Media Coverage of Foreign Affairs in Iowa

Image (1) Paul-Deaton-Headshot-150x150.jpg for post 34970“It is not that corporate media outlets intentionally keep us in the dark about things. They have an editorial policy distinct from informing the public…”

In Iowa, the foreign affairs stories in which we engage are those related to our family and friends deployed to fight one of our two wars and several military engagements around the world. The idea that our loved ones will be going to secure supply routes managed by our mercenaries or to suffer injury or death in places with cultures so different from ours is unsettling in a way that is personal and visceral. This we understand.

What is less understandable is the broader scope of foreign affairs from a United States perspective. Why don’t we hear more about things that matter as much as military deployments? There are stories about human trafficking, Vice President Biden’s speech on nuclear disarmament, our covert operations in Yemen and others that go unheard. Part of the answer is that nothing matters more to us than what happens to family and friends deployed to serve in the active duty military. Another part of the answer is that corporate media outlets focus on what will attract viewers, subscribers and advertisers more than on what informs us. Most often, foreign affairs coverage is the bottom of the list even if there are plenty of stories to tell.

We hear speaker and talk show diva Sarah Palin suggest that President Obama should declare war on Iran to demonstrate his “toughness,” and this gets coverage. Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey gave a major speech on nuclear security and lists reasons why the President’s national security agenda should be supported, and who knew? It is not that corporate media outlets intentionally keep us in the dark about things. They have an editorial policy distinct from informing the public and what is a trending topic may be more newsworthy to them than presenting information about the threat that
terrorists could get their hands on a nuclear weapon. This is true for much of the foreign affairs universe of activity.

The financial cost of the wars to Iowans is as real as a load of bricks. According to National Priorities, in fiscal year 2010 Iowa taxpayers will contribute $5.3 billion to defense spending, or roughly $1,765 per resident. If we consider there are about 2.38 people per Iowa household, and the median household income is about $49,007, defense spending represents 8.6% of a typical family’s income. This seems worth covering. Most Iowans would use part of this expense for other priorities, yet the issue of diversion of funds towards militarism is largely absent from corporate media. Instead, we hear stories about supporting the troops.

That media would put emphasis on informing the public is a basic expectation. When what we see and hear are snippets of trending topics selected for their sensationalism or local interest, we are disappointed and uninformed. There is a role for stories like the one in a local paper about an event where the “Persian Student Organization cooked traditional Iranian kebabs called “koobideh” while answering questions about Iran.” It’s just that we shouldn’t have a steady diet of this if we would stay informed in the broader world of foreign affairs. Effective participation in our democracy demands better information about foreign affairs.

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