Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from BN.com
$115.16
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 98%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (22) from $1.99   
  • New (4) from $114.05   
  • Used (18) from $1.99   

Overview

In her impassioned new book, Compassion Fatigue, Susan Moeller warns that the American media threaten our ability to understand the world around us. Why do the media cover the world in the way that they do? Are they simply following the marketplace demand for tabloid-style international news? Or are they creating an audience that has seen too much -- or too little -- to care? Through a series of studies of the "four horsemen of the Apocalypse" -- disease, famine, war and death -- Moeller investigate how newspapers, newsmagazines and television have covered international crises over the last two decades, identifying the ruts into which the media have fallen -- and revealing why.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Tom Goldstein
Criticism of the press for its foreign coverage is hardly novel, but in this unrelenting, uncompromising book, Moeller, an assistant professor of American Studies at Brandeis University, manages to cast a fresh, unwavering eye on journalism...
&151;Columbia Journalism Review
Dante Ramos

Forget the misleading subtitle of Susan D. Moeller's book, for if American news outlets are trying to "sell" international crises, they are doing a terrible job. The cameras rolled as people starved to death in Somalia. Reporters sent back passionate dispatches from Bosnia. Yet sensing little public interest, the network news shows have drastically scaled back their coverage of world news. When the cover of Time or Newsweek features the foreign tragedy du jour, the magazines gather dust on newsstand shelves.

Can the American public really be so callous? "Why, despite the haunting nature of many of these images, do we seem to care less and less about the world around us?" asks Moeller, a professor at Brandeis University. The premise of Compassion Fatigue is that it isn't the public's fault. Moeller suggests that Americans are plumb worn out from lousy coverage of world events and are tuning it out entirely -- and that some news organizations are responding by reporting only the most salacious foreign news.

As evidence, Moeller lists crises during which news outlets disserved their audiences with reductive or overly graphic coverage. For instance, the Ebola virus and flesh-eating bacteria captivated reporters; meningitis and sleeping sickness kill far more people but aren't shocking enough to get much ink, Moeller says. She has a point. It can't be healthy when dozens of newspapers and three 24-hour cable news channels reduce complex international crises to melodrama again and again. But Moeller's long catalogue of overheated quotes and desperate situations is likely, on its own, to drive most readers to compassion fatigue (and also to Compassion Fatigue fatigue, since the book is often as repetitive as the news reports it criticizes).

Moeller views Americans' disengagement from foreign affairs as a new problem, and she finds a new culprit: profit-minded media giants and the substitution of readership surveys for news judgment. It's a reasonable hypothesis. In Hollywood, marketing techniques produced Batman Forever; in Washington, they produced Dick Morris and the Contract With America.

Though Moeller notices that the media have put less emphasis on world news since the collapse of the Soviet Union, she refuses to entertain the idea that Americans actually are less interested in world affairs. She overlooks one of our most ancient traditions: Except during wartime, Americans have unfortunately heeded George Washington's warning against foreign entanglements. It's no coincidence that, like the new isolationism of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot, compassion fatigue became rampant when the Cold War ended.

Take another look at Somalia: People there had been starving to death for a year -- and living in political anarchy for longer -- by the time American cameras arrived in 1992. Media pictures convinced George Bush to send the Marines to Mogadishu with humanitarian aid, but most Americans were surprised when a warlord's forces started killing U.S. soldiers. Suddenly, images of a Somali mob jeering at a dead serviceman flooded American TV. "And so was born the 'Somali doctrine,'" Moeller writes, "the inheritor to the 'Vietnam syndrome' that argued that the United States should not get involved in faraway crises when its own security is not in danger." But that doctrine has nothing to do with tuning out news coverage and everything to do with bad old American isolationism. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Compassion fatigue"--the dulled public sensitivity toward crisis--isn't inevitable, asserts Moeller, director of the journalism program at Brandeis. But formulaic and sensationalistic news coverage promotes it, she claims. In four worthy but somewhat belabored case studies, Moeller analyzes major American media coverage of recent crises, such as the Ebola virus, Ethiopian famine, the assassinations of Sadat and Rabin, and "death camps" in Bosnia. In these stories she found certain things were emphasized, others ignored: coverage of sensational disease, she notes, obscures more ordinary killers; images of starving children overshadow political causes for famine (and famines without photo opportunities are often ignored); the "Americanization" of assassination emphasizes that killers are crazy, rather than politically motivated; and lack of a simple heroes-and-villains story line obscured the Kurdish tragedy. The solution, she argues in an earnest but pollyannaish conclusion, is for the media to invest in international coverage, aiming for nuance and quality over sensationalism. More valuable for its analysis of what's wrong than on how to make it right, Moeller's book could have been made more helpful still through a brief comparison with media in other countries. (Nov.)
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415920971
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Pages: 400
  • Lexile: 1370L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan D. Moeller is Director of the Journalism Program and Associate Professor of American Studies at Brandeis University. She has worked as a journalist for national magazines and newspapers and is the author of Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat (1989).

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

COMPASSION FATIGUE

    1991 was a bad year. Disasters occurred all over the globe: Earthquakes in Soviet Georgia, Iran and Costa Rica killed hundreds and left tens of thousands homeless; a cholera epidemic in Peru killed more than a thousand and infected another 145,000; a cyclone in Bangladesh killed 138,000 and destroyed a million and a half homes; war in Iraq turned two million Kurds into refugees from Saddam Hussein and killed tens of thousands as they fled over the mountains; and famine and civil war in Africa killed hundreds of thousands and left 27 million at risk.

    By early May, spokespeople for international organizations and the relief agencies had run out of hyperboles. "We have had an unprecedented spate of disasters," said Philip Johnston, president of CARE. "We're dealing with 15 of them at the moment." "The needs are overwhelming," said Al Panico, director of international relief for the American Red Cross. James Grant, executive director of UNICEF, said, "These are really the most severe set of problems one can remember coming at one time since the end of World War II." And Richard Walden, president of Operation USA, called the flare-up of global crises "biblical in proportion."

    The international organizations and the relief agencies were forced to practice institutional triage. The Red Cross workers who had experience with earthquakes were tied up aiding Kurdish refugees. Crates of medical supplies, especially intravenous solutions, had been shipped to fight the cholera in Peru, and so were unavailable to send to the cyclone victims in Bangladesh. Blankets and weatherproofing materials needed in Bangladesh had already gone to help the Kurds fleeing Iraq. And food, flashlights, water-purification tablets and water-storage containers were scattered too thinly between famine-stricken regions in Africa and earthquake zones in Central America, the Middle East and Central Asia. Tom Drahman, CARE's manager for Asia, said, "People that have been doing this for a long time are hard-pressed to recall a time in history where things have been so dramatic. It seems there is a disaster, not only of the week, but of the day. It has to stretch (our) finite resources."

    Like emergency-room triage, triage of emergencies does not necessarily mean that the sickest case gets the first and most help. Sometimes the sickest case is the most hopeless case, and receives little more than a Band-Aid of care--just enough so the hemorrhaging is not embarrassing. In the spring of 1991, the short-term calamities eclipsed the longer-term and ultimately more deadly disasters of famine and war. Americans viewed the damages caused by the cyclone and earthquakes as one-shot problems with specific solutions. And they felt guilty about the Kurdish refugee situation, remorseful that the United States hadn't come to the aid of the rebellion. As a New York Times editorial put it: "The plight of the Kurds has priority, since their exodus directly resulted from an American-led war against Iraq. So the refugees and the cyclone and earthquake victims received an outpouring of attention and support. But the starving in Africa, in numbers far greater than the victims of the earthquakes, cyclone, cholera and Persian Gulf War combined, received relatively little political or media attention until late in the summer of the following year.

    With not "enough money, manpower or sympathy to go around," wrote Newsweek, fears for the displaced Kurds and concern for the fate of Bangladesh "submerged an even deeper dilemma: the plight of sub-Saharan Africa . . . in what Save the Children, a relief agency, calls, `the worst famine in Africa in living memory.'" "People worldwide must have the feeling of `African famine again?'" said Dr. Tatsuo Hayashi of the Japan International Volunteer Center. "Donors are tired of repetitious events, and Sudan and Ethiopia are repetitious," said a CARE official in Nairobi. "Every time there's a famine in Africa . . . you can always count on somebody asking, `Hey didn't they just do that last year?'"

    1991 was different than the halcyon years of the mid-1980s when African famine relief was in vogue. In the eighties, Americans were able to focus on one international catastrophe. A BBC videotape of skeletal Ethiopian children dying as the camera rolled aired on NBC in late October 1984 and galvanized public sympathy. The entertainment industry came onboard en masse with the global hookup of the Band Aid and Live Aid concerts. And the song "We Are the World," recorded in 1985 by stars such as Michael Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen, made famine relief the year's cause celebre.

    Six years later, news of African famine evoked a "been there, done that" attitude. "For the most part," said Newsweek in May 1991, the famine in Africa "has not captured the attention of the world press. Journalists already visited this tragedy, during the sub-Saharan famine from 1984 to 1985 that took more than a million lives. Rock stars threw benefit concerts to help raise almost $300 million in relief aid. That the problem has returned full force might seem a slap in the face of philanthropy."

    "Traditional donors, battered by so many appeals, are weary of pouring money into crises that never seem to go away," said reporter Elaine Sciolino in The New York Times that same month. "The result," she added, "is a discouragingly contagious compassion fatigue."

It all started with an advertising campaign. We have all been cued by that famous series of ads by Save the Children. You can help this child or you can turn the page. The first time a reader sees the advertisement he is arrested by guilt. He may come close to actually sending money to the organization. The second time the reader sees the ad he may linger over the photograph, read the short paragraphs of copy and only then turn the page. The third time the reader sees the ad he typically turns the page without hesitation. The fourth time the reader sees the ad he may pause again over the photo and text, not to wallow in guilt, but to acknowledge with cynicism how the advertisement is crafted to manipulate readers like him--even if it is in a "good" cause. As the Chicago Tribune's 1998 series investigating four international charities bluntly stated, "Child sponsorship is one of the most powerful and seductive philanthropic devices ever conceived."

    Most media consumers eventually get to the point where they turn the page. Because most of us do pass the advertisement by, its curse is on our heads. "Either you help or you turn away," stated one ad. "Whether she lives or dies, depends on what you do next." Turning away kills this child. We are responsible. "Because without your help, death will be this child's only relief." In turning away we become culpable.

    But we can't respond to every appeal. And so we've come to believe that we don't care. If we turn the page originally because we don't want to respond to what is in actuality a fund-raising appeal, although in the guise of a direct humanitarian plea, it becomes routine to thumb past the pages of news images showing wide-eyed children in distress.

    We've got compassion fatigue, we say, as if we have involuntarily contracted some kind of disease that we're stuck with no matter what we might do.


But it's not just the tactics of the advocacy industry which are at fault in our succumbing to this affliction. After all, how often do we see one of their ads, anyway? . . . unless it's Christmastime and we're opening all our unsolicited mail.

    It's the media that are at fault. How they typically cover crises helps us to feel overstimulated and bored all at once. Conventional wisdom says Americans have a short attention span. A parent would not accept that pronouncement on a child; she would step in to try to teach patience and the rewards of stick-toitiveness. But the media are not parents. In this case they are more like the neighborhood kid who is the bad influence on the block. Is your attention span short? Well then, let the media give you even more staccato bursts of news, hyped and wired to feed your addiction. It is not that there's not good, comprehensive, responsible reporting out there. There is. "Sometimes," said the late Jim Yuenger, former foreign editor with the Chicago Tribune, "you put the news in and people just aren't going to read it and you have to say the hell with it." But that type of coverage is expensive as well as space- and time-consuming. It rarely shows enough bang for the buck. So only a few elite media outlets emphasize such coverage, and even they frequently lapse into quick once-over reporting. "We give you the world," yes, but in 15-second news briefs.

    The print and broadcast media are part of the entertainment industry--an industry that knows how to capture and hold the attention of its audience. "The more bizarre the story," admitted UPI foreign editor Bob Martin, "the more it's going to get played." With but a few exceptions, the media pay their way through selling advertising, not selling the news. So the operating principle behind much of the news business is to appeal to an audience--especially a large audience--with attractive demographics for advertisers. Those relatively few news outlets that consider international news to be of even remote interest to their target audiences try to make the world accessible. The point in covering international affairs is to make the world fascinating--or at least acceptably convenient: "News you can use." "When we do the readership surveys, foreign news always scores high," said Robert Kaiser, former managing editor of The Washington Post. "People say they're interested and appreciate it, and I know they're lying but I don't mind. It's fine. But I think it's an opportunity for people to claim to be somewhat better citizens than they are."

    But in reality, they're bored. When problems in the news can't be easily or quickly solved--famine in Somalia, war in Bosnia, mass murder of the Kurds--attention wanders off to the next news fashion. "What's hardest," said Yuenger, "is to sustain interest in a story like Bosnia, which a lot of people just don't want to hear about." The media are alert to the first signs in their audience of the compassion fatigue "signal," that sign that the short attention span of the public is up. "If we've just been in Africa for three months," said CBS News foreign editor Allen Alter, "and somebody says, `You think that's bad? You should see what's down in Niger,' well, it's going to be hard for me to go back. Everybody's Africa'd out for the moment." As Milan Kundera wrote in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, "The bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered over the memory of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the assassination of Allende drowned out the groans of Bangladesh, the war in the Sinai Desert made people forget Allende, the Cambodian massacre made people forget Sinai and so on and so forth, until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten."

    The causes of compassion fatigue are multiple. Sometimes there are just too many catastrophes happening at once. "I think it was the editor Harold Evans," said Bill Small, former president of NBC News and UPI, "who noted that a single copy of the [London] Sunday Times covers more happenings than an Englishman just a few hundred years ago could be expected to be exposed to in his entire lifetime." In 1991, for instance, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the plethora of disasters.

    So compassion fatigue may simply work to pre-empt attention of "competing" events. Americans seem to have an appetite for only one crisis at a time. The phenomenon is so well-known that even political cartoonists make jokes about it, such as the frame drawn by Jeff Danziger of a newsroom with one old hack saying to someone on the phone: "Tajikistan? Sorry, we've already got an ethnic war story," and another old warhorse saying on another phone: "Sudan? Sorry we've already got a famine story."

    Even during "slower" disaster seasons, there is always a long laundry list of countries and peoples in upheaval. Many and perhaps most of the problems are not of the quick-fix variety--the send-in-the-blankets-and-vaccination-supplies-and-all-will-be-well emergencies. Most global problems are entrenched and long-lasting, rarely yielding to easy solutions available to individuals or even NGO and governmental authorities. "The same theme just dulls the psyche. For the reader, for the reporter writing it, for the editor reading it," said Bernard Gwertzman, former foreign editor at The New York Times.

    Tom Kent, international editor at the Associated Press, noted the same problem in covering ongoing crises. "Basically, in our coverage we cover things until there's not much new to say. And then we back off daily coverage and come back a week or a month later, but not day-to-day." He could tell, he said, when the sameness of the situation was drugging an audience into somnolence.

We can certainly get a sense for the degree that people care about a story in the public. For example, when Bosnia started, people were calling up all the time for addresses of relief organizations and how we can help and all that. We did lists, and then requests dropped off. And in the first part of the Somalia story we heard "How can we help?" "How can we get money to these people?" We sent out the lists, then those calls dropped off. Either the people who wanted to contribute had all the information they needed, or there just wasn't anybody else who was interested. In Rwanda, we got practically no inquiries about how to help, although our stories certainly suggested there's as much misery in Rwanda as anywhere else.

    Sometimes to Americans, international problems just seem too permanent to yield to resolution. Sometimes even when problems flare out into crisis--by which point it is too late for the patch-'em-up response--the public is justified in believing that outside intervention will do little good . . . so what's the use in caring?

    It's difficult for the media and their audience to sustain concern about individual crises over a period of months and maybe even years. Other more decisive--and short-term--events intervene, usurping attention, and meanwhile, little seems to change in the original scenario. There is a reciprocal circularity in the treatment of low-intensity crises: the droning "same-as-it-ever-was" coverage in the media causes the public to lose interest, and the media's perception that their audience has lost interest causes them to downscale their coverage, which causes the public to believe that the crisis is either over or is a lesser emergency and so on and so on.

    Another, especially pernicious form of compassion fatigue can set in when a crisis seems too remote, not sufficiently connected to Americans' lives. Unless Americans are involved, unless a crisis comes close to home--either literally or figuratively- unless compelling images are available, preferably on TV, crises don't get attention, either from the media or their audience. Some of the public may turn the television off when they see sad reports from around the world, but unless the news is covered by the media, no one has an opportunity to decide whether to watch or not. "Thanks to the news media," noted Newsweek, "the face of grieving Kurdish refugees replaced the beaming smiles of victorious GIs." Publicity, Newsweek argued, "galvanized the public and forced the president's hand." In just two weeks, the Bush administration sent $188 million in relief to the Kurds. It's a bit like that tree falling in the middle of the forest. If it falls and no one hears, it's like it never happened. The tree may lie on the forest floor for years, finally to rot away, without anyone ever realizing it once stood tall.

    If the public doesn't know, or knowing can't relate in some explicit way to an event or issue, then it's off the radar. And that is the most devastating effect of compassion fatigue: no attention, no interest, no story. The lack of coverage of starvation in Africa in the spring of 1991, for instance--even though the famine was potentially more severe than the one in the mid-1980s--meant that there was no understanding of the crisis, no surge in donations and no public pressure on governments or international organizations to do something. Africa was not a "headline event." Public response, humanitarian agencies believe, is in direct correlation to the publicity an event receives; the donor community depends on the media to spotlight the world's disasters. But the problem with famines, for example, is that they just aren't considered newsworthy until the dying begins. Before the massive die-off, relief agencies searched, said Joel Charney from Oxfam America in early May 1991, "to find a way to dramatize the situation in the Horn of Africa to the point where the media will begin to pay attention."

Some crises are reflexively covered in the media. The media, print and broadcast alike, enthusiastically report on natural disasters, for example. These once-a-year or even once-in-a-lifetime events are in the "Wow! What a story!" category. When NBC anchor Tom Brokaw learned that one of the Yellowstone forest fires was near to an NBC correspondent who was about to do a live report near Old Faithful geyser, he exclaimed off-camera to the correspondent, "Holy shit!" The blood-pumping, adrenaline-high excitement is the reason many journalists are in the profession. Crises are the stuff of myth and movies; they send a journalist's heart racing--and they also send everyone to the TV or newspaper to find out what is happening.

    But much of journalism is repetitious--or at least seems that way. Turn on the news and you see crime stories, scandals, budget reports and even full-blown crises that all sound alike. Ironically, even though the uncertain outcome of a catastrophe is what makes it so compelling--both to report on and to consume as news--once the parameters of a news story have been established, the coverage lapses into formula. Mythic elements--the fearless doctor, the unwitting victim--will be emphasized, but they will fall into a pattern. Myths, after all, are stories. Some are heroic, some are tragic, most are predictable.

    Formulaic coverage of similar types of crises make us feel that we really have seen this story before. We've seen the same pictures, heard about the same victims, heroes and villains, read the same morality play. Even the chronology of events is repeated: A potential crisis is on the horizon, the crisis erupts, the good guys rush in to save the victims but the villains remain to threaten the denouement. Only the unresolved ending makes the crisis narrative different from a Disney script where the protagonists live happily ever after. The dashing French doctors and American Marines rescued the starving brown child-victims in Somalia, for example, but the evil warlords stole away the chance for peace and prosperity. "Especially in America, we like to think of things in terms of good guys and bad guys," said Malcolm Browne, former foreign correspondent for AP, ABC and The New York Times. "If one of the partners in a conflict is one that most people can identify with as a good guy, then you've got a situation in which it's possible to root for the home team. That's what a lot of news is about. We love to see everything in terms of black and white, right and wrong, truths versus lies."

    By power of suggestion, the media so fix a conception in our minds that we cannot imagine the one thing without the other. "We do mislead," said Browne. "We have to use symbolism. Symbolism is a useful psychological tool, but it can be terribly misused. It can be misleading. It can lead to great cruelty and injustice, but all of those things are components of entertainment." Once a story commands the attention of the media--or once the media deems a story worthy of attention--reporting styles, use of sources, choice of language and metaphor, selection of images and even the chronology of coverage all follow a similar agenda.

    Other distortions occur. Sensationalized treatment of crises makes us feel that only the most extreme situations merit attention (although the media still self-censors the worst of the stories and images from crises--such as the most graphic pictures of those Kurds killed by Iraqi chemical weapons in Halabja or the photos of trophy bits of flesh and body parts flaunted by Somalis allied with Mohammed Farah Aidid). Dire portraits are painted through relentless images and emotional language. A crisis is represented as posing a grave risk, not only to humanity at large, but to Americans specifically. Unless a disease appears to be out of a Stephen King horror movie--unless it devours your body like the flesh-eating strep bacteria, consumes your brain like mad cow disease, or turns your insides to bloody slush like Ebola--it's hardly worth mentioning in print or on air.

    It takes more and more dramatic coverage to elicit the same level of sympathy as the last catastrophe. "Can shocking pictures of suffering, which elicited so much charity in 1984, save those at risk in Africa and the Subcontinent this time?" asked Newsweek about the famine in 1991. "Images are stopgap measures, at best; and their repetition breeds indifference." What is strong today may be weak tomorrow. Journalists want their coverage of crises to be a "page-turner," but frequently the public's response is to just "turn the page." Voila. Compassion fatigue.

    The Americanization of crises also plays into this proclivity. Americans are terribly preoccupied with themselves. The Americanization of events makes the public feel that the world subscribes, and must subscribe, to American cultural icons--and if it doesn't or can't it is not worth the bother, because clearly the natives are unworthy or the issue or event is. Media consumers are tied to a tether of cultural images. This is a fact well-known yet rarely acknowledged. Peoples in other countries know that when they use Western icons to help define their struggles the West pays greater attention. So the student democracy movement in Tiananmen Square made sure to carry their Statue of Liberty in front of the cameras and protesters outside an Indonesian courtroom sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" while facing the microphones. Would our interest in those events have been as great without those signifiers? We draw historical parallels and make cultural connections between our world and that of the "other." The lone man defying the Chinese authorities by standing in front of the line of tanks was for us another Patrick Henry shouting, "Give me liberty or give me death." We take for granted the placards quoting Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr., which are written in English--but are carried by citizens of China or Croatia or Chechnya.

    And when the natives of other countries haven't drawn our parallels for us, the American media suggests similarities. "I'm big on comparisons," said Karen Elliot House, president of Dow Jones International, the parent company of The Wall Street Journal. "I think most people want to know are we better or worse than Poland and why." The American filter, the notion of relevance to the United States, is very important. Since our knowledge about the lands outside our borders is minimal, even the abbreviated version of events which makes it into the news has to be translated for us. "Remember all these countries in Eastern Europe have been lost to American consciousness for 50 years," said Wall Street Journal former foreign correspondent Walter Mossberg. "In order to get people to understand why they should care about this, you do have to resort to historical analogies."

    Political scientists Richard Neustadt and Ernest May noted, in their book Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers, that in "serious" situations decision makers refer to past events "in the form of analogy with someone speaking of the current situation as like some other." "The success of the Bush policy in equating Bosnia, in the public's mind, with Vietnam," commented Johanna Neuman, former foreign editor for USA Today, led to Clinton's "ambivalence" about involvement. "In the face of this political judgment not to intervene," Neuman said, "television pictures tugged at the public's heartstrings, but only briefly after each episode of violence. There was a half-life to public reaction, as talk about the marketplace massacre was soon replaced in television studios by analysis of the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding skating scandal." The Kundera theorem of only one crisis at a time held, speeded by the use of historical precedent prompting Americans to an immediate political position--in this case a disinclination to get involved--and a disinclination to learn more.

    Journalists, like the rest of us, see the world through the lens of their own culture. They, like we, can't much help it--but they could try harder to explain the world in its own terms. "Why do we have to constantly describe things in terms of American television shows?" criticized the late Karsten Prager, former managing editor of Time International. "Who gives a damn about the reference to Barney?" Former U.S. News foreign editor John Walcott also admitted being wary of analogies, although using them himself on occasion. "I wrote one into a story a couple of weeks ago," he said in mid-1994, "where I was saying that Nelson Mandela was being called upon to be both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to his own country. But that was merely a sort of tool for bringing home to Americans the enormity of his task and also something of his personality--because he has elements of both--to make you more familiar." In this light, the assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin becomes the martyred Lincoln, the ill-fated Gandhi family becomes the ill-fated Kennedy clan and the debacle in Bosnia becomes either a quagmire like Vietnam--as President Bush suggested--a test of appeasement like Munich or a holocaust like the Nazis' Final Solution.

    Of course, there is a peril for those journalists who use analogies to spark readers' and viewers' understanding of an event within the space of a sentence or two--beyond the danger of grossly oversimplifying the event. The journalists have to be fairly confident that their audience is familiar with the analogy--which is why, typically, only the most common references are used. As AP's Tom Kent put it, "I'm surprised that many readers know what Munich is. Somebody asked me the other day if we should write a story comparing the siege of Gorazde to Dien Bien Phu. Well, by the time you get through how they're not the same, you've already lost 1200 words." Historical analogies, said Kent, "are dangerous. I would much rather coach someone to say `Bosnia is Munich' than to say it ourselves."

    The premium on news gathering is to select such details from an event as can give a reader a sense of identity with the topic. "Don't drive the reader away with great long gobs of dutiful background," said Yuenger. "Slip it into a story in a way that's natural and doesn't make the reader's head hurt." "Done right," Bill Small added, "it can be a tool to set the stage for important opinion-making. In television, without the space [that newspapers have], it is the only way to provide background." It is easier, faster and more provocative to weave those details together toward an end of creating arresting, if familiar images than of creating a complex and esoteric account. It is easier, faster and more provocative to say that Rabin is a martyr like Abraham Lincoln than to explain the intricacies of Rabin's history and the relationship of his government to Israeli society and the Palestinian peace process. "By reducing news to images in that way," said former foreign correspondent Malcolm Browne, "most of its important content and practically all of its thought is eliminated. And so news is no longer a tool for viewers and readers to reach important opinions about, it's a manipulative kind of operation."

    So, of course, we fall victim to compassion fatigue.

    Crisis coverage is deja vu all over again.

THE PRACTICE OF JOURNALISM
AND COMPASSION FATIGUE

In mid-January 1991, during the first night of Operation Desert Storm against Iraq, millions tuned in to CNN as its reporters gave live accounts of the bombing of Baghdad. Said writer Peter Coffee, "The truth behind such catch phrases as `small world' and `global village' has rarely been as clearly shown."

    But in the early morning hours that Thursday, one reporter's comments revealed how even cutting-edge satellite technology is limited by the human element. "I wish I could tell you what was happening in the other directions," the reporter said, as he described for the CNN audience the scene outside his window. "I wish we could find an extension cord for this phone."

    The audience listened to the technological miracle of live reporting from a hostile combat zone, but could only hear what the reporter said while tied to his tether of a phone cord. High technology has made the world smaller, but it has not made journalists omniscient.

    We, the consumers of the American media, are also tied to the end of a too-short cord. Our cord is the media itself. What we know about the world is circumscribed by what the media are able to tell us--and choose to tell us--about the world. And their omissions, wrote New York Times columnist Max Frankel, have broad ramifications. "A shallow understanding of the world will damage the nation's sense of itself, its commerce and its standard of living and may blind it to even greater threats."

    Compassion fatigue ensures such a shallow understanding.

"Reporters love the word `crisis,'" said Bernard Gwertzman, now editor of The Times on the web. But what makes a crisis? "I don't have a definition," Gwertzman said, "some things feel like a crisis and others don't."

    Stories traditionally are published or fronted or aired depending on the answers to a range of questions. Timeliness: Did the event just happen? Proximity: How close is the event, physically and psychologically? Prominence: How many people have some knowledge or interest in the subject? Significance: How many people will (potentially) be affected by the event? Controversy: Is there conflict or drama? Novelty: Is the event unusual? Currency: Is the event part of an ongoing issue? If not, should people know? Emotional appeal: Is there humor, sadness or a thrill? And when the medium is television, a final question looms: How good are the pictures?

    How are those questions applied to international events? News values are not universal; they are culturally, politically and ideologically determined. According to a 1996 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans pay close attention only to those news stories of "natural or man-made disasters and stories about wars and terrorism involving the United States or its citizens." The media, said one veteran foreign correspondent, is only interested in "earthquakes and revolution."

    A 1995 Pew study outlined the media's coverage of international affairs as the following:

1. 40 percent of international news stories have conflict or its "conditions" as "the direct driving event."
2. "Foreign events and disasters usually must be more dramatic and violent to compete successfully against national news."
3. One-third of all international stories are "essentially about the United States in the world, rather than about the world."
4. Certain regions and topics are under-reported: Africa and South Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands, and agriculture, demographics and education.

Many studies have also noted that events occurring in the United States' neighbors are also underreported. "It was Scotty Reston who once wrote," recalled Bill Small, "that Americans will do anything for Latin America except read about it." "The United States," said Gwertzman, "is traditionally isolationist, more than most countries. It doesn't take much to persuade our people that foreign affairs is a very secondary kind of story. Americans say `Who cares?' It's a kind of know-nothingism, but it can be pretty powerful." Attempts to broaden the news menu--even slightly--have not met with success. For its 75th anniversary issue, Time magazine compiled a list of its ten worst-selling covers since 1980. They included: "Anguish Over Bosnia" (May 17, 1993), "Benjamin Netanyahu" (June 10, 1996), "Boris Yeltsin" (March 29, 1993) and "Somalia: Restoring Hope" (December 21, 1992). Only two foreign stories made the covers of Time's best sellers of all time--the death of Princess Diana and the start of the Persian Gulf War. What foreign news sells, these statistics suggest, is dramatic moments, not thoughtful analysis. "For example," said the Miami Herald's director of international operations, Mark Seibel, "the quintessential foreign Miami Herald story was the bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires. Now, that plays to all our audiences. You've got a terrorist attack, the Jewish center, involving Latin America. You can't ask for a better story."

    Disasters, together with U.S. war and terrorism stories, are Americans' favorite news items." "Armageddon is intrinsically entertaining," observed former foreign correspondent Malcolm Browne. "The book of Revelation is one of the most popular biblical ones." Violence--a "big bang"--trumps almost all other kinds of news. A CBS producer who covered the war in Lebanon in the early 1980s observed, "You've got a TV audience that's used to war movies. Real explosions have to look almost as good. There's almost a boredom factor." If the news isn't up to Hollywood caliber, indifference can steal in. Without snazzy production values, a war sparks no interest.

    It's not that the media--even editors and producers--typically lack imagination or initiative. But they do have a finite amount of money to spend on covering the news. For example, the three leading video news agencies (APTV, part of the Associated Press, Worldwide Television News, and the video division of Reuters) bitterly contest their market share, as the news organizations that use them are economizing by cutting back on the services they use. To boost their dominance, each of the agencies strives for the most dramatic pictures, with the result, said Mathias Eick, an African correspondent for Worldwide Television News, that "It is left to the people on the ground to decide what is worth the risk and what is not. I leave it to your imagination what happens if you say to your boss that an assignment's too risky, and your competitor gets the picture." Of 23 Associated Press journalists killed on the job since 1876, six have died in the last five years--four of them photographers. The recent trends of crisis coverage and cost consciousness have meant that journalists--who are increasingly free-lancers, with little institutional support--are having to put themselves in increasingly risky situations to get the images of violence that are compelling enough to shoulder the stories onto air or into print.

    Not every story seemingly worthy of coverage will make the media's news budgets. For TV, it costs about two or three thousand dollars for a ten-minute satellite feed--double that if a network is sending pictures for both the morning and evening news. "Budgets make a difference," said ABC's Ted Koppel. "It would be nice to pretend that news organizations cover all major crises wherever they happen, whenever they happen, but we don't. We have only so many reporters, producers, camerapeople, only so much money to spend. Every new disaster that strikes is covered, not just on the basis of the story's importance but also on the basis of allocating resources." "We do nothing that costs less than $10,000 when we move somewhere," said CBS's Allen Alter. "You just see the dollars flying out the window, and then when you need to go to a place like Iraq or Sarajevo, they say, `Time's up, no more money.' So what do you do? It's a lot of prioritizing by me and other managers about is it worth it."

    "The costs are very much a factor in the economy of the '90s, much more so than they were in the early '80s," continued Alter. "I think people in the news business, in the networks, in newspapers everywhere, . . . ten or so years ago--before money- and belt-tightening and us and the other networks being taken over by real businessmen--used to say, `Go do it, I don't care what it costs as long as it looks good.' And now it's: `What does it cost? And I'll tell you if it's worthwhile, see how much I want to spend on that.'"

    In the spring of 1991, for example, news organizations were suffering from having spent so much money on covering the war in the Gulf. A conflict in which Americans are engaged absorbs all the dollars, time and space allotted for international affairs. "If there was a civil war in Chad and 50,000 troops got in there tomorrow," said Alter, "you can bet that tomorrow Chad would be on the front page and everybody would know a lot about Chad. And in Somalia, a country that had no running water and no electricity, we built the equivalent of three television stations there in a few days and everybody was transmitting live pictures from Mogadishu." It's not the major stories that suffer in coverage, it's the midlevel crises that receive less attention because of all the money flowing to the one top item. As a result, the American public gets a less well-rounded portrait of international affairs.

    Money is essential. Without the financial resources, there's no story. "We're very, very conscientious about how much stories cost," said ABC foreign editor (and former comptroller) Chuck Lustig. "We get daily rundowns about how much we spent today and how much we will spend tomorrow. We're very insistent on people, when doing story proposals, doing budgets. And the other thing is when we go places and do stories, we try to do more than one story while we're there--costbreaks." Still, many argue that the built-in waste and excesses at the networks rival that of the U.S. government. "Hell," said former CBS vice president Peter Herford, "they even exceed it."

    When deciding where or whether to go cover a story, location is another factor. How do the media choose which crises to cover? Crises are covered for political, strategic, commercial and historical considerations. But even when foreign editors think that there is news that needs to be covered, where it comes from makes a difference. "Somehow in the competitive marketplace for space within the paper," said Simon Li, foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, "somebody sets the bar pretty high for stories from South America. Now maybe if we had a more brilliant reporter there, more stories would get in. But pragmatically, there doesn't seem to be that craving for stories from there. Try that in Israel--there'd be no question." Yet newspapers do a better job than television at representing global diversity. Brookings Institution public policy expert Stephen Hess conducted a study of the media between 1989 and 1991 and discovered that newspapers reported from 144 countries (out of a possible 191 countries), and television reported from 79. Television's relentless focus on the Middle East (5 percent of the world's population, 3 percent of its GDP, but 35 percent of the foreign dateline stories) helped skew the coverage away from other regions. Hess found that when he assessed the media's coverage in terms of population, it "grossly underrepresents Asia . . . and somewhat underrepresents Africa." Coverage of the Americas, he found, was relatively proportional and the Middle East and Europe were overrepresented. When he analyzed the coverage against the wealth of nations, "western Europe and Asia are underrepresented, eastern Europe and the Americas are in balance and Africa and the Middle East are overrepresented."

    Adding CNN to the picture changes it somewhat. Hess discovered in his study of television news in the last six months of 1992 that "CNN reported from almost twice as many countries (forty-one, as opposed to twenty-six on ABC, CBS, and NBC combined)." But he noted that "they covered the same subjects in about the same way."

    There are several tongue-in-cheek equations floating around that purport to formalize the business of deciding what crisis to cover. At the Boston Globe, "it was a figure of about 2.43 and divide the number of bodies from the miles to the Boston Common. I can't remember if it was the numerator or the denominator, but if it was over 2.43 it was a page-one story," joked former foreign correspondent Tom Palmer. You also had to put the GNP of the country into that formula. "For instance, if it's Japan, that cuts the mileage in half." More simply, said Ted Koppel, "The closer to home that a crisis strikes, the more likely it is to get attention."

    Location. Location. Location. "It's not so much the event as where it's happening," said the Journal's diplomatic correspondent Robert Greenberger. "I swear to you," said his colleague, Walt Mossberg, "this applies to all the newspapers, some more, some less. Is it a place Americans know about? Travel to? Have relatives in? Have business in? Is the military going there? You're not going to get on page one with something about Bangladesh nearly as much as you do with something about some country where your readers have some kind of connection."

    In the crisis-prone year of 1991, with little left in the till and with the cutting of television news division budgets, Koppel said, the networks, especially, couldn't afford to cover all the disasters that occurred far from home. So they chose chauvinistically. The media don't necessarily cover crises "on the basis of how many people are involved," said Koppel. The allocation of resources is decided on grounds other than the sheer number of those at risk. "It becomes a question of American involvement," said Koppel. "I would argue the reason we're focusing on [the Kurds] is that there are still a lot of Americans involved over there." National security interests and the direct involvement of Americans trump the numbers. "That's not only a political or economic reality, it's a human one. We tend to care most about those closest to us, most like us. We care about those with whom we identify.

    "One little girl trapped at the bottom of a Texas well had the entire nation holding its breath," he said at the start of a Nightline program. "The plight of Kurdish refugees in Iraq has at least engaged our interest. But millions starving in Africa, as many as 25 thousand drowned in Bangladesh, over 1,000 killed by cholera in Peru barely get our attention. Why?"

    Columnist Barbara Ehrenreich, of Time magazine, answered Koppel bluntly on the same show with a new factor. Race matters. "If there were a couple of million blond, blue-eyed people facing starvation somewhere, I think the media coverage would be so intense we'd know their names by this time. We'd see them as individuals." The Chicago Tribune led a 1990 article about Americans' lack of interest in foreign coverage with this anecdote: "At a gathering of Third World visitors here [in Washington, D.C.] recently, an African stood to ask a question of columnist James J. Kilpatrick. `Why is it that American journalists don't care about my country?' the African asked. `What country do you come from, sir?' Kilpatrick responded. `Uganda,' the man answered. `Why the hell should I care about Uganda?' said Kilpatrick, as diplomats around the room wheezed and struggled to catch their breaths."

    "Unless Americans are involved in the story," the article continued, "the level of interest among many readers and most editors ranges from pale to pallid." But, the article concluded, "Their interest perks up a bit if there are pictures of some major calamity, bloody pictures. . . . Any foreign story without blood or Americans or both has a tough time."

    It is difficult to find news in the media about sub-Saharan Africa, for example, unless the United States is involved or something horrific has happened. It isn't called the "Dark Continent" for nothing. The newsroom truism goes: "One dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English bobbies, who are worth 50 Arabs, who are worth 500 Africans." "There is a certain arbitrary number game we play," admitted Gwertzman from The New York Times. "How many have to get killed before it's news?"

    Much of the developing world used to have a better time of it, during the Cold War, when it could be viewed as part of the Communist-Free World chessboard. The Cold War turned even obscure international news into events in the national interest. Journalists covered the proxy wars that raged, ignited in part by the inherent instability of newly postcolonialist nations and fueled and sustained by the geopolitical objectives of the Americans and the Soviets. But now, in the absence of the communist bogeyman, how does the media relate national interest to events in remote locations? "Frequently," said Michael Getler, former deputy managing editor at The Post, "that's done through the human factor." Tom Kent from AP told of his experience with two similar Africa stories:

We made a real commitment to the story of a huge ethnic killing in Burundi, but, due to distances, we could not get the kind of color in the writing and graphics that we got out of Rwanda. Tens of thousands of people were killed in Burundi, as they were in Rwanda. But in Rwanda we were able to get people to the scene and write it really well, and we got tons of play. In Burundi we got very little play. So the question is: Do Americans care about Africans getting killed? And the answer is: Depends on how you write it. . . . Have you ever picked up the New Yorker--an old New Yorker--and found a page and a half about how ball bearings are made, which you'd never read, but it's so well done that you're reading it? That's what we have to do with foreign news.

    In an absolute sense, coverage of the world has suffered since the fall of the Soviet Union. Arms control stories, for example, don't have the resonance they did during the Cold War and neither do stories about conflicts in the former "proxy" states of the United States and the U.S.S.R. Except for the "reflexive" kind of stories, the no-brainers that scream to be covered, the developing world is now largely ignored. "One of the things that I regret is that there are vast regions of the earth that we don't cover better," said Yuenger in 1994. "I should have devoted more time and energy to Third World thematic stories, and I'm trying to, I just haven't done that very well."

    In the post-Cold War era, journalists are now covering the news from an American perspective--not a U.S. versus Soviet perspective, although that perspective is more a function of what the home office is looking for than what the people in the field are finding. "That's part of the tension between the foreign correspondents and the editors and Washington staffs back here," said The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, "because the foreign correspondents obviously tend to see more of the perspective of the country they're in and less of a narrow American perspective." Carroll Bogert, foreign correspondent (and former acting-foreign editor) at Newsweek, agreed that what was covered "has to do with the predilections of the editors in New York." How the decisions are made about what to cover is "a fairly flukey thing, I think," she said. "There was one editor who just for a long time had a thing about Yugoslavia. You know, it's a lot of messy ethnic things, and the editor felt Americans didn't know or care about Bosnia. And some editors find China tedious. Other times I think it's just quirks of fate. Media watchers and others often see conspiracy, but it's not something that's deliciously complex. We just want to get the story out. There's a lot that's just accidental blundering and happenstance."

    Henry Grunwald, the former editor-in-chief of Time magazine and a former U.S. ambassador to Austria, wrote in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs that in the aftermath of the Cold War's certainties, the media is "searching for a different organizing principle--North-South tensions, religion versus secularism, nationalism versus internationalism." "To the extent that it can be done at all," he said, "it will take all the skills of reporting, writing and reasoning, plus a few tricks of the trade usually described under the heading of `human interest.' That often means an appeal to terror and pity, the stuff of tragedy (and sensationalism)." Or what Yuenger called a "rich, red raw meat" kind of writing.

    "I think the entire profession is leaning toward the bring-it-down-to-the-man-in-the-street level, to the human level," said Juan Tamayo, former foreign editor at The Miami Herald. "We're heading into a period in which foreign reporting, which used to inform and educate, is now being asked to entertain," he continued. "How can we change our product to attract or keep our readers? And the answer is, give them entertaining stuff. Let's not bog them down with all this heavy crap, let's entertain them. We're not giving our readers news anymore. We're not giving them something to chew on. It's light. It's fluffy. It's crap."

    To fend off readers' compassion fatigue, sensationalism, formulaic coverage and references to American cultural icons often predominate over thoughtful, less reflexive reporting. As journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair, nearly all reporting on Africa is a pastiche of Evelyn Waugh's Scoop and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. "Until recently," observed African historian Roland Oliver, "there were at least the Cold War and the struggle against apartheid to provide some ongoing themes of continent-wide dimensions. Now, it seems that . . . we are presented only with civil war, famine and AIDS, with the same or similar pictures used over and over again. It is not that the scenes depicted are untrue. It is that they represent such a small part of the truth."

    Multiple academic studies have borne out this statement, observing that coverage of the South, especially the developing world, is even more likely to be sensational in nature than coverage of Northern and Western events. The image of Africa as "primitive" and "tribal," for example, persists in words and images--we can't seem to shake the mythic Africa, made famous by Stanley and Livingstone, Teddy Roosevelt and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Coverage of Africa still runs heavily to such topics as travel safaris and animals--National Geographic-style--or war, epidemics and famine. Stories either emphasize the exotic or the crises. To check this, think of Rwanda. Recall how many stories appeared on Rwanda before the recent genocide that didn't mention Dian Fossey's gorillas.

Too much harping on the same set of images, too much strident coverage with insufficient background and context, exhaust the public. "With Bosnia, I think," said Karen Elliot House of The Wall Street Journal, "I find The Post and The Times coverage extremely difficult to read. All of them to me are like reading chapter one over and over, or they're like opening a book in chapter 13. You don't know what came before and you don't know what comes next, you just know that it's like a movie stuck, or a record stuck. It just doesn't advance."

    And stories on television are worse--typically episodic and dramatic, giving the "who-what-where-when," but not the "how" or "why" of a foreign story. This is not only bad journalism, it's bad entertainment. As Franklin Roosevelt, the master player of the American psyche, observed, "Individual psychology cannot, because of human weakness, be attuned for long periods of time to a constant repetition of the highest note in the scale." Undifferentiated mayhem leads to emotional overload.

    But in fairness, this style of coverage is not always an active choice--it can be the result of the logistics of covering global news. Many problems of coverage stem from faults inherent in the news-gathering process. For example, lack of language training makes journalists dependent on translators and other intermediaries. As a rule, American correspondents do not speak the local languages of Africa and Asia--and even of much of Europe. And in some regions, their primary sources for leads--the local media--are often either unreliable or nonexistent. As a result, the correspondents become overly dependent both on government or other official sources for information, learning only the one side--the official spin--and on the pictures of the news events, which often depict seemingly self-explanatory violence.

    Lack of a sufficient number of correspondents to adequately cover a region also hampers coverage. "TV has a smaller newsgathering staff overseas than the wire services (though both tend to rely heavily on stringers and news exchanges with foreign news organizations)," noted Bill Small. Partly, added former TV and wire service reporter Malcolm Browne, that is because the function of the television networks "is not so much to gather the news as to package it. The big TV news money goes for production, satellite communications, anchor salaries, transportation and hotel costs for the supporting crews and much more. . . . The TV correspondents themselves sometimes feel lost in the crowd."

    As news budgets tighten and bureaus abroad are shut down--especially in network television--foreign correspondents are forced to cover more and more territory. The "news net," the pattern of locations where full-time foreign correspondents are posted, often precludes--or at least makes difficult--the gathering of stories from regions and countries outside that net. "Today," wrote columnist Max Frankel, in late 1994, "each network pretends to `cover' the world with seven or eight full-time correspondents; none of them breathe the air of South America and few ever tour Asia or Africa. For filler, they buy footage from foreign networks and part-timers. To be sure, when American troops are sent abroad and when the President sojourns at a colorful (or comfortable) foreign summit, the great anchors--Jennings, Rather and Brokaw--can be found reading the nightly news from a distant beach or rooftop. But their customarily swift return pronounces even those foreign stories instantly dead."

    "Are newspapers any better?" Frankel asked.

    "Not many," he answered. "USA Today, which proclaims itself a model for the future, normally devotes more space to the United States weather map than to all foreign news." In 1994, The New York Times had around three dozen full-time correspondents abroad, the Los Angeles Times had almost that many, The Washington Post fielded two dozen as did The Wall Street Journal (not counting 60 or so on the staff of its European and Asian editions). The Christian Science Monitor and the Chicago Tribune each kept about a dozen reporters overseas. But add all these numbers together, noted Frankel, and the result is that "America's picture of the planet is painted by a total of only 400 American correspondents, including those from news magazines and wire services, plus a few hundred foreign nationals assisting them."

    As a result, no longer residents of all the countries they cover, journalists become parachutists jetting madly to regional crises, jumping into situations cold. This manner of covering the world is nothing new, it's just becoming more common in more places. Transportation and communication technology have made parachute journalism feasible now for television as well as print reporters--as long as a journalist is able to put in 18-hour days, reporting in one time zone while feeding stories to New York on another. "Technology has ruined the life of the foreign correspondent," bemoaned NBC reporter Richard Valeriani. Journalists can now spend more time getting to and from stories than actually backgrounding and covering them. The classic tale is told by Ken Auletta in his book about the three major networks: "Bill Stout of CBS was in Saigon and was urgently dispatched to Sydney, Australia, where the executive producer in New York wanted him immediately. `Jesus, you know how far Sydney is from Saigon?' said Stout. `It's an inch and a half on my map,' shouted back the producer."

    Parachutists are generalists, "trained in crisis, not countries," said former foreign editor Johanna Neuman, who should know. "They live for the anecdote that captures a sense of place." "Nobody hits the ground running like television reporters," said Steven Hess. "These people are brilliant for 72 hours. But tune in a week later and you realize how thin their understanding of the story is." This "fireman's" ability to fast-focus on an erupting crisis has abetted journalists' tendencies to lapse into formula, sensationalism and Americanized coverage. As foreign correspondents are chosen less for being regional experts than for being good writers and a quick study, the images they bring back--especially for television--are increasingly generic.

    The "generic" effect is accelerated when parachute TV journalism degenerates further into "voice-over" journalism. Cutbacks in the networks' budgets means that reporters are increasingly turning into packagers, narrating from New York or London over someone else's videotape. And when the tape comes, not from a foreign correspondent with the network but from a video wire service, former NBC executive Tom Wolzien said, "Nobody has the foggiest idea who made it or whether the pictures were staged." The correspondent doing the voice-over often has little background on the story and little personal knowledge of the situation. CBS correspondent Martha Teichner described her distress about doing voice-overs: "I was asked to do Somalia for the weekend news and I've never been to Somalia and I'm thinking, Oh my god, what am I gonna do? I get every bit of research I can find, but even if I'm correct and accurate, I'm superficial. And I don't want to be superficial."

    Photographer Susan Meiselas noted the same tendency in print journalism. Newspapers and magazines, she said, "would just as soon use a stock picture as send someone out to do any real reporting." As a result, the marriage between a reporter's piece and the accompanying still images can be strained at best.

    A third limitation to adequate reporting stems from a lack of access to an area--through government prohibitions or failures in transportation. The media are often handicapped by official restrictions on movement and coverage. "We can't get into Saudi Arabia on any active basis," said CBS's Allen Alter. "We try all the time, when there's any kind of military crisis in the Gulf, and the Saudis say ask the Pentagon, and the Pentagon says you have to ask the Saudis, and we never get anywhere, and soon the event is over. We can't get into Syria, except for Damascus, and they control it. You can't get into Iraq, except when they want to let you in."

    In Cambodia under Pol Pot, in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, in South Africa during apartheid, in Israeli-occupied Gaza during the Intifada, in Sudan, in Tibet, in southeastern Turkey, visas into a country or access to a specific region are often denied to journalists. A study by media analyst William Adams, for example, found that "during the height of the worst massacre in modern times, the networks' evening news coverage of Cambodia averaged only ten minutes a year. The carnage was virtually ignored until it was far too late to arouse world attention." The Pol Pot regime refused to allow Western journalists to enter the country. The story could still have been reported from the outside using the testimony of those who had escaped the killing fields, but journalists were skeptical of the extraordinary reports from those few refugees who had fled across the border to Thailand. Journalists wanted either to see the condition s with their own eyes or to source the story with a "dispassionate" Western observer--such as a worker with a humanitarian agency. Barring those two possibilities, the story didn't get told.

    The hostility of governments or rebel groups as well as problems of transportation and communication can make remote reporting a necessity. The genocidal fighting in Rwanda, for example, was more often covered from the more convenient refugee camps in friendly territories than from the war-torn country itself. But even when there's little danger, airline schedules and routings in certain parts of the world, such as Africa, are so minimal that it is often faster to travel from one neighboring capital city to another by way of Paris or London or Frankfurt. And once a journalist is ensconced in a country, it can often take days or weeks to travel around getting the story, occasionally out of touch with the home office during that time. Because news gathering for each story can take so long, other stories are consequently missed. Media critics Sanford Ungar and David Gergen told of the instance when a Washington Post reporter missed covering two attempted coups in African countries as a result of two weeks of incommunicado traveling with the Ethiopian rebel forces in Tigre. As a result of such incidents, editors and producers are reluctant to agree to the time commitment necessary to cover events on the ground in remote locations. The consequence is that even major stories are covered at a distance, such as the reporting on famines and disasters in Africa from the European offices of aid or U.N. organizations.

    The tyranny of numbers or money or geography or access may keep certain disasters effectively invisible. Relatively few people at risk of dying or dying in out-of-the-way locations where Americans have little or no security or business interests, or dying where journalists can't get visas or have to put their lives at risk may doom a disaster to obscurity. "If the story is a famine in the Sudan," said the late Lee Lescaze, former foreign editor at The Wall Street Journal and The Post, "I make the same callous decision that other people do, that who cares about the Sudan? It's not high on anyone's priority and it's an incredibly nasty place. You probably don't rush there. If it's that dangerous, it's not worth it. On the other hand, going to Sarajevo, that's worth it. You can get wounded or killed in Sarajevo, but at least it's a `who's trying to kill you?' not some drunken guy floundering down the street." The most insidious of the reasons for minimalist reporting is the constant restriction of time and space. The world cannot really be covered in the 21 or 22 minutes of news broadcast in the networks' evening programs or in the hundred-odd pages of the newsweeklies or even in the thick wad of newsprint of the Sunday New York Times. Given newshole constraints, the stories most likely to disappear from news programs and newspapers are continuing international stories. "Ultimately, we're in the business of triage," admitted John Walcott when he was at U.S. News. "That's what I do, is triage, and so do my counterparts everywhere else."

    The finiteness of time and space in all three mediums--television, newspapers and newsmagazines--is exacerbated by the media's proclivity to feature domestic news, especially of an "entertaining" nature. The trend is especially prominent at the networks' flagship programs: ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, witness the fact that all three have had features with such names as "American Agenda," "Eye on America" and "The American Dream." According to The Tyndall Report which monitors the networks' news programming, in 1989, ABC, CBS and NBC collectively devoted 4,032 minutes to stories from correspondents posted at foreign bureaus. By 1995, that figure had declined to 1,991. ABC went from 1,397 to 784, CBS from 1,454 to 740 and NBC had the largest percentage drop, from 1,181 to 467. The Report's content analysis of the three programs showed where the lost minutes were going. In 1995, for example, the Big Three spent 1,592 minutes on the O.J. Simpson murder trial, 418 minutes on the Oklahoma City bombing and 318 minutes on the war in Bosnia.

    By its nature, television is an instrument of simplicity. In a typical length story of a minute 20 seconds, a correspondent has at most 150 words to speak, or about a third to a half of a typewritten page. Even a story at double that length cannot provide much context or background. Television is essentially a headline service. The late Dick Salant, president of CBS News, measured Walter Cronkite's copy and discovered it added up to two columns of The New York Times. "Even my most cleverly written monologues never told more than half the story," admitted Malcolm Browne about his reporting for ABC from Vietnam. "And despite their factual accuracy, they didn't convey the sense and feel of reality; at root, they always smelled of greasepaint."

    It's not only that broadcast news stories are of necessity short, it's that news--especially international news--is often simplified by television's packaging of it. For example, there are "tell" stories, described by Allen Alter as "when the anchor tells it without pictures--when he's just doing ten seconds without pictures. `In Britain today they voted on blah blah blah.'" And there are "newsreel" stories, described by Alter as "voice-overs back-to-back, about four or five items. We used to do them as individual voice-overs, but now they're kind of bunched together and we run them one after the other. Cairo, Baghdad and Baton Rouge--fifteen seconds each, and flood update."

    But television does have compensation in its pictures. "We're very conscious here, in all of what we're doing, that we must exploit the tools available to us to the maximum possible extent to preserve our position up against the guys who make beautiful color moving pictures," said Robert Kaiser, former managing editor of The Washington Post. "Words are challenged, and if we don't have the best possible words we can get and the most vivid writing we can get, then we're failing."

    The pressure is on at newspapers, too, for shorter stories, because space is shrinking and because the big complaint they hear from readers is "I don't have time." Average-length stories have dropped from a high of 1,000-1,200 words to 700-900 words, although many foreign editors argue that the news shrinkage has caused "an improvement" in coverage. Stories are "tighter, more to the point," "more thoughtful, more comprehensive, better written" and "better at telling readers about the significance of the news." The increasing difficulty of getting stories in has caused editors, such as Simon Li to make "smarter selections about what stories to run." And the late Jim Yuenger noted that the foreign stories "really are better written--if they weren't, I wouldn't be able to get as many of them into the paper as I do."

    Long stories are agreed to less automatically. At The New York Times, for example, a reporter can't write a story that exceeds two columns--about 1,800 words--without getting masthead approval for it. In cases where approval is given, the story is called a "Special Report." Art is required and the copy has to be divided up into packages, each with its own subhead.

    (Ironically the one paper, USA Today, charged with initiating the slippery slope of shorter articles and more pictures has been, Peter Herford said, "the only paper I know which increased its story length over the past 15 years." And Bill Small suggested that USA Today has in fact "changed most of America's major newspapers mostly for the better--in graphics, sports detail, weather, financial reporting and feature writing. And today's version has far more content, including foreign news, than its critics think. It is not America's best read paper for nothing; in most markets [and in some ways, in all markets], it provides much that the local newspaper does not.")

    The wire services, too, (or the "news agencies" as they prefer to be called now that the technology has changed) have felt the pressure to conform to the graphic and visually laden television and USA Today-type journalism. At AP, said editor Tom Kent, "we have been forced to think more like a newspaper than we ever did before." Fifteen or 20 years ago, when teletype machines oozed out 50 words a minute, a 500-word story on the wires was a very long story. Then high-speed transmission came along, and an average story became 800 to 1,000 words. But increasingly stories are sent out keyed to the layout demands of the member papers. Instead of sending out stand-alone text, a package will be created of story and a sidebar and pull-out quotes. "The AP and UPI," said Small, "are often as guilty as their clients in providing the factors [that] lead to compassion fatigue. They, too, emphasize coverage of what their clients want and they too are criticized in many underdeveloped countries (and even in many fully developed ones) for the Americanization' of their coverage."

    Rarely first off the mark in international affairs, the newsmagazines are especially dependent on peripheral images and graphics for their appeal to consumers. As Walt Mossberg, at the photographless Wall Street Journal, said: "I think some of the most powerful news stills are in the newsweeklies. Somalia was a good example of that." John Walcott told of the extraordinary hoops which U.S. News would go through to put graphics into a story. A cover article that ran in February 1994 on military foreign policy, for example, featured a detailed illustration of life aboard an aircraft carrier. "It literally had a two-page gatefold graphic that took you a half an hour to get through," he said.

The ultimate size of it was driven very largely by the fact that no one had ever done a cutaway graphic of an aircraft carrier. I was astounded to find this out. Well, it turned out that the raw material was all classified. So we had to go through this big song and dance to get the drawing from the shipbuilder, which we finally did. Then we actually sent the graphic artist out on the carrier. He went out for three days and walked all over the carrier with his Polaroid camera and his sketchbook to peruse the thing. That resulted in that cover package amounting to three to four pages.

    But despite such outstanding efforts, in many ways, the newsmagazines are losing their relevance. "Newsweek is something of a lemming," said its former acting-foreign editor Carroll Bogert. "The newsmagazines are a particular breed of animal which watch what the other media do in order to do stories that reflect the public interest--even more, I think, than other media that tend to follow the general public mood. That's the whole point of reading Newsweek. You open it up to find the things that were defined by other media to be current. So if other news media--the networks, The Times, The Wall Street Journal--if they're covering a story to death, than we can't not cover it to death.

    "I think the growth of TV news--not specifically CNN, but also the networks' expanded news coverage--has changed the whole configuration," she continued. "CNN meant that The New York Times could not just give you the facts, because that's what CNN did. If you look at The New York Times, they do now what we used to do. They have a running story and they have a sidebar. If The Times is doing that, then we can't do it and we, in turn, have to turn in another direction. And the question is, what do we do? And I think the answer, at Newsweek, is more voice. You're not just getting the facts, you're getting someone's view of the facts."

    Many critics have charged that the media has been policy-driven, that the great international story in past years was the Cold War contest--to the exclusion of all else. "Now," as The Post's Robert Kaiser has said, "just as diplomacy is completely discombobulated, so is journalism." Now the North Star of coverage is often the competition--from both the high and low ends of the spectrum. "One of the great dangers in journalism--and we all succumb to it from time to time--is writing for each other," said Walcott. "We're sitting around writing stories saying, Wait till they read this at The New York Times!' We're insecure about how we're getting along, because it takes a certain amount of courage to go off on your own." And Jim Yuenger at the Chicago Tribune admitted, "There's no avoiding the fact that we have gone to color and graphics more, partly as a result of USA Today. I don't have a problem with what we've done, but how much of this stuff are we going to do? Where are we going to stop so that we don't look like a cereal box?"

    As always, newspapers, newsmagazines and television don't want to get beat by the competition--either in the stories they cover or in the packaging they come in. As a result, much of the media looks alike. The same news, the same pictures. What's the inevitable result much of the time?

    Compassion fatigue.

    Compassion fatigue is not the inevitable consequence of similar events or lingering events. It is a consequence of rote journalism and looking-over-your-shoulder reporting. It is a consequence of sensationalism, formulaic coverage and perfunctory reference to American cultural icons. So the challenge is for each member of the media in each of the three genres to cover untold stories and to cover the obligatory stories in a distinctive manner. "You must say about Bosnia or Somalia or Chechnya, `There's all this human tragedy going on, and it should be reported, and this is why,'" said former L.A. Times foreign editor and former New York Times foreign correspondent Alvin Shuster. "You just have to come at it in a different way. I've always felt that you have to tell people things they should read, even if they don't seem to be all that interested in it. You can't just take a poll every day and say, What do you want to read today?' If they're tired of Chechnya, that doesn't mean we can't go on with Chechnya. We have to, but we have to do it in some way that's going to attract the reader."

IMAGES AND COMPASSION FATIGUE

"For just an hour or so," wrote novelist Martin Amis after hearing CNN's breaking story of the death of Princess Diana, "it felt like November 1963." He said he turned to his two sons and told them, "You will always remember where you were and who you were with when you heard this news." Although for Amis "a sense of proportion" soon returned--the "true comparison" being, "of course," "not with Kennedy but with Kennedy's wife"--for others the comparison lingered. The shock of Diana's death was likened everywhere to the Kennedy assassination. Hyperbole was rampant. New Yorker writer Kurt Andersen repeated one editor's comment to him that "This is the most important event since John F. Kennedy was assassinated."

    It wasn't, of course. Indeed, there was very little that was apt about the analogy . . . with one key exception. Both John Kennedy and Diana Spencer had during their lives become world-renowned cultural icons. And their metaphoric stature became even more clear upon their deaths. If President Kennedy became, in hindsight, King Arthur who had reigned for one glorious moment in Camelot, Princess Diana became Helen of Troy whose beauty launched a thousand ships. For all her worthy causes--AIDS, hospices, land mines--Diana was most famous for her face. "What made millions love her, what made her unforgettable," wrote Life magazine in its Collector's Edition, "was not her words, nor really any specific achievement. It was her visual eloquence--her style, her empathic gestures, the drama that played out on her beautiful face." Her face launched a thousand magazine covers--43 of them in People magazine alone. "In the 16 years since her marriage," wrote Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, "she became not only the most famous woman in the world, but the only personality who consistently sold big in the global marketplace."

    The media clearly understood her ability to boost sales and ratings--and gauged their coverage of her death and funeral accordingly. "We pretended," wrote New York Times columnist Max Frankel, "that a sad accident was a universal catastrophe, that the deportment of Britain's monarchy bears on the fate of humanity and that civilization's great challenge now is to rewrite the laws of privacy, to make the world safe for celebrity." USA Today's total circulation for the week after Diana's death was several hundred thousand above normal. The Washington Post sold more than 20,000 additional copies of its Sunday editions the day Diana died and the day after her funeral. Time magazine sold 850,000 copies on the newsstands of its first issue about Diana's death and 1.2 million newsstand copies of its commemorative issue. To put that in perspective, a respectable newsstand sale of an average issue is 180,000. Those two issues were the largest sellers in the history of Time magazine--a history that dates back to 1923. And television seemed to report on nothing else. According to The Tyndall Weekly, which tracks the three networks' stories, the Monday night after her death the networks devoted 95 percent of their broadcasts to the story. By the week's end, her death had received more nightly coverage than any event since the 1991 coup against Gorbachev.

    Diana's success at selling papers and magazines and boosting ratings was just one more goad to the industry to celebrity-ize the news. And the fact that her death received more network news coverage in a week than the landing of U.S. troops in Somalia--or even the O.J. Simpson trial, the Mississippi River floods or Hurricane Andrew--was a clear sign that the trend was continuing. At her death, Diana most clearly represented the late-20th-century phenomenon of the melding of news and entertainment, the vanishing boundaries between newsworthy events and celebrity spectacle. "Only the most determined literalist," wrote Alter, "could fail to see a connection between her death and her epoch, a time--our time--when celebrity obsession seems as out of control as a hurtling Mercedes on a late summer night in Paris." Corporate pressures, the bottomline imperatives of the mega-media conglomerates have pressured their news components to produce entertainment-oriented reports. But this, acknowleged former U.S. News & World Report editor James Fallows, is a "Faustian bargain. . . . In the short run it raises your audience," he said, but "in the long run it threatens to destroy your business, because if the only way you make journalism interesting is by making it entertainment, in the long run people will just go to entertainment, pure and simple, and skip the journalistic overlay."

Media moguls have long known that suffering, rather than good news, sells. "People being killed is definitely a good, objective criteria for whether a story is important," said former Boston Globe foreign correspondent Tom Palmer. "And innocent people being killed is better." The selective coverage of foreign events is coverage of the deaths of the famous, of famines and plagues and genocide. Watching and reading about suffering, especially suffering that exists somewhere else, somewhere interestingly exotic or perhaps deliciously close, has become a form of entertainment. Images of trauma have become intrinsic to the marketing of the media. Papers are laid out, newsmagazine covers are chosen, television news is packaged to make the most of emotional images of crisis. "The kinds of dramatic pictures of starving kids," said CBS News foreign editor Allen Alter, "which started on the BBC and kind of filtered over to the States, the Rumanian orphans and things like that, those are the kinds of images where people [in the media] say, `Oh, my God,' and use them over and over."

    As various academic studies have observed, photographs which accompany stories on international affairs--especially from Africa, Asia and the Middle East--commonly feature mayhem and pathos. "As for international news," said Malcolm Browne, the journalist who took the iconic Vietnam War image of the burning monk, "I think we do care more now about the really poignant image from wherever it happens to be. As a page-one leader, not necessarily attached to the story, but with a reefer saying, `Here's your BB [Bloated Belly--shorthand for "starving child"]. Details within.'" Americans expect the worst, and the photographs in the media--whether ad campaigns or humanitarian appeals--reinforce their audience's predispositions.

    The media rarely act on the basis of the "pleasure principle;" they are more likely to run striking but essentially negative news images than feel-good pictures. Yet various studies conducted on direct-mail fund raising in the donor community have suggested that most people have a distinct preference for positive photographs. Identical appeals were married to either upbeat (clean child smiling) or depressing (dirty child sad) images. The direct mail with the positive photographs garnered slightly more donations and greater sums of money per household than those with the negative images. Threatening and painful images cause people to turn away, and since the media prioritize bad-news images, this tendency may partially account for Americans' compassion fatigue.

What does it mean when we become blase about the pictures we see? Images of suffering and disaster--from pictures of the grieving Princes William and Harry to photos of the flattened Mercedes in the Paris tunnel--are appropriated to appeal emotionally to readers and viewers. As The New York Times columnist Max Frankel says, "Conflict is our favorite kind of news." Crises are turned into a social experience that we can grasp; pain is commercialized, wedged between the advertisements for hemorrhoid remedies and headache medicines. In that cultural context, suffering becomes infotainment--just another commodity, another moment of pain to get its minute or column in the news. Our experience and our understanding of a crisis is weakened, diluted and distorted. If the news shows prompt us to equate chronic famine with chronic fatigue syndrome we are somewhat relieved. It helps absolve us of responsibility for what we see and can do little about. So with relief, we forget and go on with our everyday lives--until some other crisis image seizes our attention for a second.

    Simple pictures, emotional pictures, pictures that can be distilled into a plain and unmistakable message can drill into the minds and hearts of their audiences. John Fox, an Eastern European specialist at the State Department, told of the photographs that came out of Bosnia after a busload of refugee children was shelled. "The images just kept mounting," he said. "The images came, they never stopped, and that's what got to people . . . you had to steel yourself just to get through the day."

    The public screams, "Stop those images!"--meaning: "Do something!" but also, sometimes, meaning: "I don't want to know any more." Didactic images can overload the senses. A single child at risk commands our attention and prompts our action. But one child, and then another, and another, and another and on and on and on is too much. A crowd of people in danger is faceless. Numbers alone can numb. All those starving brown babies over the years blur together. "Maybe we've seen too many anguished faces in too many faraway places pleading for help through our television set," wrote St. Petersburg Times columnist Jack Payton in response to the deluge of crises in the spring of 1991. "Maybe the Kurds, the Bangladeshis, the Ethiopians and the Mozambicans have finally pushed us into the MEGO, or My Eyes Glaze Over, syndrome. Maybe Joseph Stalin was right after all when he said, `One death is a tragedy, 1 million deaths is a statistic.'"

    The New York Times tested that principle in one of its stories that same spring, interviewing 50 Americans across the nation. Many said they were "moved by the suffering, but overloaded, confused, even numbed by so much sorrow from so many places at once. . . . Kay Hamner, an Atlanta executive, and Roux Harding, a Seattle window cleaner, find the images on the evening news strangely unaffecting. `You can see real true-to-life pictures, but your mind reacts to it almost as if it's just a movie,' Ms. Hamner said. Mr. Harding remarked, `It's too surreal when you're watching television.'"

    New York University communication scholar Neil Postman was not surprised by the comments of those interviewed in The Times. "The sheer abundance of images of suffering will tend to make people turn away. People respond when a little girl falls down a well. But if 70,000 people in Bangladesh are killed, of course people will say, Isn't that terrible' but I think the capacity for feeling is if not deadened, at least drugged." "People seem to be paralyzed or just giving up," observed Tom Getman, director of government relations for the Christian relief organization World Vision, in 1991. "They seem to be saying to themselves, `With so much going on, there's little one person can do.'" The public can imagine the rescue effort needed to rescue one trapped little girl, one starving child threatened by a vulture, but the mind boggles at the logistics necessary to save millions.

    Some people don't want to be reminded of their helplessness. "I get upset watching the babies dying," said Caroline Trinidad, a housewife and mother of four interviewed in The Times article. "Who the hell wants to see that? I switch the channel." Others feel drained by all the tragedy and by the seemingly repetitive crises. "Americans just get tired of seeing starving people on television," said Al Panico of the Red Cross. "They end up just turning the television off."

    Sometimes the fatigue is due to simple overexposure. The same thing that happens to movie stars and rock stars can happen to crises. They can get overexposed. (Oddly, Princess Diana seemed to be the one exception to that rule.) And when they are overexposed, they quickly become yesterday's news. Ignored and forgotten. Fashion moves on. The Bosnians, the Kurds, the Ethiopians, the Sudanese, the Somalis just disappear from view. Although it is demonstrable that many global events have a grave political, social or even ethical significance for the United States, it is conventional wisdom that Americans know little and care less about international affairs. Photographer Luc Delahaye took a memorable picture of an infant rescued from the Tuzla fighting in Bosnia, its face covered with blood. The photograph made the cover of Newsweek . . . and it was one of Newsweek's poorest-selling issues of all time. As Smith Hempstone, the former U.S. ambassador to Kenya, put it: "I think that we may have reached the son of horror fatigue' situation in which, when you've seen one starving baby, you've seen them all."

Crisis coverage demands pictures. Arresting images may not prevent compassion fatigue--they may in fact promote it by causing viewers to turn away from the trauma--but no pictures for a crisis is even worse. If a story doesn't have a visual hook, an audience will often ignore it. Better to have their interest for a time, than not to have their interest at all. "If a reporter has a special story," said the Tribune's Jim Yuenger, "he or she is urged to take photos--although there's no requirements that they do that--but to take photos, or hire a photographer to take them, so that we can take that special story that we pay all this money to maintain them overseas for, and make it as attractive to the newspaper as we possibly can."

    Especially when covering international affairs, journalists must excite the imagination of their readers. "A story is more likely to get on the front page if it's a feature that has a good picture," said Bernard Gwertzman, former foreign editor at The New York Times. "And we won't run a series without a lot of pictures. We have to have them. That's the trend all newspapers are moving to. . . . The way it works here is we just do our stories and hope we have decent pictures to go with them. And often if we get good stories and no pictures, we hold up the story until we get some pictures." The Associated Press, which is the main source of international news for most of the nation's print and much of the broadcast media, will also hold stories, for a cycle or a day or longer until pictures are available. "If it's urgent, of course, we can't do that, but otherwise we'll hold it as long as it takes," said Tom Kent, the international editor. "I've been at papers at decision time and I've seen AP stories get thrown in the wastebasket because there was no picture or graphic to go with them."

    For the newsmagazines the pressure is even greater to include photographs and graphics. At a time when television, 24-hour radio and niche magazines are all bombarding the public with easily digestible news, the general newsweeklies have all decided that to attract and hold readers' interest, they need to regularly redesign their layouts, use graphics and run compelling pictures. "There are a lot of news stories that do not lend themselves to good pictures," noted Newsweek's Carroll Bogert. "Like the Japan story, there you have Asian guys in suits. Couldn't be more boring. Sometimes there's a story you have to cover but there's no good visual. A lack of good pictures can kill it."

    With a distant event there is a need to make an audience "feel" the situation. Northern whites had long acknowledged the legal apartheid of the American South, but they didn't "feel" its effects until photography and television in the late 1950s and 1960s brought the emotional blow of racism to the front pages and airwaves. Images help to legitimate the use of the word "crisis" for an event. A "crisis" occurs when the abstractions of injustice or racism or prejudice or pain, violence or destruction become concrete on a scale large enough to attract attention. It is the role of imagery to make the incorporeal, corporeal. That is how images tap so easily into our emotions, which respond more readily to flesh-and-blood people than to ephemeral concepts, however transcendent. News needs to be related to an individual's experience in order for that individual to take it in. Images effect that more easily, partly because common ground can more readily be discovered in a photograph than in paragraphs of text: That is a picture of a child; I, too, have a child.

    Yet there is an instinctive distrust of allowing emotions to influence and govern our reactions. We may say pejoratively of someone that "his heart rules his head." On one side of the balance we place the intellect, facts, truth, analytical reasoning and scientific investigation. On the other side we place the emotions, pain, pleasure, gut reactions and "women's" intuition. This division blinds us from seeing that an emotional response to imagery is also an intellectual one.

    Confronted with two images of a mother breastfeeding a child--one the image of the tired and dusty Migrant Mother nursing her infant during the Great Depression; the other of a Somali infant, flies glued to the child's eyelids, trying to nurse from the mother's shriveled breast--we react with greater emotion to the photograph of the African child. Both photographs are aesthetically compelling. But even though we may have more in common with the American mother and child, we know with a fair degree of certainty that the American infant will survive with a measure of health even if it has limited prospects. The African infant, it seems, cannot possibly survive; and even if it does survive, the ravages of famine will have seriously compromised not just the health but the developing brain of the child. The fictions of imagination are overwhelmed by the tangibleness of the picture. What reverberates in our memory is our empathetic response to the visual stimulus. We apply our intellect and reason to the evidence we see--and then we respond, emotionally, to what critical theorist Walter Benjamin called the "aura": an image's elusive, charismatic and sometimes haunting presence. Photographs move us from the particular to the general, and from the general to the particular. "Just what kind of person are you?" asks an ad for Save the Children. "What kind of person can ignore the heartbreak in a child's face? How can anyone with a heart for children . . . for life . . . for decency . . . not reach out to help ease the pain of children so young, so defenseless, so needy?"

    A photograph provokes a tension in us--not only about the precise moment that the image depicts, but also about all the moments that led up to that instant and about all the moments that will follow. We see a news image of a starving child and a hovering vulture. Well we, too, have a child, and it is horrible to contemplate our child dying and becoming carrion for a vulture. Where are that child's parents? Siblings? Was the little girl left by her mother to die? Or did the mother die, and now the child is left alone? Did the child manage to crawl to help? Why didn't anyone see the child and help her? Did the child survive? The photograph stimulates a controlled emotive response--emotive because it acts on us sub rosa, under the level of our conscience intellectualizing; controlled because we retain the power of turning the page.

    Our commonalty with the image, the fact that we can understand in part how terrible it is to have a child in distress, is tempered by the fact that we who only look at the image are not literally there. We--and our children--are exempt. And we are blameless for not taking action, for not helping that starving child. We didn't know, we weren't there. But--and this is the key hitch--now that we know the horror, we will share in the guilt if we just turn the page. We will become complicit. Our responsibility becomes not only that child--whose story is a foregone conclusion--but other children threatened. If we turn the page--according to the logic of the advertising campaign--we become part of the problem. Photographer Kevin Carter, who took the 1993 photo of the Sudanese toddler threatened by the vulture, did not help that particular child, but his image, which was seen all over the world, became part of the global humanitarian effort to prevent apathy. A little over a year later Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for his effort. Two months after he accepted the award in New York he committed suicide. He had earlier told a friend "I'm really, really sorry I didn't pick the child up." Being close enough to photograph the starving child meant being close enough to help. The responsibility to bear witness does not automatically outweigh the responsibility to be involved.

    The moral dilemma, as typically construed, opposes direct aid to one victim against the more remote, yet wider effect of a published photograph. Jim Dwyer, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the late New York Newsday, says the only ethical justification for a reporter's intrusion into a victim's life is that he will help.

    But what is our justification for looking? And what is our justification for turning away?

In more ways than the metaphorical, compassion fatigue has become an insidious plague in society. Just as the overuse of antibiotics has made people immune to their benefits, the constant bombardment of disasters, with all their attendant formulaic, sensationalist, Americanized coverage, has made the public deaf to the importuning of news stories and relief agencies. We turn the page, as the Save the Children advertisement cautions us against, and leave the troubles of others behind.

    If all the media treated international crises as priority news items, there would be no benefit in "switching the channel." The story would be everywhere. But such unanimity rarely occurs. Despite the undoubted significance of "hard" news--whether about international events, domestic politics, business and economics or the environment--the media pander to the public's interest in gossip and celebrity stories. And marketplace concerns effectively mandate that there will be no lasting redefinition of news--omitting the fluff and emphasizing those events and circumstances that have an important effect on the lives of Americans.

    Compassion fatigue is easier to catch and harder to overcome if there is something flashy that clamors for our attention. Odd juxtapositions of other stories, or even ads and commercials, usurp some of the power of news imagery. One's mind can linger gratefully on frothy stories of celebrities or glitzy car and beer ads--in effect, pushing away pictures of suffering. True, advertisements in print periodicals and commercials on television pay the way for reporters, correspondents, photographers and camera operators to cover the news. But the ads and commercials also create a context for the news that makes it easier for an audience to remain unaffected by a story's words and images. (This is a concept that is understood by the media--witness the lack of ads during the network premiere of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.)

    The ad in the December 6, 1992 New York Times Magazine for an extraordinarily expensive Steuben crystal vase observed, "Sometimes the strangest juxtapositions just happen." A few spreads later an advertisement for Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise admonished its readers to "Bring Out Your Holiday Best." On the following page, the cover story began. A two-page, black-bordered black-and-white photograph by James Nachtwey pictured a starving Somali woman being brought to a feeding center in a wheelbarrow. Bring out your holiday best, indeed.

    A few months earlier, Time magazine, in its September 21, 1992, issue, ran a story entitled "A Day in the Death of Somalia." Several pages into the story a large color image by Christopher Morris dominated the right-hand page. A dead child was being washed for burial. The child's ribs looked like a chicken carcass after all the meat has been plucked off the bones, and the skin covering the child's stomach bore no resemblance at all to skin or a stomach--it had the appearance of a collapsed puddle of milk skin from a cup of cocoa.

    On the opposite page, Lucy--of Charlie Brown fame--screamed from the black hole of an open mouth. But she wasn't screaming in pain over the death in extremity of the child whom she faced. She was screaming, so the balloon caption said, "Now hear this! MetLife has Mutual Funds."

    On the following two-page spread, the article ended with two photographs on the left-hand page: one of eight bodies wrapped in rags lying before several open graves and the other of the head of a dead young man being held by other hands, prior to his being shrouded for burial. The features of the young man are sunken, his neck sticklike. How could he have lasted as long as he did?

    On the facing right-hand page was an advertisement for Habitrol's nicotine patch. A color photo in tones similar to those of the images from Somalia--terracottas and teal green--pictured an attractive black woman baring her arm to show her skin patch. The headline stated "Portrait of a Quitter" and read, in some fashion, as a commentary on the dead of the previous page.

    A reader wrote in to Time to comment on the Somalia story and its surrounding advertisements. "I wonder at the process by which these pictures came to be juxtaposed," said Paul J. Bauermeister, of St. Clair, Missouri. "The effect is jarring, and it is one of the most telling judgments I have seen on the ease with which the self-absorbed First World is able to ignore the suffering in the Third World. This lesson in compassion makes me tremble."

Form can matter as much--or more than--function. Layouts, adjacent stories, lead-in pieces make a difference to how we understand the news. It is disturbing to realize, for example, that our sympathetic capacity to suffer emotionally and intellectually is partly regulated by the talents of the photographer and the aesthetic merit of an individual image. An arresting image transfigures its subject, so that we find the representation of starvation visually stunning, so that we look upon the African child and find its pain and desperation literally unforgettable. Images, wrote novelist E. L. Doctorow in The Book of Daniel, "are essentially instruments of torture exploding through the individual's calloused capacity to feel powerful undifferentiated emotions full of longing and dissatisfaction and monumentality." Yet a badly focused and poorly cropped image of a child in identical circumstances will make little or no impression. It is not the subject alone that makes the statement, it is the subject married to a technically proficient, stylishly appropriate packaging that reverberates in our memories.

    A simple redactiveness in the images of a crisis can be the most powerful way of calling attention to an issue. The best pictures, said the great 19th-century British historian Thomas Macaulay, "exhibit such parts of the truth as most nearly produce the effect of the whole." But the selection of those parts is a task rife with problems. Commonly, crisis images do not describe epiphanies, but formula. Crisis images feed into formula coverage. Dave Marash, a correspondent for ABC News Nightline, has noted how much television relies on "familiar pictures and familiar texts." He observed, for instance, the TV code for "hurricane": "Palm trees bending to the gale, surf splashing over the humbled shore, missing roofs, homeless people showing up in local gyms. You see it once or twice most years." (On occasion not only is the same code used by various media, but the exact same images are repeated--a consequence of the fact that most of the media subscribes to or has access to the same photo agencies, wire services and/or satellite news services.)

    Especially when a crisis is a "foreign" event, there is a tendency to fall back on hackneyed images, often revealing more about what the crisis is thought to be than what the crisis actually is. Formulaic images "label" a crisis so that it is identifiable. "Wars," said photojournalist Eugene Richards, "have to look the same way from picture to picture. . . . "And "when they do," noted Susan Meiselas, "it can be hard to tell them apart--especially when the people and places look the same, too, as in the conflicts in Nicaragua and El Salvador or Rwanda and Burundi." "War" is signaled by photographs of men with guns, not, for example, by images of a barren landscape--even if that landscape is seeded with mines, and is, in effect, as much a war zone as that street filled with guerrilla fighters.

    Other varieties of crises have their own "look," too. For instance, photography can give a disease the imprimatur of an epidemic by cueing an audience to formulaic elements, say, doctors in "space suits," signaling that the disease is highly contagious or, say, the microscopic appearance of a virus, signaling that the disease is aberrant. Images, by design, cannot help but simplify the world. What matters is the quality of their simplicity.

    Images of crisis and their accompanying metaphors rely on a repertoire of stereotypes: the heroic doctor, the brutal tyrant, the sympathetic aid worker, the barbaric mercenaries, the innocent orphans, the conniving politicians, and so on. The images induce the public to fit these models into the current crisis. Each stereotype employed implies or presupposes a story line which in turn implies or presupposes an appropriate political response. If the images that document a crisis are of starving orphans, the remedy is humanitarian assistance. If the images are of the brutal tyrant, the remedy is military force.

    There is a built-in inertia that perpetuates familiar images. Without them "reality" becomes more complex, less immediately understandable, more "real"--and perhaps more interesting. But because, other than choosing to watch or not to watch or to read or not to read, the media's audience has little direct control over the news they receive, the audience can't easily vote for a more individual style of coverage. The public's most direct response to coverage that it doesn't like is to lapse into ennui. In an oft-cited passage in Jonathan Kozol's book on poverty in urban America, Amazing Grace, a mother with AIDS is told about compassion fatigue among the well-to-do. She says to Kozol, "I don't understand what they have done to get so tired." They haven't done anything. But as they sit passively in front of their TV sets, they've been barraged with redundant images.

    Since we are not typically conscious that news images are being repeated, they have an insidious and usually imperceptible effect. Yet this compassion fatigue is a problematic response to read. It may be perfectly evident that readers are not interested in a news event--for example, they may not buy the magazine with Bosnia on the cover--but it is less clear whether the low sales of that issue are due to the public's lack of interest in Bosnia or just to the style of coverage. So the media's reaction is often both to pull Bosnia from the cover of all future issues and to change their news style to include more "reader-friendly," human interest content.

In theory, photographs can have a beneficial influence on the public's interest in international affairs; positive, upbeat photographs can encourage readers and viewers to read and watch the news. The public is more likely to tune in or read on if a story is more than gray copy or talking heads. And the public is more likely to have a higher recall of facts and themes when there is visual accompaniment to a news item. But unfortunately, this accompaniment is not always objectively functional. "Sometimes," said L.A. Times director of photography Larry Armstrong, photographs are "used more as ornamentation. Sometimes they're used more in terms of `We've got to fill our hole, break up some space.'" Photographs do not always illuminate the key facets of a story, nor do they always speak pertinently about them. "Rightly or wrongly," said Mark Seibel, former assistant managing editor at the Miami Herald, "I think the photo's an afterthought."

    Television, especially, cultivates a kind of negligence about imagery. Images on the news are too often driven not by what needs to be or should be told, but by whatever images are available on the station's "B" roll. Yet 1960s media guru Marshall McLuhan popularized the notion that it does not matter what the television reporters say because the pictures in the background tell their own story.

    Images on a screen are easily subsumed into the flow of time, bypassing the mind. Watching TV, one's eyes become a passive instrument; rarely does one have to make any active, visual judgments or effort. Still images, by contrast, are still. One can look and look and look. The electronic images on television blur and melt away, while the still photograph stubbornly resists dissipation. Confronted by a photograph, one searches the image. A photograph is the sum of moments that have come before. The recognition that the image is a record of what has happened up to that instant, inspires questions about what might come to pass. Photographs freeze time, then dole it out infinitely, as long as one chooses to look and wonder. They are the "residue" of continuous experience.

    Photography, more than the movies or television, as Roland Barthes has said, is the collective memory of the world. Photographs make an indelible impression; we remember events by reference to the pictures of them. To list just a few iconic images from the last decade: the lone protester standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square; the black vulture looming over the Sudanese child collapsed on the way to a feeding station; the dead American serviceman being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu; the bloodied toddler in the Oklahoman firefighter's arms. The Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote that "The most complete pictures are formed in our minds of the things that have been conveyed to them and imprinted on them by the senses, but that the keenest of all our senses is the sense of sight, and that consequently perceptions received by the ears or by reflection can be most easily retained if they are also conveyed to our minds by the mediation of the eyes."

    Film and video take their viewers inexorably along a foregone path, while memory and photography are individually haphazard. The flashes of time can be shuffled how one will. Memory, like an anthology of still photographs, consists of slices of discontinuous time. Both the remembered and the photograph exist as a moment in time and as a moment out of time. Both champion the individual standpoint over the collective position. Film and videotape are relatively careless mediums--not in their construction, but in their audiences' responses. "That's one of the effects of TV," said Jim Yuenger, "that it's shortened the national attention span." Confronted by a film narrative you sit waiting for what is going to happen. When it all ends you realize that your anticipation overwhelmed your delectation of the passing moments.

    Perhaps still images in newspapers and magazines function better to fix events in the memory than videotaped images on television--although they may not inspire immediate action as readily. The stage management of the Persian Gulf War, which resulted in live press conferences, sanitized video shots of "surgical" air strikes and in few photographers and cameramen gaining access to the ground fighting, demonstrated that Americans could fight a war and a short time later remember only the chalk talks by the generals. "My son, who's 27, was telling me that the Persian Gulf War didn't happen," said Yuenger in 1994. "I said, `What?' He said, `There wasn't any Persian Gulf War. Consider it from the point of view of someone my age. We don't know anyone who went, no Americans got killed, we didn't see any Iraqis get killed. It's just CNN footage of these bombs and then there's victory parades and Bush and Stormin' Norman standing tall.' It's not a part of the history of our time for a whole generation of people."

    The emotional pull of still photography remains peculiarly strong when we reflect on the current state of technology, when we can sit in our living rooms and watch a war raging live on the other side of the globe. Most of the visual spectacle of televised war is scarcely more memorable than a game in a video arcade; the still image leaves a deep footprint in our imagination. Perhaps it's easier to contract compassion fatigue when the pictures are on TV than when the images are in print, because one has a personal, intimate relationship with printed still photos. One has to touch the page to turn the page.

Videotape--and still photography--have other limitations as well. Trends and economic and political causes or repercussions, for example, are hard to film. As CBS anchor Dan Rather puts it, "You can't take a picture of an idea." Typically what photographs and videotape can do and do do is quite literally put a "face" on the text. When a television correspondent speaks, for example, about a Center for Disease Control doctor "dressing like an astronaut: all seams sealed, two pairs of gloves, and a personal respirator," images show the 2001 look. When a magazine article talks about Ebola as a "thread-like filovirus," pictures give an electron microscopic perspective on the long and looping appearance of the virus.

    But while a photograph may offer evidence that a man is dying, it does not tell of the significance of his illness. Images rarely inform; more typically, they inspire. Most images are little more than illustrations. Much of the way we "read" images is directed by the appended headlines, captions or stories. In general, published photographs have some text appended to them; images used for the purpose of telling the news are dominated by language. A photograph is strong evidence that something existed like what is in the picture--but what that "something" means is less clear. Mark Twain told of looking at a famous painting:

A good legible label is usually worth, for information, a ton of significant attitude and expression in a historical picture. In Rome, people with fine sympathetic natures stand up and weep in front of the celebrated "Beatrice Cenci the Day Before Her Execution." It shows what a label can do. If they did not know the picture, they would inspect it unmoved, and say, "Young Girl with Hay Fever; Young Girl with Her Head in a Bag."

    As the spin doctors know, how we see a picture depends on its tag. In 1992, for example, the media's choice of images from Bosnia fed into the metaphorical debate as to whether the situation was more like the Holocaust or more like Vietnam. When we were shown photographs of the "death camps" we were implicitly being asked whether we were going to stand back and watch these new "Jews" die. When we were shown pictures of the fighting we were implicitly being asked whether we were willing to become embroiled in another quagmire. The images and metaphors concealed grave troths, but not solely about the crisis they claimed to represent. Often crisis images are about more fundamental matters: primal fears and human psychology, American history and the dominant belief system of American society. The media's selection of photographs from Bosnia revealed more about the United States than about the war being fought in the former Yugoslavia.

    Because images cannot explain themselves, as writer Susan Sontag has noted, they are "inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy." But there remains an expectation of meaning. To decode that meaning from an image, viewers must know what they are looking at, whether it is authentic, when and for what purpose it was made and what were the circumstances, conventions and constraints on its creation. Images are bewitching sirens, luring us with promises of knowledge, but leaving us with little more than the memory of a compelling face. The images are not meaningless; in many ways, they do warn us of the rocks below, but they also tempt us to ignore those rocks in favor of their mesmerizing song. Americans were so captivated by the compelling images of the starving in Somalia, for example, the dangerous shoals of warring tribal factions were disregarded. Words may give meaning, but in our visual era, images are essential to effective communication--especially in the telling of the news. Images have authority over the imagination.

    When a crisis occurs in a place about which Americans know little, images are often married to known metaphors--images are published emphasizing a certain one-note theme. Many of the images and metaphors that have become clustered around present-day crises have been associated in one form or another with similar crises for generations. Associations already in the collective imagination creep into the perceptions of new events. The assassination of a foreign head of state is referred back to America's fallen hero, JFK; the state-sponsored decimation of entire populations is cloaked by the mantle of "Holocaust"; the ravages of mysterious diseases are heralded with the cry of "plague."

    The interaction between the fundamental constants and the dynamic events suggests the appropriate specific images and metaphors. For instance, war prompts thoughts about courage and promises and loyalty to allies. It is not happenstance that it was the image of General MacArthur striding back through the Philippine waves--not one of him fleeing the islands-that became an icon of World War II. And it is not happenstance that it was the image of the helicopter evacuating Americans from the Saigon rooftops--not one of Marines landing at Da Nang--that became an icon of the Vietnam War. Imagery can embrace opposites.

    The appeal of both images and metaphors is that they convey a wealth of information in a relatively small package. It is frequently the case that visual images or metaphorical expressions can more succinctly describe a face or a place or a moment in time than can paragraphs of narrative. Narrative is time- and space-consuming. And when space in print and time on air are expensive and in finite quantities, the reporting on any crisis, no matter how compelling or immediate, has to be constricted to fit the medium. That condensing is often achieved through the selective use of formulaic images and sensationalized or Americanized metaphors.

    The problem is, however, that the selected bit of information found in any image or metaphor cannot possibly accurately represent the situation that it purports to depict. Images and metaphors may provoke an emotional response from an audience, and in that respect may focus the attention of the public on an event that otherwise might have been neglected, but that event is almost certainly more complicated. The impact of the Depression was felt by groups other than that of the Migrant Mother, the war in the Pacific was both less and more than the glory of the Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, the end to Camelot did not come with John-John's salute to his father's caisson.

    When images and metaphors are used in conjunction, they have the potential to synergistically obfuscate rather than illuminate the known situation. If all that a reader knows of the dismemberment of Yugoslavia is the metaphor of "Holocaust" prompted by the photograph of the emaciated faces of the Bosnian Muslim prisoners peering through the barbed wire of the Bosnian Serb POW camp, then a disservice has been done to the complexity of the Balkan conflict. The existence of the Serbian camps is incontestably important and newsworthy, but the de facto parallels of Serbs to Nazis raised by the use of the metaphor of "Holocaust" are neither especially accurate nor useful. The Bosnian negotiations had "a kind of resonance to the Munich conference," said Gwertzman from the Times, "but there's really no Nazi force out there, you can't really compare the Serbs to the Nazis, it's not fair. But people do it, and we take note of it, and I think what you're implying is true."

    There is another problem stemming from the labeling of crises by images and metaphors. Once an audience is familiar with a label, it becomes easy to dismiss the event itself by rejecting the label. And that rejection can become a form of compassion fatigue. Since few people have (or take) the opportunity to learn about the news in detail, a label may be one of the most specific things a person knows about an event. Since labels, to be effective, must be part of a culture's common language, a person will have a history of responses to that label. A person will often dismiss a politician for being "liberal," for example, if that person associates "tax and spend" behavior with liberalism. Similarly, an event labeled "famine," for instance, may call up associations of starving children and selfless aid workers. If an audience is not interested in, or is bored by, that scenario, the famine will be ignored--a casualty of compassion fatigue, caused by a reflexive and limiting use of labels. With labeling comes the ability to categorize, to say, "Oh, this is a famine," like Biafra or Ethiopia. But with categorizing comes the tendency to dismiss, to say, "I know about this. I've seen this before." As the coverage of a famine continues, so too does the vulnerability of that crisis to compassion fatigue.

Most news generates images that remain anchored in a specific time and place. Even dramatic events typically give rise to images that only linger in the public's memory for the duration of that crisis. But on occasion an epiphany occurs in an ongoing news story, a decisive moment is identified, and the essence of that story is crystallized into a compelling news icon. Many times that icon is a visual, photographic one, for example: the training of fire hoses on civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham; the keening of a bystander over the body of a student shot at Kent State; the exploding of the space shuttle Challenger. Other times memorable images are evoked through narrative word-pictures, such as Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain," John F. Kennedy's "Camelot," George Bush's "Read My Lips." But whether or not the news icon is created through a photographic or a verbal image, it is sustained by the meanings that journalists, sources and the public project onto it.

&nb sp;   The repeated use of an iconic image conies to dominate the originating event; the entire story, crisis or conflict is distilled into that one or a very few other signifying images. The force of an icon comes from its documentary authenticity, from the acuteness of its aesthetic or verbal vision, from the perception of the importance of the original event, from the ubiquity of its reference and from the sense of shared experience it engenders. Form and content are intrinsic to a photographic image. "A photograph becomes more illustrative when it is content-driven," observed Susan Meiselas, "and more aestheticizing when form is paramount. What makes an iconic moment is when these two come together with precision." A brief look or phrase can recall such an icon to the mind's eye, and once embedded in memory it has the power to shift the framing of other news stories. Its use prompts both an intellectual and an emotional response to the initial crisis. But it also evokes--and at times even provokes--larger social, cultural and/or political themes. Its application in other settings may forge linkages between otherwise dissimilar events. It may add a historical marker or context to a narrative that would otherwise have none. It may also add a note of drama or comedy to an otherwise bland recital of facts or analysis.

    The prevalence of news icons suggests that journalists desire to emphasize those moments that have metaphorical potential. In a world of quick sound bites and scant column inches, evocative shorthand is imperative. Icons are a form of stereotype, a less transparent means of categorizing a particular event than the more traditional conventions. Used indiscriminately, dumped gratuitously for the sake of novelty into all kinds of news stories, icons can quickly lose their effectiveness and initiate compassion fatigue. But used more sparingly, incorporated into stories not as a tic but as an insight, they can illuminate unrecognized public policy issues or tensions. They can act as "focusing events," serving to push certain problems into the news and onto the public agenda. They can be both indicators of the existence of tensions or fears and as catalysts for responses to those concerns.

Images have always played a role in the defining of a crisis, but in the coverage of international affairs they are often the chief manner by which Americans "see" and "remember" a crisis. Given the importance of images in contemporary politics and in historical memory it is critical to discover what ideas are represented by those images. What is the resonance of a certain image for those who see it? A public image may range from a simple stereotype to a complex mental picture. It may incorporate visceral emotions, inarticulate feelings, unconsidered beliefs, as well as carefully thought-out ideas. Images of the gassing of the Kurds in 1988, for example, will take their meaning for each person from his or her beliefs about and prior knowledge of such topics as chemical warfare, historical military actions against civilians, foreign tyrants and the Middle East. "Experiments show that we must have a rough idea of what to look for," wrote historian Spencer Weart in his study of the images of nuclear power, "some previously learned mental picture, or we even have trouble recognizing an object in a drawing. In short, as a result of experience every simple image, from direct perception to elaborate mental representation, becomes connected with various other things in a web of associations."

    Imagery is the common denominator of a culture, a means of communicating the dominant culture's values and set of ideas, rich in symbols and mythology. To be effective, imagery must draw upon a "language" of recurrent themes and values widely shared and easily understood by its audience. Context matters. The photograph of the lone Chinese who stopped a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square became a symbol of freedom and individual rights to Americans. In China, that same image was used to demonstrate that the troops had exercised humanitarian restraint in not mowing the man down. For both countries, the imagery supplied, in a fragmented form, much of what their ideologies did: It supplied "a world image convincing enough to support the collective and individual sense of identity." Imagery reflects its culture's ideology, its self-image and its relationship to the world.

    The issue is, as Time magazine put it, "Who controls the culture?" "The Third Reich," Time said, "proved beyond all reasonable doubt what the constant pumping of hate-filled images and inflammatory statements can do to a culture." To control the culture, one must control the pictures. Even images taken to serve merely as historical documents can change their meaning depending on the context in which they are seen. The cumulative effect of the identity photos taken of those who were tortured and killed by the Khymer Rouge during the era of the Killing Fields was little more than that of a telephone book for Pol Pot's regime. Today, those images form a testimony to genocide, just as do the recital of tattoo numbers or the mound of eyeglasses from Auschwitz.

    The right image can condemn a murderer or elect a president. After the military triumph of Desert Storm in 1991, President Bush became politically mired in the debacle of the abandoned Kurdish refugees. A Doonesbury cartoon identified the administration's problem: "So what happened?" asks Bush. "What happened to my perfect little victory?" "We lost control of the pictures, sir," his aides reply. "During the war, we killed 100,000 Iraqis, but we controlled the media, so no one saw the bodies. With the Kurds, it's a different situation. Every baby burial makes the evening news. . . . I'm afraid we are just going to have to tough it out. At least until we can get the pictures back on our side."

    Few of us are visually literate. We are familiar with the notion that words are malleable; we know about the manipulative powers of rhetoric. But few of us are as aware of the potential that images offer for manipulation. And rarely are the machinations exposed-whether they are as blatant as government photo-ops, as sneaky as editorial slights-of-hand or as instinctive as journalistic biases.

    Convention has it that photography is that lantern of Diogenes, sending rays out into the world's dark corners. Conventional wisdom is wrong. Photography can illuminate the shadows, but it can also cast its own. Images can lie outright: They can be published with misleading captions, they can be morphed on computers. But they can also be more subtly influenced. The censoring of images--or the denial of access to image making, as occurred during the Persian Gulf War, can skew the public's perception of an event. "What you see in the media are the pictures that didn't get away," observed longtime photographer Carl Mydans. "And there's no way of knowing how many important, how many wonderful images there are that we saw, that we wept for, but that we didn't make. Just think how much more there is to history, how much more experience there is that photojournalists didn't quite get."

    Once the pictures are "in the can," the editing of images to emphasize one aspect of a situation can equally skew perception. The taking and the publishing of images is inherently undemocratic. Even if one discounts the limitations of technology and access, there is still an astonishing range of images from which the single one is selected. We, the audience, are seduced into believing in the freedom of the press, because rarely, at least in the United States, is the viewing of certain images prohibited. But the viewing is just the last act in the series of image production and dissemination. There is an ideological construct (or constructs) behind every image. There are moral, cultural, social and political assumptions in the taking and the publishing and the viewing of images.

    Images serve a myriad of functions within a culture: They can be taken to offer aesthetic repose, to fulfill a breaking-news function, to keep an historical event in memory, to confront authorities with evidence, to serve as mute testimony. Like contemporary, affairs, the historical past can be co-opted by seductive imagery (as Oliver Stone's JFK film demonstrated). Images taken or appropriated to represent the past determine how we view history. They are not passive illustrations; they are ideological constructions designed to justify national ideals resonant today. The endless arguments about what should be included in school textbooks reminds us that history is shaped by the selective presentation of images, people and events.

    Who we believe we are and how we perceive the world to be have a powerful effect on world events. Photographs cannot initiate a moral or political stance, but they can reinforce one. In Bosnia, said Johanna Neuman, "the pictures may have moved the leadership to threaten or cajole or implement sanctions or even, finally, to strike from the air. The pictures produced a policy of humanitarian assistance. . . . But never did the pictures prompt the West to enter the war on the ground. . . . The bottom line never changed." Neither the taking nor the viewing of images impels great action. An understanding of imagery and metaphors--and the initiating ideology--provides no constant guide to the behavior of a culture. It does, however, help to delineate the structure within which policymakers deal with specific issues and within which the attentive public understands and responds to those issues.

    Despite the fact that CNN, the three television networks and some of the world's best photojournalists--James Nachtwey, David and Peter Turnley, Luc Delahaye, Jon Jones, Christopher Morris, Anthony Suau, Gilles Peress, Corinne Dufka, Tom Stoddart, Roger Hutchings and even portraitist Annie Liebovitz--have all camped out in Bosnia, despite the fact that there were more photographers and cameramen killed there in three years of fighting than in ten years of war in Vietnam, there was little political will to intervene. Would more images of the caliber of the raped Moslem women or the emaciated POWs staring bleakly out from behind Serb barbed wire have made a difference in the U.S. commitment there? Or would more iconic photos just have left us with more guilt? As the American response to Bosnia proved, images' power to provoke action has not only dimmed, but it never operated at all unless the appropriate response was immediately apparent and relatively simple. It makes sense that when the public--via the American government--is effectively prohibited from action--if a crisis is too complex or entrenched for amelioration--compassion fatigue results.

    Compassion fatigue is a result of inaction and itself causes inaction. "Our experience is that over the last couple of years our appeals for Bosnia have seen declining returns," said John McGrath of Oxfam in 1995. "I think people feel it's a situation with no end. They feel that if the politicians can't sort it out or don't have the will to sort it out then what can the public do?"

    If the news-reading and news-watching public does linger over images of suffering, if the imagery is arresting enough, and if the crisis hits us at Christmas-time when our sympathies are most awakened, maybe we'll send a few dollars to some aid agency. But we can't stop everything to care about a child thousands of miles away, even if he is dying. Compassion fatigue leads to a take-it-or-leave-it attitude: "Hey, if I miss the news about Bosnia today, I'll catch it tomorrow." So much for the suffering in the Balkans and the fate of millions who live only two hours away from our last holiday at EuroDisney.

    Our moral fatigue and exhausted empathy is, in some degree, a survival mechanism. "When we see fairly horrendous pictures that upset us emotionally," noted psychology expert Dr. Geoff Scobie, "we have some sort of mechanism which prevents us getting quite so emotionally upset the next time we see something." There is always an audience for images of quality, but there is a fatigue for continual--even live, on-air--suffering. "The ability to stun an audience by delivering real-time pictures of events as they happen is ebbing," said Johanna Neuman. "Call it compassion fatigue or media over-saturation, but television pictures of a starving child or a mass exodus of refugees no longer tug as strongly."

    Compassion fatigue's passivity--the "fatigue" part--is not neutral. Save the Children ads promise that if we respond, if we throw off our compassion fatigue, action will result, a child will be saved and we will become caring human beings. If we respond to that Save the Children ad, we check off a box that reads "Yes, I'm the kind of person who cares." Compassion fatigue militates both against caring (as Save the Children crassly plays on) and against action.

    It even militates against memory. Milan Kundera wrote, "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." If we don't care, if we take no action, we will forget--if indeed we ever knew--what caused a particular crisis. Images are our most efficient--although certainly not infallible-mnemonic device; images call up events and eras and feelings in the blink of an eye. But if we tune out those images, we forget. It's true, it's sad that the media's coverage of crises is so formulaic, that iconic moments become symbols, then stereotyped references that become at best a rote memory. But better a stereotyped memory than no memory. Better to recall Somalia in terms of starving babies, than not to remember the country at all.

    But perhaps if the coverage of crises was not so formulaic or sensationalized or Americanized we wouldn't lapse so readily into a compassion fatigue stupor. The tension among what "is," what we are "shown," what "action" we take and what we ultimately "remember" is at the heart of our understanding of global events.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction: Riding with the Four Horsemen 1
1 Compassion Fatigue 7
2 Covering Pestilence: Sensationalizing Epidemic Disease 55
3 Covering Famine: The Famine Formula 97
4 Covering Death: The Americanization of Assassinations 157
5 Covering War: Getting Graphic About Genocide 221
Conclusion 309
Notes 323
Acknowledgments 373
Index 377
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)