US Media’s Anglo-Centric Pandemic Reporting Is Harming America

The MSM is doing little foreign reporting on the pandemic. That failure is getting Americans killed.

Testing Muslim congregants in India. (Source)

For those of us Americans who watch the news on the television, how much do we hear about the pandemic outside our borders? We are told how Sweden is making it through the pandemic without a lockdown and how the president is blaming China, but other than that, the American media’s coverage of the pandemic seems to be wall-to-wall “America!”

This exposes one of America’s greatest weaknesses, the fact that many of us seem to care little about what happens in other nations. Remember when we were looking at the possibility of war with Iran back in January? That seems a century ago, but the key is this: fewer than a quarter of registered American voters can even locate Iran on a world map. “Let’s bomb Iran! By the way, where is Iran anyway?”

This self-imposed ignorance of the world around us is the root cause of most of our social resistance to the measures taken to address the pandemic. Why? Because we’re not learning the lessons the rest of the world has to teach us. Witness the ongoing protests, the indignant posturing by those who either downplay the severity of the pandemic or claim that despite its severity, the lockdown’s effect on the nation’s economy is nonetheless a greater danger to the nation than is the pandemic itself. We as a nation have much to learn from the world around us.

Here’s a few of those lessons, all from a period of time ending April 23, 2020:


Commuters waiting to board a ferry at Mombasa, Kenya on March 27th. I was this very dock back in 1994. (Source)

Both Nigeria and Kenya are requesting assistance from the World Bank and from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Without that assistance, their economies are at great risk. If their economies fail, hunger and civil unrest will follow.

For Kenya, where only 320 have tested positive for COVID-19, the economic threat is seen as so great that the government has resorted to sending those who test positive to “quarantine centers” for which the often already-impoverished must pay from $20-$75 USD per night to stay in “prison-like” conditions. Masks are mandatory in public, there is a curfew from dusk till dawn, travel to and from the capital Nairobi is prohibited, and schools, pubs, entertainment venues, churches and mosques are shut.

Why would Kenya resort to near-draconian measures when only 320 people have tested positive for COVID-19? Probably because they see what has happened in Italy, Spain, and especially the United States, and don’t want to learn the hard way just as we are doing now. Unfortunately, and as is the case with many developing nations, such measures are hard to enforce outside of the capital, and the rules for social distancing, hand-washing, and face masks are largely ignored away outside of the capital city. Nigeria is facing much the same problem.

As happens in every epidemic, many will turn to traditional medicines, and there will be some who hawk untested and unproven cures. Madagascar’s president is currently pushing an herbal cure and is providing it free of charge. The World Health Organization (WHO) urged caution, thereby signalling the same degree of skepticism by the world’s medical community as was shown towards the US government’s now-discredited promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.

In a particularly encouraging report, Ethiopia recorded no new cases over the previous twenty-four hours. However, there were only 965 tests performed. The more newsworthy item in the story, however, is that doctors from China have arrived to assist in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Algeria, and Burkina Faso, and that South Africa would also be requesting such assistance from China. Bear in mind that China also delivered 1,000 ventilators to New York City on April 4th.

For its part, South Africa has earned praise from the WHO for its proactivity in combating the pandemic and easing the economic pain of the population. The nation enforced a three-week near-total lockdown while at the same time providing billions in economic stimulus funding.

The Middle East

Muslim faithful observing social distancing while attending evening prayers at a mosque in Karachi, Pakistan. Most other mosques in the world are currently closed. (source)

Islam informs almost every discussion of Middle Eastern society, culture, and politics, and the pandemic struck during one of the holiest times of the Islamic faith: Ramadan. However, unlike some other faiths, Islam allows its faithful to adapt to epidemics. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is encouraging Muslims to delay their Hajj — the pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the five pillars of Islam — until after the pandemic. In fact, the KSA has locked down their major cities, including prohibiting anyone from entering or exiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. For those who may hold a skeptical view of religion, the KSA is taking these measures despite the knowledge that such will result in an enormous economic hit in addition to the effects of the ongoing oil glut that is roiling the economies of OPEC and America. Islam’s adaptation to COVID-19 extends globally as well. According to the executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), there are no mosques open for worship today in America.

The developed Middle Eastern nations seem to be adapting well to the pandemic, and nurses are seen as heroes there as well as here. Kuwait has only 2,399 who have tested positive for COVID-19, while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has just over 8,700 cases. This is despite the fact that the populations of both nations are among the most globally-mobile in the world. While most of their governments’ actions concerning social distancing are the same as much of the rest of the world, the UAE — which also enforces laws against public displays of affection — went so far as to declare that COVID-positive mothers would be separated from their children until recovery is proven, and that mothers who fail to report their condition may be jailed. On the other hand, the UAE is being explicitly supportive of affected expats and is even relaxing immigration rules for expats by declaring that all visas and entry permits will remain valid until the end of 2020 even if past their expiration dates, a move which must have been met with great enthusiasm by the Indian and Pakistani communities which together account for roughly half of the 9.6 million people living in the UAE.

However, for the less-prosperous nations of the Middle East, the situation is not as promising. Iran was the first nation there to be hit hard by COVID-19, and more than 5,200 have died so far out of a nation of 81 million, probably due to a slow reaction by the national leadership. Iran has been in almost total lockdown and the shock to its economy is even more serious when considering that last year, Iran’s economy shrank by 8.7%, thanks mostly to sanctions imposed by the American government. Iran looks to be opening their nation soon, but slowly and deliberately. It should be noted that China sent doctors to Iran to help address the pandemic.

An Iraqi soldier sanitizing a street during curfew in Baghdad (source)

Iraq, on the other hand, has suffered much less than Iran, and closed off its borders to both Iran and Kuwait to prevent further transmission. Unfortunately, Iraq is also facing a renewal of attacks by the Islamic State, their resurgence being enabled by the end of American support for the Kurds which left them unable to continue to resist and maintain control. China has also sent doctors to Iraq to assist with the pandemic response.

South and East Asia

On the other side of Iran is Pakistan, where — as in other third-world nations — measures to enforce lockdowns and social distancing have met with mixed results overall and with outright derision by clerics to the point where worshipers on their way to mosques pelted police with rocks to chase them away. As we have seen here in America, the Pakistani medical community is facing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a general lack of cooperation by the government. In late March, China sent a planeload of medical personnel and supplies to help with the shortage.

Children queueing for rice and legume meals in New Delhi during the COVID-19 lockdown (source)

India, the world’s largest democracy, waited until March 24th to impose a three-week lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, but while the lockdown’s scope was comprehensive, it was enacted with almost no warning and disallowed the people any opportunity to purchase food ahead of time. There has been little in the way of economic assistance, and those factors have combined with the recent imposition of an anti-Islamic law to result in religious pogroms against Muslims that left dozens dead. India’s total numbers of infected and dead do not approach those of America, but the poverty, the lack of testing, and the religious and social unrest in the community may well combine to make India the world’s next epicenter, especially given the lack of a successful response to the pandemic in its next-door neighbor Pakistan. It should also be noted that while China has sent doctors and supplies to many nations around the world, they only a shipment of supplies to India. It would appear that their ongoing border dispute may be making China politically resistant to assisting India even though they share a border.

In Japan, Premier Shinzo Abe is taking heat for what is seen as a tepid response to the pandemic. While Japan’s total number of cases is relatively low, most of the population appears to want a stronger shutdown and better economic assistance in order to keep the situation from worsening.

Taiwanese soldiers taking part in a drill on March 14th. The drill was organized to practice preventing the coming spread of COVID-19 (source)

Taiwan, on the other hand, is one of the world’s success stories with its response to the pandemic even without a shutdown. However, Taiwan’s solutions as an island nation — mandatory quarantine for all incoming passengers, mandatory installation of tracking software on cell phones, reaction by police to ensure cell phones remain active and charged(!), community leaders who personally check on quarantined people twice daily, “epidemic prevention” taxis used solely for passengers to go between the airport and quarantine sites, a comparative wealth of PPE, and a national emphasis on sanitization that borders on obsession — would almost certainly be impossible to duplicate anywhere else. Why? Not only is Taiwan an island nation that is relatively wealthy despite the ongoing diplomatic and economic isolation forced upon it by China, but the overall culture of the nation lends itself to such a reaction on a national scale. After all, who else would install vending machines that dispense surgical masks?

New Zealand has had similar success, but did so through a combination of quarantining all new arrivals, national leadership with an emphasis on empathy and shared sacrifice, and the same kind of social distancing and lockdown found in most nations. In retrospect, unlike Taiwan, New Zealand’s efforts could be duplicated in most first-world nations, if those nations had the leadership and the political courage.

Kim Jong Un is rumored to be gravely ill. The report has been denied by South Korea, but the above photo seems to indicate a marked lack of caution by his refusal to wear a mask. (source)

North Korea is, as always, a bit of a mystery, but is repeating a pattern all too familiar to those who must tolerate dealing with an authoritarian leader. The North Korean government has insisted for months that no one in the entire nation has tested positive for COVID-19, only admitting three days ago that anyone at all had been infected by the virus. However, a defector who was shot by Chinese soldiers as he was trying to cross the border has tested positive for the coronavirus, thus reinforcing the perception that as with most authoritarian leaders, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un tends to deny anything that would detract from his self image no matter how obvious the facts may be.

Singapore was also an early success story, but the number of infections have recently ballooned past 10,000, with much of the blame being laid on migrant workers and international travelers. Fortunately, the Singaporean government is confident that the outbreak will not overwhelm their health care system, especially given that Singapore is a wealthy city-state and that they and next-door Malaysia both have factories churning out PPE to sell to other nations. As most who have been there will attest, Singapore is strict when it comes to enforcing most regulations, which is why it’s not surprising that one man who broke quarantine was promptly jailed.

A Philippine soldier checks a woman’s quarantine pass in Pasay City, which is less than two miles from the American embassy. My family has verified that they are required to carry these passes on the street. (source)

The Philippines, for its part, has been criticized for President Duterte’s order that lethal force can be used to enforce the lockdown, though a closer look would show that his order isn’t simply the act of a tyrant. The nation’s leadership is desperately trying to find the right balance between protecting the public health and reopening the economy, and they’ve got good reason for that desperation. According to my own family members, people who don’t have any money left are given food by the government: one kilo of rice and one can of sardines per day, per family. If they are able to get the ration at all.

How long would we here in America put up with such rationing before we’d be rioting in the streets? And as with so many other nations, China has sent doctors and supplies to the Philippines to help with their response to the pandemic.

Lessons America needs to learn

There are so many more stories, so many areas not covered by this article. South and Central America and Europe were not discussed at all, though the lessons they have to teach are equally important. But there are many lessons we can learn from what was presented above:

  1. We cannot do what Taiwan did to shut down the pandemic, but our government certainly could have done what New Zealand did: quarantine all incoming passengers and — more importantly — foster a national sense of shared self-sacrifice and empathy to encourage the people to put the welfare of the many above the welfare of the individual.
  2. China is doing what America used to do: develop soft power by sending help to poorer nations in need, and to America herself. They’re not doing this simply out of the goodness of their hearts — they know the recipients of their aid will remember that it was China and not America who reached out to help them in their hour of need. Algeria now calls China a “true friend.”
  3. China is also stepping up their leadership on the international stage. They just donated $30M USD to the WHO to make up part of the shortfall after the American government refused to continue funding the world’s largest health organization and is working to restructure the debt of poorer nations facing enormous hardship. Again, this is not a matter of charity, but an effort to repair their longstanding reputation as a predatory lender and perhaps become seen in the same way America was for generations.
  4. It’s not just America that is pushing social distancing and providing economic stimulus. Many other nations are, even though they have far fewer infected and deaths. If we look at our nation’s response per capita — per person — our failure is painfully obvious. Iran, even after all the economic hardship imposed by our own government, has one-ninth the number of deaths per capita that we do.
  5. However, our media has repeatedly presented news stories from Sweden, about how that nation is functioning without any national lockdown. What has not been mentioned on television news at all (as far as I can tell) is the fact that Sweden’s COVID-19 death rate per capita is over twice that of America’s. With that kind of result, one would wonder why our media is presenting that nation’s response as a possible example to follow.
  6. America’s leadership needs to stop insisting we listen only to certain media outlets. Much of the news above was drawn from sources as the South China Morning Post, Africa News, the Straits Times, Al Jazeera, Xinhua, and the Khaleej Times, all of which are seen as good and generally trustworthy news sources outside of America. How many Americans have even heard of them, much less willing to trust news sources that are obviously from the Middle East or China?
  7. Most importantly, America’s mainstream media needs to push stories like those listed above to foster a greater awareness by our people of the world around us, for the more we know about the rest of the world, the more we will realize they’re really no different from ourselves, the more we will respect them, and the more we will learn from them.

Retired Navy. Inveterate contrarian. If I haven’t done it, I’ve usually done something close.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store