New York’s newspaper war shifts its battleground from Manhattan to Myanmar
In keeping a weather eye on the ongoing newspaper war over New York, today’s front pages of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are instructive. The Journal, given its earlier deadlines, led with the Myanmar cyclone and, for cover art, used a map to illustrate the extent of the damage. The Times split its headlines between last night’s primaries and the cyclone, giving more coverage to the former and devoting its art to Obama and Clinton. Initially, it bothered me that the Times would give more prime real estate to a parochial political story. Then I got into their coverage and my head turned round.
The Times set itself apart by taking an aggressively adversarial approach to the Bush administration’s placing qualifiers on support for aid to Myanmar—a country estimated to have lost 20,000 of its citizens, with another 40,000 missing—while simultaneously doling out an oddly timed tribute to that country’s political rebel, Aung San Suu Kyi (the Myanmar military regime’s chief opponent). To wit:
Australia’s foreign minister, Stephen Smith, was among those who urged countries to focus on helping Myanmar instead of criticizing its government. “The priority now is rendering assistance to thousands of displaced people who urgently need our assistance,” Mr. Smith said in Hong Kong.
Likewise, Joel Charny, vice-president for policy at Refugees International, a Washington-based aid organization, said the Bush administration’s approach could be counterproductive. “To stand up and say, ‘One message is we want to help and the other message is the government is incompetent, and oh, by the way, tomorrow we’re giving a Congressional medal to Aung San Suu Kyi,’ well, that gets their back up,” Mr. Charny said. “I’m not saying the U.S. shouldn’t have concerns about democracy. I’m saying that the idea is you try to make it easier rather than harder for the regime to take on international assistance.”
The Journal, on the other hand, said not one word regarding opposition to Bush’s gainsaying, preferring to stay focused on the tertiary food crisis resulting from the effects of the storm on Myanmar’s rice crop. When it came to the Bush administration making much of U.S. aid contingent on the admission of an American “disaster assessment team” into Myanmar, the Journal simply reported the story straight. One wonders what a Murdoch-run Journal might have reported had, say, the Russians made a similar demand after Katrina.
• Aid for Myanmar Mobilizes, Mixed With Criticism [New York Times]• Death Toll Could Hit 100,000 In Myanmar, U.S. Diplomat Says [Wall Street Journal]• Storm and Crisis: Foreign; Offers Pour In, But the U.S. Is Unprepared [New York Times]