Media Waits for Mandela To Die: Are They "Vultures?"
By Danny Schechter
There's anger amidst the apprehension in South Africa as the numbers of "journalists" on the Mandela deathwatch grows. Members of his family have about had it, comparing what even the New York Times called a "media swarm" to African vultures that wait to pounce on the carcasses of dead animals.
President Obama was soon in South Africa, carrying a message that he hyped as one of "profound gratitude" to Nelson Mandela. The Times reported, "Mr. Obama said the main message he intended to deliver to Mr. Mandela, "if not directly to him but to his family, is simply our profound gratitude for his leadership all these years and that the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with him, and his family, and his country."
It doesn't seem as if the South Africa's grieving for their former president's imminent demise are too impressed with Obama seeking the spotlight. Some groups including top unions protested his receiving an honorary degree from a university in Johannesburg.
Interestingly, NBC with its team buttressed by former South African correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault did not bother to cover the protest but relied instead on Reuters reporting "nearly 1,000 trade unionists, Muslim activists, South African Communist Party members and others marched to the U.S. Embassy where they burned a U.S. flag, calling Obama's foreign policy "arrogant and oppressive."
"We had expectations of America's first black president. Knowing Africa's history, we expected more," Khomotso Makola, a 19-year-old law student, told Reuters. He said Obama was a "disappointment, I think Mandela too would be disappointed and feel let down."
South African critics of Obama have focused in particular on his support for U.S. drone strikes overseas, which they say have killed hundreds of innocent civilians, and his failure to deliver on a pledge to close the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba housing terrorism suspects." (Oddly, The South African police detained a local cameraman who used his own drone to photograph the hospital from above. He was stopped for "security" reasons.)
For symbolic reasons, as well as because of his global popularity, Nelson Mandela seems to be of special interest to the American media with the networks, nominally in an austerity mode, busting their budgets to have a dominant presence.
South African skeptic Rian Malan writes in the Spectator, "Every time Mandela goes into hospital, large numbers of Americans (up to 50) are flown here to take up their positions, and the South African network is similarly activated. Colin, (A cameraman who works for a US network) for instance, travels to Johannesburg, hires a car and checks into a hotel, all on the network's ticket. Since last December, he's probably spent close to 30 days (at $2000 a day, expenses included) cooling his heels at various poolsides. And he has yet to shoot a single frame.
As Colin says, this could be the worst disaster in American media history, inter alia because all these delays are destroying the story. When the old man finally dies, a lot of punters are going to yawn and say, Mandela died? Didn't that already happen a year ago?"
Hostility to the this media is satirized in an open letter by Richard Poplak "from the foreign media to South Africa" that appears in South Africa's Daily Maverick:
"As you may have noted, we're back! It's been four long months since the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing thing, and just as we were forgetting just how crappy the Internet connections are in Johannestoria, the Mandela story breaks.
We feel that it is vital locals understand just how big a deal this is for us. In the real world--far away from your sleepy backwater--news works on a 24-hour cycle. That single shot of a hospital with people occasionally going into and out of the front door, while a reporter describes exactly what is happening--at length and in detail? That's our bread and butter. It's what we do.
And you need to get out of the way while we do it. "
Why all the fanatical interest? The US media loves larger than life personalities, often creating them when they don't exist. Mandela has assumed the heroic mantle for them of Martin Luther King Jr. whose memory enjoys iconic status even as his achievements like Voting Rights Act was just picked apart by right-wing judicial buzzards in black robes. (Kings image was also sanitized with his international outlook often muzzled).