Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Media weep for Paris; virtually ignore Lebanon
While the world followed every detail of the Paris attacks, wept along with Parisians, and changed their Facebook profile pictures to the French tricolor flag, a similar attack the day before in Beirut, Lebanon went virtually ignored by the Western media.

A Lexis-Nexis database search of newspapers coverage of both events is revealing.  A simple search for “Beirut” on Friday, Nov. 13 and Saturday, Nov. 14 (the two days following the bombing that killed 40 and injured more than 240) showed 262 hits. Meanwhile, a search of newspapers for “Paris” the two days (Nov. 14 and 15) following the attacks there generated more than 3,000 hits. (The search “maxed out” at 3000 hits). 

In terms of volume, there was at least 11 times the coverage of the Paris attacks than the Beirut bombing in Western media.

What this doesn’t take into account is the prominence of the coverage. An unscientific search of the Newseum’s front page database showed almost universal front-page, next-day coverage of the Paris attacks, at least in major daily newspapers. In an informal perusal of 50 front pages, only a handful of small town papers (“The Baxter Bulletin,” “The Harrison Daily Times”) did not have prominent, page-one coverage of the Paris bombing. A similar informal examination of day-after coverage of the Beirut bombing revealed no page one coverage that I could find, except an easily-missed one column inch teaser at the bottom of page one of the New York Times announcing that dozens were killed. 

The dearth of coverage was not missed by a dozen or so Lebanese Facebook friends whom I met while teaching peace journalism in Beirut. These Lebanese universally pointed out the incongruency between Paris and Beirut. One said succinctly that the lack of media attention sends is that “some lives matter more than others.” Another former Lebanese student, and current journalist, wrote that “the whole global expression of compassion (for Paris) is culturally constructed in a way which significantly guarantees the superiority of the more powerful France. Everything is there to remind us, citizens of the “3rd world”, that victims on the other side are more important than ours.” Several changed their Facebook profile photos so that they included an overlay of the Lebanese flag.
These sentiments were echoed in the New York Times. “’When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,’ Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. ‘When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.’” (November 15, 2015).

Does the disparity in media coverage and world reaction reveal a disregard for people “in those parts of the world?” I’m never prone to believe broad media conspiracies, that there is some malevolent entity coordinating and controlling Western media coverage. No, rather than a larger agenda, I believe that the lack of coverage of the Beirut bombing simply reflects standard media narratives—a combination of habit and practice that is hard to break. So when violence happens in Beirut, which carries a violent narrative, journalism and the public see it as routine. And media don’t usually report the routine. Hence, the limited coverage.

More responsible journalism, and more realistic 21st-century journalism, must stop marginalizing events and people from “those parts of the world.” After all, the global ISIS threat sprang up in just such a part of the world, as did Al Qaeda. Regarding the Beirut bombing, better peace journalism would humanize the Lebanese victims, as media have done with the Paris victims, and explain the dire geopolitical ramifications of a de-stabilized Lebanon.

If an examination of media’s response to these twin tragedies teaches us anything, it’s that we as journalists should strive to legitimize all victims of terrorist attacks, regardless of where they live.

--A DIFFERENT TAKE is a Vox.com piece that says that even if media had covered Beirut, the story would have been ignored by readers. Interesting, though I don't think this absolves media from giving more balanced coverage. 
--ALSO SEE an interesting article from PRI about social media traffic and hashtag use about the Paris and Beirut incidents.

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