Middle East and Canada

Essay by dollprincessA+, January 2006

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In December 1985, the Canadian press reported the death by suicide of hundreds of field mice in the Middle East. In an apparently instinctive reaction to a problem of over-population, the mice willfully plunged to their doom off the cliffs of the Golan Heights. This bizarre story was the subject not only of straight news coverage in the Canadian press, but also of an editorial in the Globe and Mail on December 20. On November 1, 1985, the Globe and Mail also ran a photograph of a visiting Roman Catholic priest from Brazil, saying prayers on the banks of the Jordan River at the site where Christ is said to have been baptized. Standing alertly near the priest was an Israeli soldier with a rifle slung over his shoulder, his eyes carefully scanning Jordanian territory across the river.

For the analyst of the media and media image-making, these rather unusual press items raise an interesting question about news selection and presentation by the editorial departments of the daily press.

Had the mice toppled off Mount Kilimanjaro would this essentially scientific story about animal behavior have found its way so prominently into the Canadian press? Had the priest been peacefully saying mass on the Mountain would this religious item have been deemed worthy of coverage? Or was it the newspapers' sense of the irony of these events, of their news value as symbols depicting the pervasive conflict and violence we have come to associate with the Middle East that led to their selection for publication from the reams of teletype endlessly flowing into the editorial departments of the Canadian press? It would seem that even when the subject matter is scientific or religious--about mice or monsignors--the press is inclined to remind its readers of the inherently violent nature of the Middle...