As readers flee news on the printed page for an on-line life and classified ads head out the door for Craigslist and points west, the Washington Post became just the latest major newspaper to announce significant staff cuts. With fourth-quarter revenue down 3% from the previous year, eighty jobs -- 9% of the Post's newsroom - are to be shed in the next twelve months. According to the New York Times, Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr. "said other cost savings could come from having foreign correspondents cover broad topics -- terrorism, say -- rather than cover specific countries, thus allowing for the elimination of some [Post] foreign bureaus."
This, of course, is the route that the TV news followed long ago, shedding foreign bureaus like so much flaky skin. Anyone who loves his or her daily dose of news in print should be dismayed at the thought of news bureaus abroad closing. It's just another way in which American isolation is likely to increase, as our bubble world, so prized by the Bush administration, continues to morph into something more permanent.
On the brighter side, though, assigning more reporters to "broad topics" might have an unexpectedly salutary effect. After all, one of the strangest aspects of the news in the Bush years has been its unwillingness to connect regional or global dots. In most cases, foreign reporting has consisted of stories about only one country (at most two) at a time.
Not so long ago, we lived in a world that the media regularly told us was being connected in ever more complex ways -- think of all that reporting on globalization in the 1990s. But for the last several years, "just disconnect" might have been the reigning news motto. If you read about the Iraq War, you get Iraq, and generally little else. No Turkey, no Israel, few Syrians, no Saudis, nor Egyptians. Reports on our little Afghan war give you Afghanistan, but certainly nothing about the fighters that, according to Syed Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times on-line, the resurgent Taliban, based in Pakistani border areas, has been sending to Iraq for training in the new ways of guerrilla warfare. (Think: IEDs and car bombs.) You would never know from stories in the American press that Iran bordered Afghanistan, or that both India and Russia have complex interests and connections there. And forget about the Stans of Central Asia.) Why exactly this has been so, I leave others to analyze. That it has left our major papers strangely demobilized when it comes to offering us a picture of our world and so in an unequal contest with the Bush administration is hard to deny.
After all, the administration's top officials have had a vision of American geopolitical dominance that has been nothing if not grandly global in nature. In their version of the Great Game, they seldom even bother to deal with one country at a time -- often, as in Iraq, to their detriment. It wasn't by happenstance that they named their "war" of choice the Global War on Terror (GWOT) or that they regularly label the Iraq War not a war at all but a "theater" in their GWOT. In military, political, or energy terms, they have never hesitated to connect the dots in a vast region they once termed the "arc of instability" -- basically, the planet's oil heartlands -- into patterns of imperial dominance.
Where newspaper reporting saw individual countries that happened to have enormous oil or natural gas reserves, this administration has, from the beginning, seen global energy flows. In many ways, Bush's top officials seemed to recognize no traditional boundaries at all. No wonder they were surprised by an insurgency largely based on gut feelings about national sovereignty.