Musee des Beaux Arts. As you know, the horror cast by an Indian Ocean earthquake saturated news coverage both nationally and locally last week, and on Monday, Dec. 27, the Albuquerque Journal front page was exceptional for its odd, some might even say inane, choice of juxtaposed headlines.
The top of the page blared "Waves of Death" with the ensuing Associated Press dispatch telling of millions of people driven from their homes in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, tens of thousands killed and rescuers picking through the debris among the smell of rotting corpses. A gathering of grieving women were pictured standing among the rumble. Beneath the photo, the headline read: "Water Kept Rising. And Rising."
On the same front page, along the right column, the Journal ran a photo of Coronado Mall patrons, with the headline: "Post-Holiday Shoppers Flood Local Stores." (I swear you can't make this stuff up.) The lead of the story follows: "You'd think they'd have had enough already. But there they were on Sunday: loads of shoppers looking for post-holiday bargains, spending Christmas money and gift cards, and — egad! —starting next year's Christmas shopping. It was not a day for the faint of heart."
Body bags. Media critic Doug Ireland, writing in the Dec. 24-30 LA Weekly offers this analysis of European perceptions of the U.S. occupation in Iraq. "Spend a week watching the news broadcasts and TV magazines of the BBC, France2 and Deutsche Welle, all available on many U.S. cable systems,” he writes. “The footage of dead Iraqi babies and children that you will regularly see on European public television is rarely aired on U.S. networks. The regular interviews in Iraqi hospitals with doctors recounting the slaughter of the innocents that show up on European news broadcasts aren't often seen on the all-news cable networks here, let alone on the Big Three broadcast newscasts. ... An on-the-ground study of Iraqi casualties between April and September by Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder newspapers demonstrated that ’Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis—most of them civilians—as attacks by insurgents.' But you're not told this by U.S. TV's ’embedded' reporters, who've traded their reportorial independence for access to the boom-boom footage that drives what Time magazine has labeled the ’militainment' proffered by American television."
Ireland's perspective, though, misses a larger point. That is, we don't see carnage from insurgent attacks or the resulting body bags filled with U.S. soldiers in Iraq very often, either. It seems curious that for the past week, all we've seen pervading our mainstream media following a horrific natural disaster has been carnage, destruction and body bags. But did you know, between the presidential election and the end of 2004, 203 U.S. soldiers have been killed and 1,674 wounded in Iraq? The closing weeks of the year, in fact, were some of the bloodiest for American forces since the Iraq occupation began. Which begs the question: Why is graphic footage of the aftermath of a natural disaster acceptable, but the realities in Iraq are still being censored?