The current power outage in the northeastern U.S. and Canada no doubt is very inconvenient, costly, and dangerous. From hospitals running on backup generators with limited reserves, to municipal water systems shutting down, to dormant traffic lights, to gas pumps not functioning, to people without air conditioning, to food in the refrigerator and freezer going bad, this is an awful experience for many millions of people, including my parents, two brothers, extended family, and in-laws who live in southeastern Michigan.
The U.S. broadcast media's coverage of the situation is fairly predictable. Fear, panic, and confusion are the main themes. Some of the concerns are genuine, e.g., wondering whether injury or death will result, or what effect this will have on the economy. Much of it, however, is just uninformative sensationalism, e.g., reporting that there is no indication that it was a terrorist attack when there is no special reason to think that it was to begin with. I didn't hear CNN's Wolf Blitzer or NBC's Brian Williams remark that the blackout was not caused by a meltdown at a nuclear power plant, but the last time I checked there have been just as many meltdowns as terrorist attacks in the United States.
More important is the lack of perspective that the mainstream media bring to bear on the issue. One might go so far as to accuse them of hypocrisy. Millions of Iraqis have been suffering without dependable electrical power, clean water, adequate medical care, etc., for months. And while many unfortunate U.S. (and Canadian) citizens are suffering without air conditioning in 90-degree temperatures and face the prospect of running low on clean water, many Iraqis have gone without any clean water and sporadic electricity for months in 120-degree temperatures, not to mention the trauma and dangers of the ongoing hostilities and occupation. (Needless to say, most Iraqis don't have the luxury of air-conditioning.) Yet their plight receives little attention in the U.S. media, even though our military destroyed their electrical power grid and what was left of their clean water supply. (The U.S. intentionally destroyed most of Iraq's water supply in the first Gulf War with full knowledge of the devastation that it would bring, and then worked vigorously through the U.N. sanctions regime to prevent Iraqis from acquiring replacement parts and purification chemicals, with predictably catastrophic results-another inconvenient fact that the U.S. media ignores--but that's another issue. Click here for a comprehensive account.)
What's more, the U.S. is the richest country in the world, with functioning government agencies and a civilian infrastructure capable of handling the situation and minimizing damage. By contrast, Iraq is decimated by two decades of war and twelve years of sanctions, under occupation, and without a government or any comparable institution capable of addressing the tremendous problems ordinary Iraqis have faced every day for several months, and will likely continue to face for months or even years to come.
The plight of Iraqis should receive at least as much attention as the plight of U.S. northeasterners. Nevertheless, we can look forward to 'round-the-clock coverage of the situation here, and little if any coverage of the much more dire situation in Iraq.
John Turri is a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at Brown University. He can be reached at John_Turri@Brown.edu, or via his blog.