Once again the Pew Research team gives loads of information that requires time to look through.
The latest Pew survey was of the Council on Foreign Relations and the general public on international affairs.
The immediate down side is in the sub-head of the Pew report: Isolationist Sentiment Surges to Four-decade High
In the midst of two wars abroad and a sour economy at home, there has been a sharp rise in isolationist sentiment among the public. For the first time in more than 40 years of polling, a plurality (49%) says the United States should “mind its own business internationally” and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.
The survey shows a number of differences between the general public and the CFR. So let’s talk about this a bit.
Americans are notorious for being isolationists.
And in recent years the US media have made the situation worse.
The amount of reporting dedicated to knowing what is going on in the world — other than wars, coups and natural disasters — has been getting worse.
When I first moved to China in 1992, among the news organizations with bureaus in China was the Baltimore Sun. Now, the Sun doesn’t even have a bureau for Washington, DC.
Yes, the financial situation for U.S. news organizations is making reporting about the rest of the world worse, but this trend started before Craig’s List and the ever-present World Wide Web.
Publishers took the advice of “experts” who said people want local news. And this is true. But what the publishers heard was “What people want is ONLY local news.”
No one thought that as the world grew more interdependent economically and politically that newspapers and local television stations had a responsibility to explain how Main Street USA was tied to the rest of the world.
Judging by most of the U.S. media, besides Iraq and Afghanistan the only things that happen outside the US borders are natural disasters or coups. There are few stories that talk about the subtle political changes that are taking place in our trading partners. (Well, that is hardly fair. From watching CNN, MSNBC and Fox, they have problems doing those types of stories in the USA as well.)
But the lack of information presented in a way that is relevant and understandable to people in Bryan, Ohio, or Mt. Vernon, Iowa, is hurting American democracy and American international efforts.
People who stay on top of international news see things differently than those who only know what some talk radio blowhard says. China is a great example.
According to the Pew survey 21 percent of the CFR members see China as a major threat. Compare that to 53 percent of the general public.
Do I trust China? Absolutely not.
Do I think they are a threat? Yes, but with reservations.
But when most people just get information about China that is limited to problems in the factories affecting Americans or someone talking about the growing military threat China might pose and no context, what are they expected to think.
Reducing international coverage denies American media customers — our readers, listeners and viewers — that most important commodity that good journalism can provide: Context.
Without fair reporting from around the world, people will either get no information or self-serving information. (I mean really, do you really want to trust only the views of the Chamber of Commerce or Greenpeace on issues such as global warming or trade? But that is what is happening.)
Is it so hard for editors and reporters to open their eyes to see how local and international events are linked?
Is it so hard to think that local readers might want to see a story about how a large and peaceful demonstration in a country could mean a change in that country’s government? And how that change might affect the United States and maybe even those same local readers?
It just takes a bit of understanding that the rest of the world is important.
Unfortunately, too many working journalists and too many future journalists have not learned that lesson.