On Issue of Reported Terrorism, Trump and Media Both Correct

President Trump erupted a firestorm of debate on Monday after giving a speech to U.S. service members at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Claiming that the American media is failing in its responsibility to accurately report on Islamic terrorism around the globe, the President said:

“All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported… And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

The statement was enough to send the media, CNN in particular, into a tailspin of concern and defensive posturing, rushing to show clips from attacks where there was indeed coverage.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer later clarified the President’s remarks aboard Air Force One stating:

“He felt that members of media don’t always cover some of those events to the extent that other events might get covered…like a protest gets blown out of the water, and yet an attack or a foiled attack doesn’t necessarily get the same coverage.”

As the White House rolled out a list of 78 attacks they believed were either under covered or not covered at all, media groups scrambled to show instances of coverage for those listed.

The problem is that both the media and President Trump have a point.  The list includes events that had wall to wall coverage such as the truck attacks in Nice and Germany, the Brussels airport bomb, and the attacks in Paris.  However, the list also included attacks for which there was very little or no reporting in the United States.  As the President was specifically referencing the work of the American media, links to reports of terrorist attacks from European sources shouldn’t be used as evidence of the American media doing its job.  An American President speaking to American soldiers is referencing the problem with his own nation’s media, not necessarily that found in Europe.

While it’s true that mass causality attacks received 24-hour coverage, it’s also important to remember how some of these attacks were framed in public discussion.  The San Bernardino shooting was pushed as “workplace violence”.  The Orlando nightclub shooting was framed as homophobic murder from a repressed homosexual. Politico reported that Mateen was acting on “revenge” for being gay and transcripts of the shooter’s call to 911 were redacted to hide his pledge of allegiance to ISIS.

This is the point Trump was making.  Even when reported, attacks are framed in a way that benefits certain blocks of the American political landscape instead of factual, objective provision of information to the public.

The White House additionally makes a valid point about total neglect on the part of American media covering some events.  During the administration of George W. Bush coverage of car bombs and suicide attacks in Iraq were commonplace because they were seen as evidence of Bush’s failures.  Now religious minorities are being crucified in Iraq with less coverage than a slip of the tongue from Kellyanne Conway.

In reference to attacks in Europe being so mundane they go unreported or under-reported in the United States, President Trump is again correct.

Consider the 15 year-old girl, who began her radicalization at the age of 7 and found passage to Istanbul to meet with ISIS commanders before being unleashed on a “martyrdom attack” (not “ISIS-inspired”) in Hanover when she stabbed a police officer in the back of the neck. Effort to find CNN reports of this event have been fruitless. The 15-year-old attacker described the attacks in Paris as “the happiest day of her life”.

Essen, Germany, April 16 2017, ISIS-inspired teens bomb a Sikh wedding, no references to which could be found on CNN’s website other than the claim that the attack was the focus of articles elsewhere.

In May of 2016, a 70-year old woman in Baden-Württemberg was murdered with a note left behind written in Arabic containing a “religious message”.

Three months later, also in Germany, a couple, 57 and 66, were stabbed while having a picnic by a man shouting “Allahu Akbar” in Oberhausen. In this case the attacker was discovered to be under the influence of drugs, but it speaks to the issue of radicalization in Europe bubbling to the surface.

In October 2016, two German teenagers in Hamburg were stabbed by a radical Muslim while sitting below a bridge. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, while police are reluctant to assign motive.  The case remains open.

These five examples represent under-reported or unreported incidences of terror attacks in Europe, one of which was directly commissioned by ISIS. These serve to support the President’s claim that the American media “doesn’t want to report it” or that “it’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported”.

Social polarization, blame, and the rigidity of held positions even when it comes to events in which people are killed need to stop.  It was seen in the Orlando and San Bernardino attacks that the media massaged a narrative counter to the facts available.  The American media is correct in countering Trump’s claim that the events weren’t always reported, but effort should be made to review the tint through which that reporting was often made.

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