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March 28, 2005

More CNN, Less Fox News
Posted by Michael Signer

I agree wholeheartedly with Suzanne's endorsement of the idea of an all-Africa cable channel (sorry, it's just too rainy and gray here in D.C. to "spar"), for a specific reason -- what we need more of in our foreign policy-making is good old information.  But the channel's going to have to be done right to add to, rather than subtract from, our views on Africa.  I once toiled in the vineyards of prime-time cable documentaries, and I can tell you that keeping the wheat and chaff together ain't easy.  It's encouraging that they say they want to show "another side of Africa."  But I have to say the history of cable TV doesn't inspire me with optimism.

Facts, obdurate and uncooperative as they can be, can do a world of good in our more ideological areas of policy.  One of the legion reasons the theocons' (Andrew Sullivan's pungent label) insane ressentiment in the Schiavo case is so frustrating is they utterly ignore the reams of facts about her medical condition, her purported wishes, her past life, that courts considered in deciding to allow her husband to make the agonizing decision he made.  But facts are boring, and, worse, gum up theological reasoning.

We tend to see Africa only through the lens of pathology and crisis.  In approaching this incredibly diverse continent, for instance, the Bush Administration has focused almost exclusively on the AIDS epidemic.  Nothing wrong with that, of course.  But Africans also work in skyscrapers and wear business suits, make complex family decisions like the rest of us, host teeming expatriate cultures, generate complex religious hybrids of Christianity and native creeds, create exciting cultural exports, whether in arts or commerce -- but these facts rarely make their way through the thicket of the American media.

My pet theory for why Guns, Germs and Steel was such a blockbuster was its exposure of a subtle condescension in most of us when considering why Africa tends to have so many economic and military problems.  Rather than blaming it on the Africans themselves, Jared Diamond convincingly showed we should blame the climate and longitude.  And how striking was that?

This new channel promises to tell stories about Africans' lives -- not just present a lowest-common-denominator cavalcade of misery, despair, and sexually carried diseases.  If it's more CNN, and less Fox News, it just might have a chance.


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_Guns_Germs_and_Steel_ barely mentions Africa, except to note a) that few of its large animals are domesticated, and to explain why, and b) Chapter 19, which explores the range of human and linguistic forms present in Africa and to explain why one group (Bantu) spread over so much of the continent.

And if you'd actually bothered to read Jared Diamond you'd understand why an "All-Africa" Cable TV channel is a nonsense (and why channels like Al Jareeza make sense as an economic model.) There are more than 1,500 languages spoken in Africa (cataloged by Joseph Greenberg) and five major language groups. Within Africa we find a tremendous range of racial, ethnic and cultural groups, each of which would be appalled at the prospect of being read their news by someone from another. The middle-east, as a consequence of Mohammadean expansion, speaks one language, Arabic, the language of the Quaran, and has about the same cultural diversity as English language viewers of CNN.

A worthy idea, this site. A needed resource. But this is not a good start,

I think you missed the point of the channel -- it's not one channel attempting to serve a pan-African audience which would, as you say, be absurd, it's a channel for Americans who are interested in Africa. For the reasons you point out, it still isn't going to be anything like comprehensive, but it will include more information on Africa than most Americans get --not a panacea, but something.

Upon further review (ie. reading the piece to which this piece was a response) I can see that you are quite correct, LizardBreath.

I therefore amend my complaint, limiting my complaint to the reprise post's complaint about why people don't complain enough about JD.

I put it to you that a better target for Signer's animus would be one Kaplan, Robert D.

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What's wrong with Fox News again?

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Africans are successful people as well. Thanks for noting that out!

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