July 17, 2016

U.S. News Media Coverage of Turkey

Maiden's Tower, Bosphorus Strait, IstanbulLike most Americans, I do not know much about Turkey. I have little understanding of their political system, what their leaders are like, what the political opposition is like, how they are on human rights, and so on. When news of the attempted coup broke, I tuned into the cable news coverage that was available. I thought that CNN, MSNBC, and PBS all did a decent job trying to explain what seemed to be taking place. Moreover, I thought that these networks all did a good job of making a compelling case for why this news should be of great interest to those of us here in the U.S. They addressed Turkey's strategic importance, NATO membership, and so on.

One thing that surprised me was that everybody made the point that Turkey was not only a member of NATO but was the only Muslim nation that was a member of NATO. I had been under the impression that Turkey might be Muslim in the sense that the majority of Turks were Muslim, but I thought that their government was actually quite secular and that this was one of the things that distinguished them from most Muslim nations. Maybe this was once true and is no longer the case, or maybe it was never true and I was simply wrong.

The biggest surprise would come the day after news of the attempted coup emerged. I tuned in again because I wanted to find out what happened. The last I had heard, the coup was still in progress. Had it been successful or was it shut down? Despite the previous evening's coverage doing a good job of making the case of why Americans should care about this, I was unable to find any mention of Turkey on CNN or MSNBC. Both were broadcasting from Cleveland and obsessing over Donald Trump. The Republican convention has not started yet, but that and Trump had become the only story that mattered. Business as usual I suppose. I had to search the Internet to learn that the attempted coup in Turkey had in fact been shut down.

When it comes to cable news in the U.S., I am never certain whether this sort of thing reflects their calculation that most Americans simply don't give a shit about anything that happens outside our borders, represents an attempt to steer us to whatever story their corporate overlords want us focused on, or some combination of both. I tend to think that it is probably some of both. In any case, it has become clear that informing the public is no longer their primary goal. I no longer find this surprising, but I still find it unfortunate.