How Can Conservatives be More Informed about Foreign Affairs? | Opinion

Foreign affairs coverage in American media is in a sad state across the spectrum. The problem is both in quantity and quality, but is especially acute in the latter. There are few exceptions.

PBS' Frontline regularly produces high quality, in-depth documentaries about issues beyond America's borders, even if their left-leaning political bias is often too open. More mainstream outlets, however, rarely cover foreign affairs issues beyond the most superficial headlines. To a large extent, this is obviously a function of the market. News is business, and networks cover what their viewers want to see. Still, I can't help but wonder if the dearth of good foreign affairs coverage is inevitable, or might there be another way?

There are 168 hours in a week. Networks like Fox News, CNN and MSNBC are tasked with filling these hours with wall-to-wall news coverage. Here's a proposal: What if a network like Fox News took just one of those hours a week and dedicated it to in-depth foreign affairs coverage, leaving the other 167 hours to everything else they now cover? It could be a less lucrative time slot, perhaps sometime on Sunday evening. Over the course of an hour, viewers would watch two or three longer segments about important issues from around the world, running 15 to 25 minutes each after ads.

For a large, successful news corporation like Fox News, surely one hour out of the week will not break the bank. That being said, an in-depth foreign affairs program need not be a loss leader or serve an altruistic educational purpose only. Would there be no interest among Fox News viewers for a program on an exorcist social media star in Iraq, or the situation of Christians in northeast Syria, or the deminers cleaning up ISIS' handiwork in Raqqa? I doubt viewers would have changed the channel had there been an in-depth report on the situation of Christians of Iraq to coincide with the Pope's recent visit there.

Fox News
The Fox News logo at Fox Studios. Andy Kropa/Getty Images

Nor would the show need to remain esoteric and confined to issues of strictly foreign interest. The U.S. still has troops in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and a whole host of other countries. Is there no interest in a look at the situation in those countries, and what has prompted a continued U.S. presence there, or what the potential consequences might be from the upcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan? In October 2017, four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger. Did Fox News or any other outlet provide enough solid reporting to give the American public a sense of whether it was in our national interest for those troops to be there? A two-minute report on the Pentagon's investigation of the incident is not the same as a longer look at the history of the conflict in Niger and the role played there by the U.S., prepared by a journalist with some expertise in the region. How about a look at the situations in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador? What is prompting a mass influx of migrants from those countries to our southern border beyond the role that U.S. policy plays?

It's probably naïve or wishful thinking to hope that our 24-hour news channels could find a renewed interest in the world beyond America's borders, but it does seem strange that as the quantity of news coverage has increased dramatically with the proliferation of media outlets, it hasn't led to a better informed public. We've become extremely myopic in our understanding of the world: The right only cares about Libya through the lens of Benghazi, and the left only cares about Russia through the lens of election meddling.

If Fox News were to institute a serious foreign affairs program, it would still cater to its audience, as one would expect. It could have a conservative bent, or focus on issues that do have a tie to policy or politics in the U.S. At the same time, it could cover issues without a preset agenda, and let their primetime opinion commentators pick apart the issue as they see fit throughout the week. Fox News only has foreign bureaus in London, Rome and Jerusalem, limiting its ability to cover issues extensively around the globe. However, a format of short documentaries would allow them to commission freelance filmmakers to make high-quality content for relatively low cost.

In a not-so-distant past, American involvement in places like Iraq and Afghanistan drove massive amounts of news coverage from the ground. These days, it can feel that only stories with a tie to the U.S. elections warrant any coverage: the Bidens and Ukraine or the Trumps and Russia. Realistically, the situation will only change if the public demands it. And so, at the very least, let this count as my vote for better foreign coverage by American outlets. In the meantime, I'll keep watching PBS' Frontline and wondering what it might look like for a conservative outlet to cover some of the same issues with the same depth.

Sam Sweeney is a writer based in the Middle East. He is also the president of the Mesopotamia Relief Foundation, which works in northeast Syria.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.