American nationalism has dictated the way Americans view the world for decades, and this nationalism is reflected in our media. Americans are infamous for our lack of global knowledge and understanding, and this sheltered viewpoint is exacerbated by the way American media outlets cover international topics. Foreign topics are rarely covered in American media unless they are related to foreign affairs between the U.S, and even then the perspective is often skewed.
This failure to accurately cover foreign topics is explored by George A. Krimsky in “The View from Abroad”. According to Krimsky, British and European media were doing a better job at covering the war in Afghanistan than U.S. media. U.S. media was criticized for “caving in” to pressure from the foreign policy nightmare that was the Bush administration. American journalists often focus too much on portraying America in a patriotic manner that borders on propagandist coverage.
Even as our world becomes increasingly global, largely due to international media (both traditional and social), Americans journalists still struggle to maintain a global mindset. Last month, foreign correspondent Roger Cohen published an op-ed for The New York Times titled “Lebanon Battles to be Born at Last”. In this piece, Cohen painted Lebanon as an outlier that has the potential to be the sole “decent country” in what he refers to as the “wounded land” of the Arab World.
Cohen details the “exhalation of disgust at the thievery, corruption and nepotism that has caused widespread misery across [Lebanon & the Arab World].”
Cohen’s op-ed was not met without criticism. Many claimed that his piece was propaganda that is reliant on outdated notion of a “barbaric” Middle East. Cohen’s thoughts in this piece reflect the all-American fear of the foreign and unknown. Over one quarter of Lebanon’s population is participating in a revolution against their oppressive government, yet his focus is on demonizing the “feeble” Lebanese government and describing the entire country as backwards, uncivilized, and antiquated.
When we look at international media coverage of the citizen-led protests in Lebanon, the lens is much different. Instead of the focus being on governmental corruption, the focus is on the people. L’Orient-Le Jour, a daily French-language newspaper published in Lebanon, published an op-ed by Walid Mouzannar titled “Souvenirs et rêves” (trans. “Memories and Dreams”) that describes his vision of Lebanon.
Mouzannar writes “I remember a country where we celebrated at each occasion in a simple and spontaneous manner…I remember a country where all were proud, where the values of each person were respected…I remember a country where different communities were neighbors…”
Mouzannar’s piece challenges the narrative of Lebanon that those like Cohen perpetuate. Media coverage like this lifts up the voices of the individuals who are being impacted by these events. When American journalists allow nationalism to influence their work to the point of becoming propaganda, we need to shift towards a global mindset. The worldview of journalists should be informed by international interests as opposed to an outdated “America-first” ideology.