COMMENTS: It is Myanmar, Stupid

By rights, there should have been no glimmer of a doubt that the continuing catastrophe in the Irrawaddy Delta was the Story of the Day. Disease, dehydration and hunger grow urgent in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis because Myanmar's military junta continues to close its borders to almost all disaster relief. Sure enough, the crisis did attract most total time from the three networks and both ABC and CBS led their newscasts from Bangkok. What stopped Myanmar from being unanimous was the trip NBC anchor Brian Williams took to the Newseum in Washington DC for a sitdown with Presidential candidate Barack Obama. NBC kicked off its newscast with a six-minute excerpt from that q-&-a despite the fact that its British newsgathering partner ITN had snared a much bigger exclusive: its correspondent was one of the few to manage to cross the border for a first hand account of the disaster zone.

Unfortunately Neil Connery's (no link) reporting from "Burma's wasteland, a place devoid of life, abandoned by hope and hidden from the world's gaze" has not been posted by NBC for online viewing. Suffice it to say that Connery found "every street corner, every road, every avenue, every building either completely demolished or barely still standing" from the cyclone's winds and storm surge. The delta's peasants were "bewildered by what has happened, forgotten in their suffering. They wonder if help will ever come."

In Bangkok, ABC's incredulous Terry McCarthy stated that Myanmar's ruling rulers "stand accused of letting their people die" as it has given landing permission to only a handful of planes and granted no visas to foreign aid workers. "It seems inconceivable, in the wake of a disaster of such magnitude, a government as impoverished as that of Myanmar would not welcome foreign aid." CBS' Celia Hatton called "these wasted days a grim calculation" for the junta. "Letting in massive aid could threaten their hold on power and by all calculations their power remains more important to them than their people."

ABC's Elizabeth Vargas pointed to tons of relief supplies "in staging areas around the world" waiting to be allowed in. Meanwhile "in the whole country roughly the size of Texas only seven government helicopters are distributing aid." Domestic relief agencies find that the junta's stubbornness has deterred charitable donations, CBS' Bill Whitaker pointed out: three years ago Americans donated $1bn for tsunami relief; so far the Red Cross has raised $1.25m for this cyclone. CBS anchor Katie Couric sat down with Presidential candidate John McCain to ask him how to resolve the crisis. He advocated diplomacy with the People's Republic of China--"they have close ties"--to urge them to put pressure on the Burmese regime.


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