You can be forgiven if you missed the story of a major humanitarian crisis unfolding in Asia. After all, our news media has been focused on really important stories over the past few days. Like Barry Bonds’ indictment — that’s pretty important. There was the 749th Democratic Presidential Debate last Thursday, and that required a lot of time for the pundits to decide if they liked Hillary Clinton that day or not. (They did.) And did you know that a lot of people are going to be traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday? Well, probably, since they always do, but still, they are, and it’s important you know it. Certainly more important than that you hear about what’s happening in Bangladesh.
What’s happening in Bangladesh? Glad you asked. More than 3,000 people are dead, and the death toll could well climb; the Bangladeshi Red Crescent thinks that the toll will ultimately fall between 5,000 and 10,000. They died in the wake of Cyclone Sidr, a Category 4 storm that blasted the low-lying country with a 25-foot storm surge. The immediate human cost of Sidr is not the end, either. On top of the obvious infrastructure destruction that the cyclone wrought was the obliteration of Bangladesh’s rice harvest for this year — leading to the prospect of famine without immediate assistance to the country.
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Now, I won’t say that this has received no coverage from our media, but the coverage has been fleeting and sporadic. Right now, CNN lists it as a less important story than Mike Tyson going to jail for 24 hours. Fox News thinks the news that blond women make men act dumber merits more coverage. Google News’ robots don’t even list Bangladesh on its front page.
The devastation in Bangladesh could have been worse; in 1991, 140,000 Bangladeshis died in a cyclone. During the present catastrophe, the government of Bangladesh can be rightly praised for evacuating over half a million people, and in the process saving countless lives. But the scope of the disaster is still staggering — the estimated fatalities are equivalent to more than three 9/11s, more than five Katrinas. If we remember the numbness we felt as those two disparate disasters unfolded, we begin to understand the horror of what is going on in a small, poor nation on the Indian subcontinent.
Coverage of what is going on in Bangladesh should dominate our news today. Katie Couric and Brian Williams should be broadcasting live each night from Dhaka. Anderson Cooper and Neil Cavuto should be going into the coastal areas and dramatizing the disaster. Larry King should be talking to relief agencies on his show tonight, instead of talking to Kiss bassist Gene Simmons about cosmetic surgery. We should be showing actual concern for our fellow human beings, and the suffering they are enduring today.
But Dhaka is a long way away, and Americans don’t care about what happens in other countries anyhow. So Fox and CNN will go on covering the latest missing woman story, and MSNBC will continue to follow Olbermann with repeats of “To Catch a Predator,” and most Americans will go about their daily business not realizing that something awful has happened on the other side of our world. If they knew, maybe they’d care; maybe they’d donate to the Bangladeshi Red Crescent, or The Hunger Project, to try to minimize the post-cyclone food shortage. Certainly more than a few Americans would want to help, because contrary to what the news media thinks, they do care about what happens to other people, even when they live somewhere else. A pity they won’t hear about what’s going on, then, but I suppose it can’t be helped.
With important news like the death of Kanye West’s mom, how can the 24-hour news channels find a few minutes to talk about the death of thousands of Bangladeshis?