LGD note: I recently wrote this essay looking at New York Times reporting in Darfur for a class on conflict and reporting. I thought it would be interesting to post here. Some of the footnotes I couldn’t include as links, so if for some reason you need a fully annotated version, please comment.
The biggest news story about conflict in Africa in the last five years has undoubtedly been the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, which has often been called genocide. The current violence in Sudan’s western state emerged in 2003 just as peace agreements were finally being made to end the 20-year civil war between Sudan’s north and south. The conflict propelled a region that had once been regarded as a backwater onto the forefront of the international stage.
As reporting picked up steam in 2004, a story emerged about Darfur that was replayed in various forms: Nomadic Arab tribes, in league with Sudan’s nefarious government, were attempting to exterminate the black Africans of Darfur through a campaign of terror, rape and fire.
But scholars, Darfur experts and some aid groups have questioned the accuracy of this mainstream reporting on Darfur. In the last two years, this has coincided with a waning interest in the Darfur conflict among the American public.
In this essay, I follow the reporting on Darfur through the course of four years and several articles in the United States’ most influential newspaper, The New York Times. Through the evolution of the reporting, I show the ways in which the Times constructed an over-arching narrative about Darfur, why the story was relevant and popular, and why myths came to influence the reporting.