The images of the tsunami are overwhelming, the grief incalculable as the death toll rises to 80,000 and beyond.
As many as a third of the victims have been children, unable to withstand the force of the monstrous waves that struck without warning.
Amid this carnage, some of the leading media outlets in the United States have focused undue attention on the fact that some Westerners have died along with tens of thousands of Asians.
“Many Tourists Are Killed,” read the subhed on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times. (Its main headline drew attention to the high percentage of children who died.)
“Apart from the huge death toll,” Seth Mydans reported for the Times (using a version of the aside-from-that-Mrs.-Lincoln construction), “it was the presence of large numbers of foreign tourists that distinguished this disaster from the many floods and typhoons that take a heavy toll in the region every year.”
He might as well have just said: Rich white folks are dying, too, as he listed all the European countries that had lost people.
To his credit, he was quick to add that “those numbers are tiny, though, compared with the devastation suffered by the mostly poor fishermen, farmers and laborers who populate the low-lying coasts of these South Asian and Southeast Asian nations.”
On Wednesday, the Times played the same harp, with a front-page story by Craig Smith entitled “A Tragedy in Asia Affects All Corners of a Closer World.” While this peculiar ode to globalization acknowledged the “calamitous scale” in Asia, it dwelled on the thousands of tourists, mostly from Europe, that were still unaccounted for. “Only 100 Europeans have been confirmed dead so far,” it said, with about 3,000 missing.
But that pales, if I can use the word, in comparison to the Asians who have perished or are missing.
The Times wasn’t alone.
CNN devoted space on its homepage two days in a row to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model who managed to survive.
Now I know that people like human interest stories. But to focus on those with white skin suggests that some lives are more valuable than others.
© 2004 The Progressive