Monday, June 19, 2017

CNN really is biased--at least this one story
As part of my presentation at the IVOH Restorative Narratives Summit later this week in New York, I've picked a CNN story at random (16 June 2017) and analyzed it to see if it reflected peace journalism principles. What I learned surprised me: the Trump people might have a point about CNN not giving the president a fair shake. Keep in mind this is just one story, and that to draw any conclusions, we'd have to analyze dozens of stories. Still, what I found (below) is food for thought.

The story is built on a house of cards—on the flimsiest of unnamed sources, and on speculation. It paints (smears?) Trump as angry, emotional, increasingly withdrawn, and out of control, but offers little in the way of proof other than Trump’s use of the term “witch hunt.”

Click on the two photos below to more easily read the story and my comments.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Terrorism coverage distorts reality
When it comes to biased media, one automatically thinks of left-right political bias, of Sean Hannity vs. Media Matters, for example. But there’s another kind of bias that infects our news media—the bias that minimizes victims of terrorism who don’t live in North America or Europe.

By watching the news, one might think that most terror victims were Christians living in the U.S. or Europe. However, “By far the vast majority of victims of terrorist attacks over the past 15 years has been Muslims killed by Muslims…’I understand why the media cover terrorism in the West so closely, and I understand why people who follow these events become so frightened, but objectively speaking the threat of terrorism is not very great,’ said Richard Bulliet, a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University.” (

In my book Peace Journalism Principles and Practices, I cite a 2011 report by the U.S. government's National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) that said, "In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years." Also, a Washington Post analysis of all terrorist attacks from the beginning of 2015 through the summer of 2016 that shows that the Middle East, Africa and Asia have seen “nearly 50 times more deaths from terrorism than Europe and the Americas.’” (

Two recent examples demonstrate how the volume and tone of terrorism coverage highlights suffering in the West, and marginalizes victims from elsewhere. On May 22, an attack in Manchester killed 23 and injured 116. In the two days following the attack, a Lexis-Nexis search of newspaper articles with the keyword “Manchester” maxed out at 1,000 hits per day, meaning that there were at least 2,000 newspaper stories about Manchester on May 23-24. On May 31, a bomb in Kabul killed 90 and wounded 400. A Lexis-Nexis search of newspaper articles with the keyword “Kabul” got 333 hits on June 1, and 212 hits on June 2—substantially fewer articles than about the Manchester attack.

The tone of coverage between the attacks is also different, according to at least one observer. In Salon, Sophia McClennen writes, “In the Manchester story, there was a deeply human face to the coverage. Audiences became familiar with individual girls who lost their lives and they connected with the mothers who were searching for information about their loved ones.

…In the coverage of the Kabul bombing, a New York Times piece did mention the difficulties loved ones were having in tracking down information on those who were caught in the blast. But that piece also included strangely cold language: ‘In different corners of the city, workers and relatives dug graves for the ones who, with life having become a game of chance, just were not lucky.’ Imagine a reporter referring to those being buried in Manchester with the same sort of detached language.” (

This distorted coverage leads to undue fear in the West about being a terrorist victim, the risk of which is actually about 0.000003 percent, according to Peace Journalism Principles and Practices. This exaggeration empowers those who seek to capitalize on the war on terror for their own gain. This distorted coverage also dehumanizes those outside the West who are most often are victimized by terrorists, leading to indifference about these victims’ plight and fueling anti-terrorism policies that often don’t reflect reality.

Unless media’s coverage of terrorism becomes less hysterical and more proportional, there’s little hope that our society’s discourse about terrorism can become more nuanced and sophisticated.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fulbright keynote speaker irritates photographer
Juvenile keynote speaker
Got in some new photos from my recent presentation about peace and reconciliation journalism at a Fulbright-Colombia gathering in Arauca, Colombia (see May 1 post below).

Hats off to professional photograher and patient person Natalia Lugo, who took some great shots and endured some torment from me. In keeping with the demeanor of a mature professor, I hid behind people and objects, made faces, etc., leaving her with dozens of pictures of questionable value.
PJ in Arauca, Colombia

Thanks, Nat, for understanding my insanity. I look forward to my next trip to Colombia, even if that feeling many not be unanimous among my Colombian colleagues.
With Natalia Lugo (center) and Greis Cifuentes,
who did a great job organizing the Fulbright conference.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Two frames tell different tales on Comey's firing
I saw this yesterday on Twitter, and had to share. It speaks to the importance of framing--how we tell stories. Comey's firing was framed by Fox News as justified and having nothing to do with the Russia investigation, which Fox doesn't even recognize as legitimate. CNN, on the other hand, framed the firing only as an attempt to interfere with the Russia investigation, and seemed to paper over real concerns about Comey's competence.

Peace journalists--good journalists--would report both narratives, and provide context and analysis of both points of view. As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere between these polar positions.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The long road to peace and reconciliation in Colombia
--Vea a continuación, este artículo traducido al Español.--

ARAUCA, COLOMBIA—Before the day-long peace journalism workshop even started, the 50-year war that just ended here became much less abstract to me thanks to two stories shared by an attendee, a distinguished older man wearing a 10-gallon hat. He almost brought me to tears as he described his anguish as his family exhumed his sister’s remains from a mass grave of victims killed by the rebels. Then, he shared a terrifying story about surviving an explosion so nearby that his ears bled.

Ten minutes later, I was asked to talk about peace. What I really wanted to do was sit down and listen to these Colombians educate me about the real meaning of peace.

However, not wanting to disappoint the event’s sponsors, the Fulbright Association of Colombia, the Colombian president’s office of human rights, and the Universidad National in Arauca, I delivered my keynote address to an overflow crowd. I discussed different constructs of peace, and explained the basics of peace journalism, especially concentrating on journalism’s role in reconciliation processes. These roles include creating platforms for societal discussions; ensuring transparency in reconciliation processes; producing counter-narrative reporting that humanizes the other side; and providing a voice for all citizens, and not just elites.
After the keynote speech, I led a workshop where we analyzed two key questions. The first: What are the challenges to implementing peace journalism in Colombia? The 110 participants, former Fulbrighters, journalists, students and academics, discussed these in small groups, then reported back to the larger gathering. The challenges they listed include:
  • Media overly commercial/ratings driven
  • Factions in territories can make reporting dangerous
  • Corruption in media/lack of professional values for journalists
  • Monopoly of media ownership
  • Politicized media/media owners
  • Sensationalism
  • Distorted information
  • Use of inflammatory language
Note the four legged participant, lower right.
If this list looks familiar, it should. How many of these accurately describe U.S. media?
Then, I asked the attendees to create their own suggestions for improving Colombian media using peace journalism principles. These suggestions included:
  • Use moderate language
  • Give a voice to the voiceless, especially those in rural areas
  • Be truthful and precise
  • Provide context
  • Report more stories from outside major cities (from Colombian “flyover” regions)
  • Train students and professionals in peace journalism/journalism ethics
  • Report about solutions
  • Use media as a bridge to connect disparate groups
I closed the session by asking the attendees, especially the journalists present, to

begin spreading the word about peace journalism, and about their crucial role in the reconciliation processes that are just underway in Colombia.
Achieving peace and reconciliation will be a long and difficult road, but nonetheless a trip worth taking. Just ask the hombre with the 10-gallon hat.

El largo camino hacia la paz y la reconciliación en Colombia
--Aquí está el artículo de abajo, traducido usando Google Translate. Por favor perdone cualquier error. Necesito mejorar mi Español! Gracias, Esteban

ARAUCA, COLOMBIA-Antes de que comenzara el taller de periodismo de paz de un día, la guerra de 50 años que terminó aquí se volvió mucho menos abstracta gracias a dos historias compartidas por un asistente, un distinguido hombre mayor que llevaba un sombrero de 10 galones. Casi me llenó de lágrimas mientras describía su angustia mientras su familia exhumaba los restos de su hermana de una fosa común de víctimas asesinadas por los rebeldes. Luego, compartió una aterradora historia sobre sobrevivir a una explosión tan cerca que sus orejas sangraron.

Diez minutos más tarde me pidieron que hablara sobre la paz. Lo que realmente quería hacer era sentarme y escuchar a estos colombianos que me educaran sobre el verdadero significado de la paz.
Sin embargo, no queriendo decepcionar a los patrocinadores del evento, a la Asociación Fulbright de Colombia, a la oficina de derechos humanos del colombiano ya la Universidad Nacional en Arauca, entregué mi discurso a un público desbordado. Discutieron diferentes constructos de paz, y expuse los fundamentos del periodismo de paz, especialmente concentrándome en el papel del periodismo en los procesos de reconciliación. Estas funciones incluyen la creación de plataformas para discusiones sociales; Asegurar la transparencia en los procesos de reconciliación; Producir informes contra-narrativos que humanizan al otro lado; Y dar voz a todos los ciudadanos, y no sólo a las élites.

Después del discurso inaugural, dirigí un taller en el que analizamos dos preguntas clave. La primera: ¿Cuáles son los desafíos para implementar el periodismo de paz en Colombia? Los 110 participantes, antiguos Fulbrighters, periodistas, estudiantes y académicos, discutieron estos temas en pequeños grupos, luego informaron a la reunión más amplia. Los desafíos que enumeran incluyen:
  • Medios excesivamente comerciales / evaluados
  • Las facciones en territorios pueden hacer peligroso la presentación de informes
  • Corrupción en los medios / falta de valores profesionales para los periodistas
  • Monopolio de la propiedad de los medios
  • Medios de comunicación politizados / propietarios de medios
  • Sensacionalismo
  • Información distorsionada
  • Uso de lenguaje inflamatorio

Si esta lista parece familiar, debería. ¿Cuántos de estos describen con precisión los medios de comunicación estadounidenses?

Luego, les pedí a los asistentes que crearan sus propias sugerencias para mejorar los medios colombianos usando los principios del periodismo de paz. Estas sugerencias incluyeron:
  • Usar un lenguaje moderado
  • Dar voz a los sin voz, especialmente a los que viven en zonas rurales
  • Sea sincero y preciso
  • Proporcionar contexto
  • Reporta más historias de fuera de las principales ciudades (de las regiones colombianas "flyover")
  • Capacitar a estudiantes y profesionales en periodismo de paz / ética periodística
  • Informe sobre las soluciones
  • Usar medios como puente para conectar grupos dispares

Cerré la sesión pidiendo a los asistentes, especialmente a los periodistas presentes, que comiencen a difundir la noticia sobre el periodismo de paz y sobre su papel crucial en los procesos de reconciliación que están en curso en Colombia.

Lograr la paz y la reconciliación será un camino largo y difícil, pero sin embargo un viaje vale la pena tomar. Pregúntale al hombre con el sombrero de 10 galones.