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Waning coverage of Middle East unrest is helping US politicians to avoid big questions.
LONDON, U.K. — Events in the Middle East are entering a dangerous new phase. The so-called “Arab Spring” is morphing into a chaotic autumn. America’s ability to influence events in the world’s most unstable region is weakening. The mainstream media — especially TV news — are paying little attention to this.
That also goes for the Republican presidential candidates, who would naturally rather campaign on domestic issues that resonate with their supporters.
In short, the American news media are doing the political establishment a great big favor. It is not that the U.S. press and TV have deliberately joined a conspiracy of silence. They are just doing what comes naturally.
Far better to give the American audience a diet of the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor, medical fads, the latest gyrations of Wall Street and the shock and horror of falling house prices. Far cheaper, too. It costs a lot for a newspaper or broadcaster to put boots on the ground in foreign conflicts.
The most notable thing about American coverage of the longest war in the nation’s history is that Afghanistan has almost disappeared from the headlines and TV screens. You only hear about it when the Taliban stage a terrorist attack in Kabul, or an Obama administration official (most recently Admiral Mike Mullen) admits that America’s main ally in the war in Afghanistan is also the main ally of the Taliban — which must be the war’s worst kept secret. Afghanistan is a total mess, so why would any American president or presidential hopeful want to talk about it. Better to say nothing.
As for Iraq, where the American taxpayer’s bill will certainly top a trillion dollars, it has become a total black hole in the news environment. The United States has reached the most delicate phase of that fiasco — the effort to extricate our country from a flawed experiment in nation building — but again no one wants to talk about failure. Or even worse, to talk about reaching an understanding with Iran to help stabilize Iraq as our troops pull out.
Iran, of course is nowhere on the American news radar, except when gung-ho talk show hosts suggest bombing it. The media have not spent much time recently explaining why that might not be a good idea.
The war in Libya, where the Obama administration is leading from the rear, got a fair amount of coverage during the most intense phase of what is really a civil war. But now that there are fewer exciting pictures to broadcast and the business of trying to form a government has become complicated, coverage has dropped off sharply. Too bad, because things are now getting interesting as various Libyan Islamists and jihadists try to worm their way into the new regime.
And when it comes to the longest running and most vexing problem in the Middle East, the American media have given only cursory coverage to the Palestinians’ current attempt to seek statehood at the United Nations. Meanwhile, the Israeli government is pouring oil on the fire by giving the go ahead to more Jewish housing in Jerusalem.
Obama and his Republican opponents must be praying that the Middle East will not blow up before Election Day. And hoping it will stay off the front page and the TV screens. The president doesn’t have to ask the media to tone down their coverage of the world’s arc of instability. They couldn’t care less.