By Mark Scheinbaum
MIAMI (May 22, -It is really great to know that pop music star Ariana Grande from nearby Boca Raton, Florida—on the cover of this week’s Time Magazine is rebounding and hitting her career stride exactly one year after 22 of her Manchester, England fans were killed and another 500 were injured in what the British press called a suicide bombing and terror attack. (1)
Today d is the first anniversary of this attack which dominat4ed English-speaking and global entertainment and news coverage for days, if not weeks.
Forgotten, as a royal wedding continues to be one of the top three news stories on every network, were the 28 Coptic Christians, in Minya, Egypt who were slaughtered by a gang of radical thugs while en route to a church retreat. This was just the latest in a series of attacks—including Palm Sunday—in which dozens of Egyptian Christians were killed in their churches and elsewhere.
Except for a few news stories the first day or so, the English-language global media, and Western European outlets took little notice of the Coptic victims. Egyptian aerial raids against outposts in Tunisia allegedly harboring the murderers also received little attention.
One could say that English=speaking, middle class, concertgoers play to a better demographic audience in the media than Coptic Christians strewn on desert sands in an Islamic land. Yet the contrast between “Manchester v. Coptics” as some of my college students call it, goes deeper into media bias in the USA and elsewhere.
Patricia Tanner Gerhauser, a doctoral student at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania had her work cut out for her in her study of, “Framing Arab-Americans and Muslims in the U.S. Media, “ ( Pennsylvania Sociological Society, Fall, 2014) (3), when she dealt with the concept that Arabs are viewed as terrorists, U.S. Arabs (who are overwhelmingly Christian) are Muslim, and followers of Islam whether from Arab nations or not are also viewed as terrorists. She points out:
“ A change in the general American public’s understanding of the distinctions and complexities of Arab ethnicity, Islamic religiosity, and terrorism, as a political act of violence, requires citizens to engage in interactions with these populations or to, at the very least, have access to accurate information.”
While the study of bias toward any ethnic, racial or cultural group in U.S. media portrayal is laudable, the case of under-reporting the assassination of Coptic Christians in the global English-language press presents some special hypocrisy in a world of distrust and defamation of journalists.
First, the lack of news coverage means that conservative, evangelical, and other Christian groups and activists miss a chance to express outrage at fellow Christians being targeted by anti-Christian zealots. Additionally one would hope that people of ecumenical goodwill of all religious stripes would also want to show solidarity with Coptic leaders and exert more pressure on Egyptian authorities responsible for the protection of all of its citizens.
Beyond the USA media audience, there are Islamic citizens from Indonesia to Bosnia, from Nigeria to Canada and all points in between who believe in moderation, fairness, and respect of other religions.
In 1997 while serving on a fact-finding mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I saw firsthand the “Moslem” city of Tuzla where fashionable women strolled through cafes and shopped with friends; where the vast majority of residents would identify themselves as practicing Moslems but to the casual observers there was the hustle and bustle, dress and ambiance of any secular Western European city. Sure, it is my own stereotype as well, but whatever pre-programmed images I had of women in burkas or men sitting around sipping tea all day and waiting for five daily calls to prayer were not evident to me.
It would be easy to say that comparing same-week coverage of terrorist attacks at an English pop concert with a famous singer and an obscure church field trip in Egypt is petty and unfair to the media. But it is actually just one symptom of U.S. and sadly other national “media” mixing entertainment and “news” to the point of distrust or oblivion.
Last Friday afternoon the USA watched coverage of another eight high school students shot and killed along with two adults. This time in Texas. More outrage and hand-wringing,. More gun control debate. But that was late Friday.
Yesterday, Monday—the first full news cycle of the new week—I logged five newscasts to see if the follow-up to the latest school shootings topped the news.
Leading off the 8 a.m. morning drive time TV news shows on the networks, CBS, NBC and ABC did not list the school shootings in the top three items. All featured Royal Wedding reception stories. There was also a report on the big concert in Las Vegas and a drug company scandal. Our local Fox news channel, WSVN-TV had three extended weather and flooding stories. AT 8:07 they “teased” follow ups to the Texas shooting after a commercial. The business news channel, CNBC-TV ran with the “hold” on the trade war between China and the USA after weekend tariff negotiations.
If anyone thought that along with a legislative or lobbying initiative on gun control after the Parkland student killings there would be a media focus on all such incidents, they were mistaken. The “legs” of a Friday school shooting in late May when students went to graves, churches, and funeral parlors instead of scheduled graduations—well, it just can’t compete with George Clooney and his wife showing up to see Sir Elton John at a royal wedding.
The Jewish holiday of Shavuot ends today. Among other things it celebrates the gift of the Ten Commandments from the Lord to Moses. Back in those days Thou Shalt Not Kill might not always have been obeyed but in most religions it was understood.
This week when you are watching Cable TV News, or checking Facebook and other social media sources of “news” you are now permitted to ask, “Did the rules say ‘thou shalt not kill’ or ‘coverage of the news story depends on WHO you killed and where?”
MARK SCHEINBAUM is Adjunct Prof. of International Relations, teaching “the Media and Foreign Policy” at Florida International University, Miami. He is managing director of Shearson Financial Services LLC, Boca Raton, FL MScheinbaum@Shearsonllc.com and his views do not reflect those of the firm or its clients.