The terrible earthquake/tsunami disaster, along coastlines of the Indian Ocean, left tens of thousands dead and many times more people homeless and weakened. Front pages news stories swept the US corporate media “12,000 dead, 40,000, 60,000 and 100,000 made progressive day by day headlines. Twenty-four hour TV news provided minute by minute updates with added photos and live aerial shots of the effected regions. As the days after unfolded, personal stories of survival and loss were added to the overall coverage. Unique stories such as the 20 day old miracle baby found floating on a mattress, and the eight year old who lost both parents and later found by her uncle, were human interest features. Individualized reports from Americans caught in the catastrophe made national news and numbers of Europeans, and North Americans involved were a key part of the continuing story. US embassies set up hotlines for relatives of possible victims to seek information. Quickly added into the corporate media mix was coverage on how the US was responding with relief aid and dollars. In Crawford, Texas President Bush announced that he had formed an international coalition to respond to the massive tsunami disaster.
The US corporate media coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, for most Americans, was shocking, and emotional. Empathic Americans, with the knowledge that a terrible natural disaster of huge significant to hundreds of thousands people had occurred, wanted to help in any way they could. Church groups held prayer sessions for the victims, and the Red Cross received an upsurge of donations.
The US corporate media coverage of the tsunami disaster exposes a huge hypocrisy in the US press. Left uncovered this past year was the massive disaster that has befell Iraqi civilians. Over 100,000 civilians have died since the beginning of the US invasion and hundreds of thousands more are homeless and weakened. In late October 2004 the British Lancet medical journal published a scientific survey of households in Iraq that calculated over 100,000 civilians, mostly women and children, have died from war related causes. The study, formulated and conducted by researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University and the College of Medicine at Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, involved a complex process of sampling households across Iraq to compare the numbers and causes of deaths before and after the invasion in March 2003. The mortality rate in these families worked out to 5 per 1,000 before the invasion and 12.3 per 1,000 after the invasion. Extrapolate the latter figure to the 22 million population of Iraq, and you end up with 100,000 total civilian deaths. The most common cause of death was aerial bombing followed by strokes and heart attacks. Recent civilian deaths in Fallujah would undoubtedly add significantly to the total.
The Iraqi word for disaster is museeba. Surly the lose of life from war in Iraq is as significant a meseeba as the Indian Ocean tsunami, yet where is the US corporate media coverage of thousands of dead and homeless? Where are the live aerial TV shots of the disaster zones and the up-close photos of the victims? Where are the survivor stories ” the miracle child who lived thought a building collapsed by US bombs and rescued by neighbors? Where are the government official’s press releases of regret and sorrow? Where is the international coalition for relief of civilians in Iraq and the upsurge in donations for Red Cross intervention? Would not Americans, if they knew, be just as caring about Iraqi deaths as they are for the victims of the tsunami?
The US corporate media has published Pentagon statements on civilian deaths in Iraq as unknown and dismissed the Lancet Medical Journal study. It seems US media concerns are for victims of natural disasters, while the man-made disasters, such as the deliberate invasion of another country by the US, are better left unreported.
PETER PHILLIPS is a professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and director of Project Censored a media research organization.