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Wednesday, July 12, 2006
In Defense of Silence

Josh Marshall linked tonight to a post by ennis at Sepia Mutiny that wondered why American bloggers had had so little to say about the terrorist bombings in Mumbai.

ennis wrote:
While trying to deal with the tragedy in Mumbai, I have been wondering what the coverage of the story tells us about ourselves.

I was not surprised by MSM coverage in America: poor in local papers, better in papers with a large desi population or those with an international audience. I was pleased to hear that CNN and CNBC had decent cable news coverage, perhaps because they’re well established in India.

What has baffled me, however, is the relative silence from the world of blogs. The blogosphere is supposed to be the cutting edge, far more advanced than the MSM, yet they’re spending less time on the story.

He goes on to detail what he believes to be the paucity of coverage the story has received in the larger blogs, and relates an email exchange he had with two of them:
I emailed the following question to three significant political bloggers:

No opinion on the Mumbai bombings?

I’m surprised. Many more have died than did in London a year ago, and the death toll is currently just a little under the death toll from Madrid. Yet the blogosphere is largely quiet. Why?

Here are the two responses I received:

The blogosphere tends to be relatively quiet on straight news like this, since it doesn’t provide much of a vehicle for opinion mongering. And in this case, it appears (so far) to be related to India-Pakistan tensions, rather than the broader Islamist movement. I suspect most Americans, at any rate, find that sort of uninteresting. [Kevin Drum]

I can’t speak for anyone else. But in my case often something of great consequence or human tragedy happens, but it’s not really clear that I have anything to add. Sometimes that gets read as lack of interest or concern. But it’s not. [Anonymous political blogger]

Although I hadn't been asked, I decided to give the answer a shot myself in comments:

I think the answer to your question is that American bloggers just don't know enough about the situation in India/Pakistan to have an informed opinion. Take, for example, "The Pakistani government supports Muslim separatists in Kashmir". I see statements to this effect scattered through the news coverage I read, but I don't have any way of verifying it. I don't know the reliability of the sources, the evidence upon which such a pronouncement is made, or enough about the history of the relationship to form any kind of solid idea of what is truly meant. It may be the case that Musharraf is arming, training, advising, and inciting the militants, but I have no real knowledge about it. I don't know how popular the separatists' cause and actions are in Pakistan. I don't know to what degree Musharraf's political support depends on his backing them. All I know is that the tensions between India and Pakistan have of late revolved largely around Kashmir. And, for all I know, it could be serving as a proxy for resentments dating back to 1947, the Raj, or before.

So, beyond "That's terrible", what am I to say about the Mumbai bomings? [sic]

I recently made an attempt to up my knowledge of affairs in South Asia by reading local, English-language newspapers and websites. For my trouble, I was thoroughly barraged with a plethora of people and acronyms of which I could make very little sense, that came from publications whose leanings I didn't know and from journalists whose reputations were a blank to me. I kept it up for a few weeks before giving up, no better informed than when I started.

Even with regard to Iraq, about which I've read literally thousands of stories from all manner of sources, there is very little I can say with any confidence, and almost all of that relates directly to US involvement there. I know we blew the hell out of Fallujia, that there are rival claims to Kirkuk, and that Sadr is the son of an eminent Shi'a imam. Oh, and that we had no business invading the country.

If you look at what is written in the American blogosphere about Iraq, you'll find that nearly all of it pertains to our having invaded, and the geopolitical implications that could arise therefrom. I daresay most of the latter is ill-founded (excepting, of course what Juan Cole has to say).

The upshot, from a long-lapsed blogger: Please don't construe the fact we haven't written much about the Mumbai bombings as disregard or disrespect. We just don't have anything intelligent to say about the subject, other than to repeat what we've read, heard, and seen from mainstream news outlets.