The Orientalist Nature of Western Media’s Coverage of Conflict

As I write this, it has been just over one week since Russia reinvaded Ukraine. Over the past eight days, Putin’s War has already resulted in hundreds of deaths, both civilian and military. Coverage of it has blanketed American news channels around the clock. Yet, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is far from the only ongoing conflict in the world, and the incredible amount of attention directed towards it is in large part due to orientalism and the direct impact that it has on Europe compared to the other conflicts.

Take, for instance, CBS reporter Charlie D’Agata. Last Sunday, D’Agata reported on this conflict from Kyiv, saying, “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully too — city, one where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.” Note the adjective “civilized” to describe Kyiv, as if to contrast with the “uncivilized” cities of the Orient. D’Agata even seems to recognize how his words could be (rightly) perceived as orientalist and white supremacist as he notes that he has to “choose those words carefully” — as if instead of by describing Kyiv as “European”, he really means to describe the city as “white”.

It’s not just that coverage of Putin’s War has been in many ways a thinly-veiled embodiment of orientalism and European supremacy — it’s also that its coverage has been at the expense of other conflicts that take place in other countries in Asia and Africa (i.e. the Orient). Wikipedia lists four ongoing conflicts in addition to the war in Ukraine as “major wars”: the Tigray War (a civil war in Ethiopia), the Taliban’s efforts to maintain control over Afghanistan, internal conflict in Myanmar, and the Yemeni Civil War, which have led to about 400, 500, 3,300, and up to 5,100 deaths so far this year, respectively. Apart from coverage of the Afghan conflict several months ago following the American withdrawal of troops — itself only covered due to western involvement — there is zero coverage of any of these conflicts. In fact, I would venture to guess that the majority of Americans had no idea the Ethiopian, Myanmar, or Yemini wars are even happening, or would even be able to identify the three countries on a map.

Now, I do agree that in many respects, this most recent conflict does necessitate more coverage than most others. Russia is, after all, a nuclear power, led by a reckless and dangerous dictator who just a few days ago threatened the use of nuclear weapons, and whose forces set fire to the largest nuclear power plant in Europe just hours ago, whereas none of these are true for the nations involved in other wars. The potential for global ramifications are absolutely greater here than with any other conflict in my lifetime. But that doesn’t mean other conflicts, in which thousands of people have been killed, can simply be ignored.

3 thoughts on “The Orientalist Nature of Western Media’s Coverage of Conflict

  1. Cory Y

    I think it’s definitely interesting that there has been little to no coverage of several of the other wars that you mentioned. One caveat that I would note, however, is that there has definitely been significant coverage of the conflicts in Myanmar and in particular the coup in the past year, as well as the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. Obviously, the magnitude of that conflict (and the amount of news space it claims) has been completely overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, which has taken over the news cycle. The war in Ukraine seems to have struck a particular nerve compared to other wars in the world.

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  2. LILY MANNING

    I was going to write about this as well! I 100% agree that we pick and choose when to give genocides attention and it tends to be popularized in the media only when the victims are white. I think it’s interesting as well that the US used this time when everyone is focused on Ukraine/Russia to bomb Somalia again fr the first time since August. I think our government/media definitely takes advantage of moments like these to cover up their own wrongdoings.

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  3. lucas

    Could not agree more. The media is so much quicker to post things about a genocide on white people than on any other race. It is a big issue in today’s world.

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