Sheep of fools

Americans have been so bombarded by bad news and scandals in recent years that it’s hard to keep track of them. There’s the war begun on false pretenses, torture at Abu Ghraib, CIA leaks, citizen wire tapping, no-bid contracts for Halliburton, the disgusting mismanagement and neglect of the victims of Katrina (who’s that, you say?), who suffer still; and now the suspect dismissal of a couple of handfuls of U.S. attorneys.

Journalists risk their lives to get us stories of our entanglements in the Middle East. And yet, the online news sites that track the top stories their visitors read, blog and e-mail, suggest that we no longer care about this stuff. Or if we do, we’re not reading much about it.

The top-viewed story in the past 365 days for was simply a picture of Apple’s new iPhone. OK, but what about “serious” newspapers?

The most-read articles on March 23:

• New York Times: “The year without toilet paper” (most e-mailed; most viewed not available), about a family trying to live an environmental, “no impact” lifestyle.

• Washington Post: “ goofs on headline”

• San Francisco Chronicle: “Slain sex worker identified as transgender immigrant”

• Nevada Appeal: “Girl hit by SUV on Dayton playground”

• Las Vegas Review Journal: “Housing: Local sales continue to decline”

• Reno Gazette-Journal: The paper does not carry a “most popular” section online

To see these most-read headlines, one would never know we were at war. A similar trend happens on these sites every week. It suggests that no matter what’s happening on a global scale, we are most concerned about our immediate surroundings—our communities, our homes, kids, jobs, education, health, mortgages. That makes sense. These are subjects over which we think we have some control. When it comes to national and world matters, we feel powerless. We’ve seen our presidential administration hell bent on getting its way, no matter the cost or the law. After all of the lies and misinformation, we’re not sure what to believe anymore. Our protests are lonely ones—usually just a few people in front of the courthouse singing old folk songs.

But a passive republic is one ripe for others—including those leading us—to take advantage of.

It takes effort to remember those suffering in another country, in a seemingly different world that’s nevertheless increasingly connected to our own. As long as we are relatively comfortable, we tend to look the other way as our civil rights and sense of national pride are chipped away. We voted for change in this past election, but are unsure if even that will help. We know we’re in trouble, but we don’t know what we can do about it.

So here we are, four years and thousands of lives after the United States invaded Iraq. And it’s springtime, when that which was dormant comes alive. We should take its cue.