An Ardent Flame: Witness to Distant Suffering, Human Rights and Unworthy Victims in the Coverage by The New York Times and Two Journals of the Religious Left of the 1980s Civil Wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua
Date of this Version
Scholars have investigated witness to distant suffering (WTDS) almost entirely in visual media. This study examines it in print. This form of reporting will be examined in two publications of the religious left as contrasted with the New York Times. The thesis is that, more than any technology, WTDS consists of the journalist’s moral commitment and narrative skills and the audience’s analytical resources and trust. In the religious journals, liberation theology provides the moral commitment, the writers and editors the narrative skills and trust and the special vision of the newly empowered poor the analytical foundation. In bearing witness to those who have suffered state or guerilla terrorism in El Salvador and Nicaragua during the 1980s, we will investigate a distinction between “worthy” and “unworthy victims.” This last issue has a special ethical and political significance. Media witnessing to the suffering of strangers can help them become known, and so “worthy.” It can help them, and their plight and cause, become better recognized. This is the power of the media.