When did the U.S. turn into an introvert?

Rick Hanton

What do you want to see when you look at the newspaper? After reading it, how much more do you know about what has transpired in the world over the last 24 hours? The real question, though, is do you care about what happened yesterday in the whole world, or just in your little corner of the world?

According to the main news providers in the nation like CNN and The New York Times, you don’t care much about what is happening today in the world. I feel that the truth of that is debatable. While each of us probably cares more about what is happening next door than what is happening in New Delhi, that doesn’t mean it isn’t important or interesting to us. I would hope that as a student of higher education, your interest in the rest of the world would be greater than what the small “World” section of the CNN.com main website provides.

Why do we have this dearth of world news reporting? It certainly isn’t the case that most world news suddenly dried up overnight. I think it has more to do with the post-Sept. 11 world and the new U.S. industry of 24/7/365 politics in the United States.

Looking back at the news on CNN.com from Aug. 27, 2000 — via the Internet Wayback Machine — I can see that the top news story was about a fire on a giant TV tower in Moscow. Other news that day discusses a plane crash in Costa Rica, hostages in the Philippines, an Israeli friendly-fire incident and a special report on the drug war in Colombia.

Looking at the same CNN.com this past Sunday, the main stories are about Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) campaign for the U.S. Senate, the cemented BP oil well, Bermuda’s preparations for Hurricane Igor, and a political Youtube video from Lady Gaga. Notice that all of the current top stories happened within about a 3,000-mile radius of the United States.

Now, you’ll have to dig a bit deeper over at CNN.com or visit its major world competitors like BBC News, Aljazeera or Xinhua News to find out about Japan’s issues with China over a contested group of islands, the dozens killed in a blast in Baghdad, or a British terror suspect arrested in Amsterdam. But you might note that all of those stories happened a world away, so why should we care?

We should think about and care about this type of world news because each of these stories is important in world politics, both for Americans and other people around the world. We are going to be better off if China and Japan settle their differences and decide to not battle over who owns the Diaoyu Islands off the coast of Japan. It is in our interest to know how the government of Iraq is faring since the U.S. invasion in 2003 because the outcome of that war will shape the image the people of the Middle East have of the U.S. for decades. Our worry about men like the suspected terrorist in Amsterdam should extend further out than the borders of the United States, because we want a decrease in terrorism and an increase in safety worldwide.

It seems like the terrorist attacks of 9/11 left the United States curled up in a fetal position, not worrying about what happened outside its borders. Thinking that I would get less 9/11 news in October 2001, I pulled up a copy of CNN.com on Oct. 6, 2001. Reading the headlines, I was struck by the three main sections of news: “Investigation,” “Retaliation”and “Recovery.”

Maybe after 9/11 the news companies realized that local and national news “sold” better than world news to the American public. They decided to go where the money and ratings were instead of reporting all the news, U.S. and world news alike, to the American public with equal vigor.

The massive reporting focused on the Sept. 11 tragedy was followed by a focus on the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, then the invasion of Iraq, then went back to politics for the 2008 elections. But, it seems like the focus on politics didn’t stop with the election. For some reason, major news agencies simply started reporting on politics 24/7, making whatever politicians — and non-politicians like Sarah Palin — want to say headline news.

I can understand news agencies like CNN creating separate U.S., World and Mexico news sections, but apparently there was a decision made that the U.S. version of the site would not include much international news and the international version would not include any U.S. news. Can’t I go to one place and get all the major news stories, maybe with a higher percentage from the U.S., but with many stories from England, China or India? If you also realize how U.S.-centric the news has become, I urge you to go find a good international source for news so you can understand what is happening in the world.

The business world today is very international in nature, and many U.S. companies have grown their international business in recent decades. Some U.S. companies have grown to the point that more of their business comes from international sales than from sales within the U.S. We can’t keep looking inwards and worrying about political issues from minute to minute if we are to succeed in the global economy.

Hopefully the news giants realize this fact soon and go back to covering international news and doing investigative journalism, otherwise I worry that their days are numbered.