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News Media Last Updated: Apr 26th, 2007 - 00:39:36

Nationality dictates media coverage
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 26, 2007, 00:37

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A 23-year-old South Korean resident of the US carefully plans and executes an attack on students and teachers at Virginia Tech leaving 32 dead. A week later, the story still makes newspaper headlines.

Seung-Hui Cho�s life history is dissected on Oprah. NBC faithfully airs the killer�s prepared multi-media package. American Idol judge Simon Cowell comes under fire for raising his eyebrows following a contestant�s expression of sympathy.

President George W. Bush attends a House Correspondents� dinner but leaves his jokes at home out of respect for the dead. Britain�s Sky News holds a minute�s silence. Pundits on network after network ask why, a question that was oddly verboten vis-�-vis the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Two days after the campus shooting, car bombs took the lives of more than 150 innocents in Baghdad. The media gave this incident slightly more than a passing mention.

Nobody bothered to find out the exact number of dead or their names. A video message from the killers, even if one existed, would never be broadcast. Nobody interviewed their grieving relatives. Nobody stood in respectful silence. And, nobody asks why.

On Friday, a disgruntled NASA employee took two of his co-workers hostage. One survived. The other was shot dead. This incident was given prominence in the news for two days.

A newly-landed extraterrestrial being familiar with the English language might be forgiven for believing that some people�s lives are worth more than others, purely dependent on an accident of birth or acquired nationality. He, she or it might also wonder why the word �terrorist� is attached to some killers but not to others.

It�s interesting that Seung-Hui Cho appears to have escaped the �terrorist� tag even though terror is exactly what he wanted to inflict on his wealthy co-students, whose fancy cars and trust funds he so bitterly envied. He was even dressed for the part. Instead he is termed variously as �a gunman,� �a student� or a �killer.� An army of psychologists speculate on whether he might have been autistic, mentally ill or lonely.

There is little press speculation as to why marines murdered 24 civilians in Haditha, including woman and children, or why their superiors covered up the tragedy.

It�s also interesting that while the Virginia Tech shooting is being labelled a �massacre� in The Boston Herald, Reuters, the Telegraph, the Israeli paper, Arutz Sheva, and others, there is little mention of a massacre at Haditha.

Going back a few years, an article in Arutz Sheva, titled �CNN and the media jihad,� written by Jack Engelhard, perfectly illustrates these double standards. Engelhard writes �Think Jenin, that fraudulent �massacre� that was swallowed whole by the media Jihad.�

In April 2002, the Israeli army entered Jenin, a Palestinian refugee camp, demolishing homes and killing 52 people, according to a UN report. Colin Powell, then US secretary of state, visited Jenin and reported back that a �massacre� had not taken place.

So what do we learn from these comparisons?

Firstly, it seems the term �terrorist� is reserved mainly for killers who happen to be Muslim. Timothy McVeigh, who, in 1995, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, is usually called a bomber or mass murderer. The perpetrators of Columbine were labelled disturbed children or �shooters.�

Secondly, when the US military kills civilians as it did in Fallujah, Tel Afar, Al Mahmudiya and Haditha, the carnage wrought is never referred to as a massacre. When the US Air Force incinerated 408 women and children seeking refuge in Baghdad�s Amiriyah air-raid shelter in 1991, this was never termed a massacre either.

And thanks to academic and media collusion, few of today�s youngsters are aware of one of the greatest massacres in history -- the US/UK bombing of Dresden during the Second World War, which flattened the German city and killed or injured some 135,000 civilians.

What happened at Virginia Tech is shocking, senseless and painfully tragic. As America grieves the loss of its brightest and best, the media have a duty to get the story out. However, they also have a duty to apply the same reporting standards to all perpetrators and victims of similar crimes.

In fact, it is so biased as to be hardly credible. Why, for instance, are most people aware of the name Corporal Gilad Shalit while they cannot even name one of the 10,000 Palestinians, including dozens of young children, being held in Israeli jails? Why is the Israeli PR machine given a platform while the Palestinians are excluded from airing genuine grievances?

The media should strive to be more even-handed. They should agree on empirical definitions for �terrorist� or �massacre,� which should not depend on the nationalities, religions, ethnicities or jobs of either perpetrators or victims. Until then we should remind ourselves of the power of words and the influence they have over our own perceptions of events.

Was Cho a terrorist or a societal misfit? You decide.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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