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It’s different, they’re white: Media ignore conflicts around the world to focus on Ukraine

A MintPress News analysis found that in a single week Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC ran almost 1,300 separate stories on the Ukraine invasion, two stories on the Syria attack, one on Somalia, and none at all on the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

by Alan Macleod 

Part 6 - All comes down to whose ox is getting gored

While racism is clearly a factor in the coverage, it should be remembered that the bombing of Yugoslavia — a white nation comparable to Ukraine — was celebrated, not rejected. This was in large part because it was NATO itself that was the aggressor.

Media theory scholars have long argued that victims of Western aggression are largely ignored but those of the West’s enemies will be given center stage. In 1988, academics Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky developed their theory of worthy vs. unworthy victims in their book “Manufacturing Consent.” Together, they compared the coverage of two concurrent genocides, one in Cambodia (an enemy state) and one carried out by the Indonesian military (funded and armed by the U.S. government) in East Timor. While the savagery of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge became worldwide news, as the genocide in East Timor reached its peak, coverage fell to literally zero in major media outlets. This and other examples led them to conclude that both the quantity and quality of the coverage of atrocities is dependent almost entirely on two factors:

    1. Who is the perpetrator
    2. Who is the victim

If the perpetrator is our enemy, and there is political capital to be made from highlighting their crime, then the media will deem the victim “worthy”  — especially if the victim is a pro-U.S. figure. If, however, you die at the hands of the U.S. or its allies, you can expect little sympathy or coverage from the media, especially if you are a Communist, Muslim, or any other designation that renders you unworthy of media attention.

In the Ukraine case, the perpetrator is an enemy state (Russia) and the victim is a pro-Western government seeking to join both the European Union and NATO. However, in the other three cases detailed here (Israeli strikes on Syria, Saudi attacks on Yemen, and U.S. attacks on Somalia), the aggressor is either the U.S. itself or its close allies, while the victim is an enemy actor. Hence the complete lack of coverage. Therefore, there will be few — if any — think pieces denouncing the U.S. for its barbarity, nor any calls to create a military alliance to counter Israel, or to take in hundreds of thousands of Yemeni refugees.

Turning the outrage tap on and off is a key way in which media manufacturers consent for U.S. foreign policy, hiding certain atrocities from our gaze and placing others on our screens. To be clear, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine should, of course, be making headlines around the world, and victims should be mourned and perpetrators condemned. However, the vast qualitative and quantitative disparity between coverage of the attacks on Yemen, Somalia and Syria and the attack on Ukraine, which received almost 400 times the attention of the other three combined, is another stark example of how the media is outraged at war only when it wants to be.

While the Israeli attack on Syria and the U.S. strike on Somalia were relatively minor occurrences in comparison to Russia’s invasion, and could therefore be said to deserve less coverage, the continuing Saudi war on Yemen is not. And while the Ukraine attack is new, the beginning of the Yemen conflict received scant attention at the time. Furthermore, all three are a direct result of American policy and could be stopped immediately if the public were sufficiently aware and engaged, thus rendering coverage of particular importance to U.S. audiences.

Americans are united in rejecting Russia’s attack on Ukraine. A recent poll found that only 6% of the public consider its invasion justified, as opposed to 74% against. This suggests that if the media covered U.S. imperialism in the same way it covers its Russian equivalent, then those wars would end immediately. But they do not. And the Ukraine coverage underlines that this is a choice they are making every day.

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