Friday, May 8, 2009

The Propaganda Model, exhibit 15432

/ good victims rule, boring victims suck /

From Julie Hollar's Congo Ignored, Not Forgotten, [via] in FAIR, this chart is impressive:

As the article mentions:
To put the death rate in perspective, at the peak of the Darfur crisis, the conflict-related death rate there was less than a third of the Congo’s, and by 2005 it had dropped to less than 4,000 per month (CRED, 5/26/05). The United Nations has estimated some 300,000 may have died in total as a result of the years of conflict in Darfur (CRED, 4/24/08,, 3/25/09); the same number die from the Congo conflict every six and a half months.

And yet, in the New York Times, which covers the Congo more than most U.S. outlets, Darfur has consistently received more coverage since it emerged as a media story in 2004 (Extra!, 1–2/08). The Times gave Darfur nearly four times the coverage it gave the Congo in 2006, while Congolese were dying of war-related causes at nearly 10 times the rate of those in Darfur.

Let me make this clear: undoubtedly there are crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. Yet the incredible relative indifference of the US press (but not just the US press of course) to the astonishingly bloody Congo conflict speaks about something different: about the media propaganda model. This is right off the book:

Using a propaganda model, we would not only anticipate definitions of worth based on utility, and dichotomous attention based on the same criterion, we would also expect the news stories about worthy and unworthy victims (or enemy and friendly states) to differ in quality. That is, we would expect official sources of the United States and its client regimes to be used heavily-and uncritically-in connection with one's own abuses and those of friendly governments, while refugees and other dissident sources will be used in dealing with enemies. We would anticipate the uncritical acceptance of certain premises in dealing with self and friends-such as that one's own state and leaders seek peace and democracy, oppose terrorism, and tell the truth-premises which will not be applied in treating enemy states. We would expect different criteria of evaluation to be employed, so that what is villainy in enemy states will be presented as an incidental background fact in the case of oneself and friends. What is on the agenda in treating one case will be off the agenda in discussing the other. We would also expect great investigatory zeal in the search for enemy villainy and the responsibility of high officials for abuses in enemy states, but diminished enterprise in examining such matters in connection with one's own and friendly states.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is useful to mention (And this was a quick and rather amateurish attempt at research!) But I just checked out "stories tagged" on The Guardian Website - It suggests a similar situation to the NYT.

Democratic Republic of Congo (Tags)
2009 (55)
2008 (165)
2007 (108)
2006 (99)
2005 (66)
2004 (84)
Total (577)

Darfur (Tags)
2009 (97)
2008 (311)
2007 (364)
2006 (232)
2005 (132)
2004 (243)
Total (1378)


talos said...

Thanks for the comment Aidan. Note that the massacres start after 2003 in Darfur, while in the Congo the maximum casualty count is netween 1998 and 2003, the years when the 2d Congo War was raging. The relevant numbers for the war years in the DRC are then:

# 2003 (89)
# 2002 (74)
# 2001 (83)
# 2000 (63)
# 1999 (48)
# 1998 (6)

The peaks in 2006-2008 had to do, I would imagine, with the EU force beeing sent there, the elections etc. (See this from back then).
So the situation is even more biased than the numbers you quote suggest!

Note that the Guardian is far more judicious on these sort of things than the NYT.

Doug M. said...

This is half of an interesting argument.

Let's say that the NYT is indeed typical, and that major US media sources are underreporting the Congo and overreporting Darfur. The question then becomes why.

Neither government has any influence in Washington worth mentioning. Relations with Sudan are a lot cooler than with Congo, but Congo is hardly an ally. US investment in both countries is minimal.

My first, tentative guess would be (1) the nature of the conflict in Congo, which has involved relatively few large, dramatic massacres (most of the death toll has come from dramatically increased civilian morbidity, especially among children), and (2) the fact that the Sudanese government is dominated by conservative Muslims, thus playing into the "war on terror" and the more general surge in Muslim-directed xenophobia.

But that's a guess. I'd love to hear from someone better informed.

Doug M.

Anonymous said...

Darfur is the rallying cry of the various US Jewish lobbying groups (interestingly while they are heavily active, more active indeed than the Government of Turkey, in denying the Armenian Genocide).
It plays into a certain way of presenting the news.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite skeptical of the Jewish thing; too many non-Jewish groups, religious and otherwise, have picked up on it.

In fact, if I were hypothesizing a religious vector, I'd note that many American Christian evangelical groups have been involved in attempts to stop the slave trade in Sudan.

I'd also note that Congo lacked a clear narrative. It was chaotic civil war in which a bunch of different countries intervened. Few heroes, too many villains, way too many complexities and different shades of (mostly dark) grey. There's nobody to /blame/ for Congo -- or rather, way too many.

That sounds stupid, but narrative is power.

Doug M.

Anonymous said...

One year later, a bit of additional information: the estimate of war-related deaths in the Congo has been revised downwards, from ~5 million to "only" ~3 million.

To make a long story short, the original estimate used the "normal" morbidity and mortality rates for Sub-Saharan Africa as the baseline. However, Congo has had higher rates than the rest of SSA since the late Mobutu years. Plug in those rates, and the excess morbidity drops significantly.

Of course, those 2 million people are still dead. It's just, they would have been dead anyway without the war.

Doug M.