On Famous Deaths, the Media, and Bad Things Worldwide

Forgive me from taking a break from opining on the UN and Syria, but I needed somewhere to put down these thoughts, and what good is having a blog if you aren’t allowed to do that from time to time? It helps that this actually is at least somewhat related to world affairs.

As anyone who’s been within a hundred-yard radius of anyone with a smartphone has learned by now, Whitney Houston passed away tonight, at the age of 48. It’s sad, for sure, as I have fond memories of Ms. Houston playing the Fairy Godmother in the late nineties version Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I do think though that I may have been just on the edge of being too young for her glory days.

In any case, as is the norm in this day and age, within minutes of AP breaking the news, Twitter was inundated with an outpouring of public grief and reminiscing. Which is all well and good, but then I saw this tweet from Andy Carvin:

Andy Carvin Tweets About Syria and Whitney Houston

My initial reaction to this tweet was a form of astonished indignation. “How could people be so shallow? These people have never even met Whitney Houston, first of all. Second, this is one person. Right now hundreds of people have died across Syria.”

Then I paused and thought about that statement, particularly the second part. In my own way, I had to come to the conclusion that my moralistic finger-wagging was rather indefensible. The focus on Syria at the moment is because a larger scale of atrocity than we are used to is occurring before our eyes, broadcast on YouTube and across social media. But as many of the detractors of R2P principles and the growing chorus for intervention in Syria will point out, there are everyday atrocities happening world-wide, out of the spotlight that Syria possesses. How many people have died in the last year in Bahrain? Repression of rights in Central Asia, disease and death in the Great Lakes region, growing political instability in the South Pacific, all manage to pass-by with far less notice.

It’s impossible for even the most informed and passionate individual to keep track of all the evils of the world; who am I to judge people for not paying the proper attention to Syria over a celebrity death?

That said, shifting the focus from individuals to the media as an entity, there I do have feel I have room to find fault. A special was set to air on CNN tonight on the ongoing assault on Homs in Syria; that was bumped for live coverage of Houston’s death. While it’s arguable just who would have been watching CNN at 10pm on a Saturday night anyway, I can’t defend the network for their programming decision. Whichever producer or executive came to the conclusion that since every other network would be covering this story and it is news and therefore wipe the schedule must be ditched was sorely mistaken.

The reaction of individuals can’t be controlled. In learning about Whitney Houston’s death, I can’t blame people for wanting to publicly show their grief, nor can I condemn them for not paying more attention to world affairs, which arguably affect them less than Houston’s passing. The same can’t be said about what stories the media chooses to broadcast. News networks, in particular the major ones like CNN, have more of a responsibility to tell the bigger stories, to use their role as the Fourth Estate to keep focus on things that may slip by our attention otherwise. There’s no way that Whitney Houston’s death will evade anyone’s knowledge for long; the same can’t be said of horrors taking place in areas many Americans couldn’t find on a map.


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