Senior White House correspondent Wolf Blitzer on Sunday admonished an audience packing the Beth El Synagogue to pay more attention to the world around them.
Speaking to an audience of more than 800 at the St. Louis Park synagogue, CNN’s former Pentagon correspondent said the news media must be more diligent in covering world events.
However, without the public’s attention, Blitzer said even the strongest coverage does no good.
“There is still a very dangerous world out there,” Blitzer said. “This requires everyone to pay a little bit more attention to what’s really happening around the world.”
To illustrate his point, Blitzer briefed the audience on instable situations in the Balkans, Iraq, China, Russia, Korea and the Middle East.
“People don’t pay enough attention to these, but I’ve got to tell you, I think one day you could wake up and find that any of these are breaking news on CNN,” he said.
While coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the presidential impeachment needed to be covered, Blitzer said the country’s inward focus may have allowed world crises to escalate.
“You can’t help but wonder … whether this whole Kosovo crisis would have erupted if people in the government were paying more attention to what was happening in Yugoslavia at that time,” Blitzer said. “There’s also a growing sense that Saddam Hussein is using this lull (caused by the Balkan crisis) to his advantage.”
Because the news media have the ability to focus public attention, Blitzer said they ought to take some of the responsibility for neglecting events beyond U.S. borders. But the government, and especially the president, also deserve some of the blame for their inward focus, Blitzer said.
As an example of the power the news media can wield, Blitzer cited his experience covering the failed Soviet coup of 1991 and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union.
As CNN’s military affairs correspondent, Blitzer had requested access to several of 25 previously classified military bases. To his surprise, all 25 were approved.
The military leader’s decision was questioned by one of his subordinates.
“And I’ll never forget what he said,” Blitzer said. “He said ‘General, perhaps you don’t understand that … one reason this coup didn’t succeed was because CNN was showing the world what was happening on the streets of Moscow.'”
“So we did, apparently, have some impact,” Blitzer said. “That’s one of the great things about my job. I have a front-row seat to history.”