Sep 222003
Authors: Shannon Baldwin


Talk about diplomacy.

A U.S. Soldier killed a Bengal tiger in a Baghdad zoo last week.

After his fellow soldier decided it would be fun to feed the

predator through the bars. After he had tossed down a few cold ones

while having an after-hours party in the zoo, as the soldiers often

did, said the zoo manager, Adel Salman Musa. He also said, “We have

no way of stopping them.”

Or didn’t you hear about that story? Weird. It was a top

international story for the Hindustan Times of India; the headline

reading “U.S. soldier kills rare tiger at Iraq zoo after drunken

party.” They certainly don’t cut us any slack -especially since the

story was pulled from the Agence France-Presse.

But then again, with something like this, a journalist doesn’t

even have to work to find the ‘Ugly American’ angle. The story

quotes Salman Musa as saying, “The soldiers don’t have the right to

behave like that. That was the most precious and valuable animal in

the whole zoo.” It emphasizes the Bengal tiger as being an

endangered species protected by several international

organizations. And not to forget the quote that the soldier had

“drunk a lot.”

With tidbits like that, it is not hard to see why so many look

at Americans the way they do.

So why do so many Americans not seem to understand this

unflattering reputation we have with so many other nations? Quite

simply, because we don’t read the Hindustan Times. We read The New

York Times.

To be sure, the NYT did run a story on the incident, but for

those who actually found the buried piece, it was not even close to

the same article. It was shorter. The headline certainly did not

have to words “rare” or “drunken party.” The Bengal was never

mentioned to have been an endangered species. The only quote from

Salman Musa was a description of the attack, and it certainly was

not noted that the soldiers would often party at the zoo after


The NYT did mention that the zoo was a “decrepit collection of

dirty cages and sad-looking animals.” I’m glad they noted that,

because it makes the incident seem less terrible somehow. The

soldier was probably doing the sad-looking tiger a favor in the

long run.

But not everyone buys it, and many Americans are looking outside

the U.S. media for an outside perspective.

After Sept. 11, British news sources (BBC and The Guardian to

name a few) experienced a dramatic surge from American readers.

Possibly they were looking for a media source more likely to be

critical of U.S. foreign policy or to report anti-American points

of view, said Sarah Secules in the January/ Februrary 2002 edition

of CJR. Secules also cited a column in The Guardian which included

e-mail excerpts from U.S. readers complaining of “shrill jingoism,

“shallow” reporting and “the biases” of the American press.

Press systems which are not critical of the government, official

policies or potentially embarrassing/damaging incidents to the

country are often assumed to be controlled by authoritarian

regimes. What is the difference if a free press system has the

right but doesn’t use it?

Maybe both stories about the incident last Thursday night are

biased in there own way. One emphasizes the severity. One bleaches

it. Either way, it comes down to this. A soldier is missing a

finger. A zoo is missing a tiger. And America is missing another

sliver of international respectability and media freedom.

But you wouldn’t know, would you?




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