American TV news has become ever more parochial. Coverage of international issues has declined — falling to an all-time low in 2008 — even as U.S. consumers have expressed frustration at how little our tele-journalists tell us about the world.
ABC has attempted to answer this demand for more international coverage by bringing in veteran CNN foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour to host its This Week program. Amanpour dutifully promised to “open a window on the world.”
Only to get savaged by Tom Shales in The Washington Post. He calls Amanpour, for instance, a “globe-trotting Fancy-Pants,” making her sound more like a fashion model than a serious journalist. Also up for criticism is her inclusion of Ahmed Rashid as a guest. Shales refers to Rashid merely as a “foreign journalist,” so that he seems somehow low wattage in star power compared to George Will. But the Post reviewer neglects to mention that Rashid is a best-selling author, an elegant writer, and an astute analyst. Amanpour asks him to comment on the U.S. economy — a deadly sin, from Shales point of view — even though TV anchors routinely ask American pundits to comment on foreign affairs of countries they’ve never visited (and Rashid has spent plenty of time in the United States).
And then, finally, Amanpour commits the inexcusable faux pas of dedicating an “In Memoriam” segment to “all those who died in war” rather than simply American soldiers. “Did she mean to suggest that our mourning extend to members of the Taliban?” Shales wonders.
Obviously, Shales is unaware of all the civilian lives that have been lost in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But perhaps this ignorance is not so surprising. Shales is a TV critic, after all. And he’s been watching less and less international news on the shows that he monitors. His parochial medium has shaped his parochial message.