan. 12, 2009, p. 11.)
Now, I am a Republican, and a conservative one at that, but the cobwebs of American diplomacy, the neglect that has been so widespread, makes even me hopeful that Barack Obama will invoke a more comprehensive and intelligent exchange with our global neighbors. If we are to avoid wars that we don’t need to be fighting, we need to start with better information and understanding. And that takes more than an informed State Department. It takes a news media that is not led by the habits and traditions of its audience but rather driven by the facts. It may take some work from a Lisa Myers of NBC, or an Ann Comptons of ABC, or a Katie Couric or Bob Scheiffer thrown in at CBS. We need a little old fashioned, facts gathering news, journalism it was once called, not just a good pair of legs.