Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Information Processing

On the front page of my local fishwrapper this morning there's a full-width, banner headline about the 12 coal miners killed in West Virginia, with a big color picture of horrified family members and a story that fills the right-hand column and jumps to most of a page inside. After describing the horrific scene in Sago, the story, written by Globe staff, goes on to put the events in context by discussing the Bush administration's retreat from mine safety regulation, including the history of safety violations at this particular mine and the trivial fines that regulators had imposed.

Deep inside the second section of the paper, amidst department store advertisements, is a reprint of a Washington Post story about a U.S. airstrike in Baiji, Iraq, that killed a family of 12, including six children. Although the headline reads "U.S. strike on house said to kill Iraqi family of 12," it is clear that this is not merely something that somebody said. The article, which is six paragraphs long, includes an eyewitness account by the reporter, who saw six bodies of children removed from the house, and a description of television footage showing the same thing. The article includes the following one-sentence paragraph: "The United States has steadily intensified its use of airstrikes against insurgents in Iraq in the past year, increasing the number of attacks from 25 in January 2005 to 120 in November." As far as I know, that is the first time this fact has been mentioned in the Globe.

Now, I'm not so much of a curmudgeon that I begrudge the newspaper giving major play to the drama of the men trapped in the mine and their frantic families. And they have been journalistically responsible by using these events as a hook to discuss the underlying policy issues.

But when my tax dollars are being used to blow up children in their beds at night, that strikes me as equally important. Those children's parents are also dead, but I would imagine that they have other relatives who are just as heartbroken as the families in Sago. I also know why people mine coal -- it's to make the electricity that operates the computer on which I am now typing. I haven't got a clue why Americans are blowing up children in Baiji, Iraq. I happen to think both stories are approximately equally important, but they won't be equally important in our political discourse, because the corporate media decree otherwise.

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