19 February 2004

The U.S. = Mars

Charles Stross visited the U.S. recently and wrote some wonderful blog entries about his trip. It's fun to see him wrestle with his perceptions of this country, because he's both a good writer and a thoughtful observer.

Two paragraphs of one post in particular made me think for a moment that Mr. Stross has figured out one reason for Mr. Bush's fascination with Mars:
Another thing I needed was my annual reminder of just how parochial the US news media are. Today's half-baked theory: America's view of the rest of the world can best be understood by a European if you start by imagining that America is psychologically located on Mars, fifty million plus kilometres from the quaint neighbours on that funny third planet over there. The quality and quantity of foreign news reporting is absolutely dismal for the most part, highly selective, and framed entirely in terms of the domestic political discourse. ('Political crisis rocks Ruritania! How opinion of US tourists affects balance of power between Ruritanian Royal Family, Junta!') It reminded me of how badly we in the UK need the BBC -- not because the BBC is always right, or always unbiased, or always insightful, but because it provides a reference baseline for the quality and quantity of foreign news reportage in the other media, and the BBC's charter includes the clause 'to educate'.

In the US, I saw precious few signs of a committment to education in foreign affairs outside of a few major broadsheet newspapers and weekly or monthly magazines aimed at a core readership of foreign policy wonks. I can't help feeling that this has contributed to the psychological sense of insulation that keeps people in the US half-believing that the rest of the world either doesn't exist, or is an annoying obstruction created solely to get in their way. Its the News, Stupid. If your sources of information are skewed and corrupt, you make policy decisions based on ignorance. It's a much simpler explanation for the bad craziness that has engulfed us since 9/11 than the conspiracy theories that are doing the rounds: and more importantly, it suggests a solution to the problem.
Clearly, it is in the Bush administration's best interests to keep us on Mars.

(Okay okay okay, it's a lame joke at the expense of Our Great Leader, but I couldn't resist.)