It is sad that sometimes an important story is lost in the media focus on something peripheral to it.
A case in point would be the “Tebowmania” that accompanied the feats of (now former) Denver Bronco’s on-field achievements last fall. So you get stories focusing on Tebow’s theology instead of his quarterbacking.
That’s a harmless example, but it’s easy to find others that are more significant and disturbing. A current example is the story of mass murderer Joseph Kony in Uganda and surrounding East African countries.
A history of violence
Various reliable sources have shown that, over the years, Kony and his officers have ordered the abduction of children to become child sex slaves and soldiers. An estimated 66,000 children became soldiers and two million people have been internally displaced since 1986.
In 2005, Kony was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, but has evaded capture.His so-called Lord’s Resistance Army operates in Uganda, the Congo, Sudan, and other nearby areas in East Africa.
Like other international stories of genocide (Rwanda and the 800,000 deaths there in the early 1990s, for example) the atrocities of Joseph Kony have gone largely unnoticed by Americans until a group called Invisible Children decided to put his misdeeds on our radar screen.
The organization has done this in a number of ways over the past few years, but none has been as resoundingly effective as the Kony 2012 documentary that was hoisted onto Youtube a couple weeks ago and – to date – has been seen by about 85 million people.
Most of these viewers never even knew these atrocities had been occurring in Uganda for years.
The stated purpose of Kony 2012 is to bring worldwide attention to Kony – in fact to make him a household name. The goal here is obviously not to make us love him but to feel such revulsion for him that the efforts to find him and bring him to justice will succeed this year.
With the court of public opinion weighing so heavily on those who have the power to conduct that search and capture Kony, the idea is these power brokers will have to listen to the millions calling for Kony’s arrest.
Certainly the story of how the social media is being used to disseminate this message is fascinating. It provides a groundbreaking example of the pro-social value of social media outlets like Youtube and Facebook. It also shows that, while traditional media may have done stories in the past about Kony, a single Youtube video has been more effective in spreading the story than all of those network news reports and newspaper stories put together.
Therein lies the rub, however: the makers of the Kony 2012 video were so successful in reaching so many people in such a short period of time, that the focus of stories about the Kony video now is that phenomenon itself … and not Joesph Kony.
Last week, after the Kony video hit 40 million viewers, each of the networks did stories that night, and the focus of each was on the viral success of the video. Not Kony’s atrocities.
A day after the viral focus wore off, the focus turned to allegations that Invisible Children was not passing through its donations to the victims of Kony.
The problem with this focus and these allegations, of course, is that Invisible Children’s goal is to bring attention to the genocide and not to provide funding for the victims. In this regard, they are a different kind of relief agency.
Again, their goal is to bring the issue of kidnapped and murdered children to the attention of the world. And that kind of publicity costs money, which is where many of the donations go.
The next day, the focus of the story turned to something else – something more titillating and – again – off the focus of Kony. This time the focus of the media was on amateur video showing the Jason Russell, filmmaker of Kony 2012, behaving erratically in the nude on a San Diego neighborhood street.
He was taken to a hospital and was later diagnosed with a condition known as brief reactive psychosis.
“Though this is new to us, the doctors say this is a common experience given the great mental, emotional and physical shock his body has gone through in these last two weeks,” his wife Danica Russell told reporters.
Brief reactive psychosis is a condition caused by extreme stress, something which fits Russell’s experience. He will remain in the hospital for several weeks and undergo treatment for it.
3 chances, 3 misses
So, we’ve had three rounds of high-profile stories over the past two weeks on the efforts of the Invisible Children organization, but none of them has had to do with Joseph Kony, his atrocities in East Africa, or the need to find him and arrest him.
Am I missing something here?