The much criticized - and usually with good reason - U.S. news media missed or underreported a lot of big stories in 2008.
Half of the stories that United Press International lists as the most neglected or “lost” of 2008 were in Latin America and Africa, vast regions that have dropped off the map as far as the national U.S. media are concerned.
First, just across the U.S. border, the Mexican state reeled from the growing power of the drug lords who ran virtual fiefdoms in some of its northern states. Drug gangs even defied the Mexican army and carried out assassinations of federal officials to flaunt their power. UPI columnist and respected U.S. military analyst William S. Lind cited the erosion of Mexican federal power at the hands of the drug lords as one of the most dangerous long-term developments of U.S. national security.
Second, the U.S. media and national political leaders were asleep at the growing power of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Last year, he definitively eclipsed dying Cuba and retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro as the most implacable and dangerous enemy to U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere.
As documented in UPI columns, Mr. Chavez signed major arms agreements with Russia, China and even Spain to augment his power and make his country the dominant military power in Latin America. He even played host to a force of two Russian Tupolev Tu-160 White Swan - NATO designation Blackjack - nuclear bombers for a week. As was the case with Mexico, the Bush administration proved totally ineffectual to reverse, block or deter these developments, and there was no sign that the incoming U.S. president, Barack Obama, would do any better.
Third, the U.S. media virtually ignored the slide toward anarchy and civil war in the most populous nation in Africa - Nigeria. Yet Nigeria is the major force for stability throughout West Africa and one of the world’s major oil exporters.
Soaring oil prices in the first months of 2008 were largely a result of tribal conflicts and guerrilla violence in the Niger Delta. The Bush administration bet heavily over the past eight years that Nigeria would prove a far more stable and reliable source of oil for the United States than the traditional major producers in the Middle East. It lost.
Fourth, the U.S. media shockingly neglected the three worst human rights violation stories in the world - and all three of them were in Africa, too.
There was the continuing genocide of Christian African tribes in Darfur in Western Sudan. The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the African Union all proved totally useless in even stemming the violence.
They did no better stanching the continuing chaos and civil war in Congo, formerly Zaire, the very heart of the African continent where at least 10 million people have died over the past decade.
Only at the end of the year did the U.S. news media even fitfully wake up to the torments of the people of Zimbabwe under increasingly maniacal President Robert Mugabe. Famine and even cholera - the most preventable of major diseases since it is transmitted only by contaminated water - stalked his nation, once the breadbasket of Africa.
Fifth, it took Al Jazeera to report that in 2008 at least 6 million African Muslims converted to Christianity: This was a trend of enormous importance and vast scale, yet you found it nowhere in the U.S. electronic or print news media.
Sixth, in August, Russia’s blitzkrieg conquest of one-third of the former Soviet republic of Georgia made headlines around the world. But the far more significant renewal and expansion of Russian strategic nuclear forces that occurred in 2008 was virtually ignored in the U.S. and Western European media, apart from UPI, which covered it closely.
Russia expanded its long-distance patrols of Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjacks - the outstanding supersonic bomber in the world and its venerable Tu-95 Bears - still formidable thanks to their own arsenal of up to six Kh-55 air-launched cruise missiles with a speed of 1,700 miles per hour and a range of 2,000 miles.
The Kremlin also pushed ahead with production and upgrades of its Topol-M land-based intercontinental missiles and proved the potency of its old Sineva liquid-fueled submarine-launched ballistic missiles to a range of well of over 7,000 miles. Only the Bulava SLBM program remained plagued with problems. A successful launch at last in November was followed by yet another failure this month.
Seventh, most of the Arab world was remarkably stable in 2008, though you wouldn’t have known it from the op-ed pages and regular pundits of the U.S. media.
This was especially remarkable as oil prices plunged in the second half of the year from a historic high of nearly $147 per barrel to less than $40 per barrel. Yet this year’s Hajj ending late in the year was one of the peaceful and smoothest running in recent memory.
Eighth, coverage of the U.S. and then global economic crisis that erupted in September with the fall of the Lehman Brothers investment house in New York focused on developments in the United States, China, Russia and Western Europe. But the collapse of Japan’s enormous industrial export trade with the United States got far too little coverage and analysis.
However, the health of the Japanese economy and strength of the Nikkei index in Tokyo are of crucial significance to U.S. financial stability too. The State Bank of Japan continues to hold at least 35 percent of all U.S. Treasury Bonds in existence, and China holds a comparable amount. The wild bailout and deficit spending measures approved by the Bush administration in its closing months gave political coverage to Mr. Obama and the Democrats controlling Congress to promise more of the same. The threats to the national credit of the U.S. government and to the very survival of the dollar as a credible currency were virtually ignored in the hosannas to hyper-spending orthodoxy that filled the U.S. media.
Ninth, most Americans took it for granted that India was a strong ally of the United States - if they thought about the issue at all. In fact, U.S. defense companies remained frozen out of the Indian arms market in 2008, and the Indian armed forces continued to buy big for their combat aircraft, aircraft carriers and frigates, main battle tanks, heavy military air transports and even co-produced BrahMos cruise missiles from Russia.
Finally, plenty of news came out of Afghanistan, but the analysis to put it into context was woefully lacking. UPI Editor Emeritus Arnaud De Borchgrave and Mr. Lind provided that context when almost no one else did.
They warned how U.S. neoconservative and liberal passions for democracy, nation building, women’s rights and wars on drugs had alienated millions of ordinary Afghans and played into the hands of the resurgent Taliban, who increased their power by giant strides, defying NATO’s undermanned and ham-handed efforts to stop them.
Of course, none of this mattered compared with the fun and games of Jen, Brad and Britney.