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
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
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?