Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Biased Reporting on U.S. Response

The Washington Post is using the disaster in Asia as a hook for criticizing the President, who didn't leave his Texas vacation or make immediate public statements before he had all the facts. The Post refers to "complaints that the vacationing President Bush has been insensitive to a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions," but in reading their report it seems evident that the "complaints" are coming from the press itself. A few outsiders are quoted, but apparently in reaction to these "complaints."

The Post goes on to arrogantly imply that if it weren't for ever-vigilant reporters, the President would have done nothing at all:

After a day of repeated inquiries from reporters about his public absence, Bush late yesterday afternoon announced plans to hold a National Security Council meeting by teleconference to discuss several issues, including the tsunami, followed by a short public statement.

The Post dutifully reports that U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland described some countries, clearly including the U.S., as "stingy" in the amount of aid funding initially promised. Noting that Egeland later withdrew that comment, the Post adds:

Skeptics said the initial aid sums -- as well as Bush's decision at first to remain cloistered on his Texas ranch for the Christmas holiday rather than speak in person about the tragedy -- showed scant appreciation for the magnitude of suffering and for the rescue and rebuilding work facing such nations as Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Indonesia.

In reference to complaints often made about the level of U.S. development and disaster assistance, the Post says:

Among the world's two dozen wealthiest countries, the United States often is among the lowest in donors per capita for official development assistance worldwide, even though the totals are larger. According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of 30 wealthy nations, the United States gives the least -- at 0.14 percent of its gross national product, compared with Norway, which gives the most at 0.92 percent.

What the Post and others critical of the U.S. don't tell you is that these statistics don't include amounts spent for food aid, a critical component of international assistance.

Mona Charen, writing in the Washington Times, provides more accurate information, and her column is worth reading in full. In response to slanted reporting in the New York Times, she writes,

The Times does not tell readers that the United States is the world's largest food aid donor by far. In 2004, the United States provided $826,469,172 — almost a billion dollars — to the United Nations World Food Program. The next largest donor, the European Union, contributed $187,102,068. This, even though the European Union has a total population of 453 million, compared with the United States' 281 million, and a larger gross domestic product than the U.S.

Another cost not accounted for by critics is assistance provided by the U.S. military. An aircraft carrier, other ships, and U.S. military aircraft are already mobilized to provide support to those suffering in Asia. No doubt, much more significant military support will be provided. It's significant that many of those critical of the levels of U.S. foreign and disaster assistance are associated with piss-ant countries with no serious military capability, such as France. It's no wonder they forget to account for this important and expensive contribution.

It would be nice if the mainstream media would give it a rest, at least in reporting on this incredible disaster and its aftermath. They'll still have plenty of opportunities to attack the President and the U.S. government as part of their reporting on other topics.

Finally, this is a good opportunity for the UN to show that it's more than an inefficient, corrupt, bloated bureaucracy. Mr. Egeland began badly, making a fool of himself by calling "stingy" the handful of countries that makes the UN's continued existence possible. I have no doubt that UN organizations in the field, such as WFP and UNHCR, will do a good job. Will their bosses in the New York bureaucracy do as well?


Blogger Francesca said...

I think there's reason for criticism of Bush on this issue. The US has only pledged $35 million for relief efforts in Asia, when the Inauguration next month will cost over $40 million and $3 Billion has already been handed over for Florida hurricane relief.

1:32 PM, December 29, 2004  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

It's true that this doesn't seem like much, but it's the initial disaster response, pending assessments of specific needs. This is just the beginning. Much, much more will be pledged and spent by the U.S. and other donor countries in the very near future.

1:45 PM, December 29, 2004  
Blogger RomanWanderer said...

What Tom says is true- many more funds will follow. Also, what do they expect the President to do- go to Puhket and make a speech from there?

4:56 PM, December 29, 2004  
Blogger howard said...

It's one thing to say people (and nations) ought to be more generous, but it's another thing entirely to suggest that the press (or anyone else) has the authority to demand generosity. While I'd personally like it if all of us gave more to charitable causes, there's something sorely lacking in an idealism that tries to arm-twist people (or nations) into upping the ante.

It might also be worth noting that some of the same domestic voices criticizing the "stingy" reaction of the U.S. in this matter have also criticized the spending of so much money to rebuild Iraq. Both the tsunami-ravaged areas and Iraq have been in desperate need of rebuilding and humanitarian aid -- the only difference being that one situation is directly linked to U.S. involvement and the other is a truly natural disaster.

12:51 AM, December 30, 2004  
Blogger Francesca said...

Roman, no, Bush did not need to go to Phuket to make a speech. But he should have said *something* before the UN criticized him (indirectly, it should be noted) for being "stingy." There was no independent expression of sorrow and compassion for the people of SE Asia until the money issue came up. His expression of sorrow came late and only as a preface for defending the US's decision to donate only $35 mil.

12:25 PM, December 30, 2004  

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