Three days ago, the United States of America was once again beset with fear, this time from the mysterious explosion of bombs that went off near the Finish Line at the Boston Athletic Association’s 117th annual Boston Marathon held in Boston, Massachusetts. For many Americans, the tragedies of September 11, 2001 haven’t ever really drifted very far from the forefront of their memories, and attacks like the one in Boston only reinforce the state of constant fear they feel for their lives. Perhaps none, however, have had to live in as much fear as those residents of Arabian or ‘Middle-Eastern’ descent, or who practice the Islamic religion (or are perceived to). Non-Europeans (or those of non-European descent) and non-Christians have always been judged and misjudged as “deviating” from what the majority population considers the “normalcy” and complacency of “Judeo-Christianity”. People descended from Arab-speaking nations, a plurality of whom are practicing Muslims, were forced to carry the burdens of even further stigmatization after the 9/11 attacks, because the attacks were carried out by men who claimed themselves to be practicing Muslims. The decade that followed carried hate-crime after hate-crime, as they constantly fought to combat stereotypes while coming under increasing surveillance from the ever-present FBI as well as the U.S. State Department. Of course, anyone with a basic understanding of World and U.S. history should know “terrorism” is far from being exclusive to humans who claim to be followers of Islam. The organization which claimed responsibility for orchestrating the September 11 attacks, known as Al-Qaeda, in fact were never supported by a majority of the international Muslim community. Yet to the West, the actions of a an extreme organization represented all of Islam, an extreme form of hypocrisy if there ever was one. How many times have all Christians been made to be held accountable for the crimes of practicing Christians of European descent? – which include, but are not limited to, genocides against the original inhabitants of the North and South Americas, genocide against the peoples of the African continent, the enslavement and subjugation of the African peoples, the lynching of thousands of Black people by the Protestant organization the Ku Klux Klan, and the Nazi-orchestrated genocide of millions of Jews and others. In our culture, it often seems as if we are unfeeling to the pain of others, and in fact glorify belittling them if it is to build ourselves up. That is why American culture is only able to see “terrorism” with a brown-face, because if it’s white or European, it isn’t “terrorism”, it’s “for the common good.”
This reality was put on full display in almost the immediate aftermath of the two explosions that occurred in Boston, and the media served as the vehicle through which these public suspicions were amplified. The most obvious example of this happened on April 17 during live coverage of the incident on CNN. The entire media, at least the mainstream news sources anyway, have acted as a pack of wolves eagerly ready to pounce on their prey in a race to see who can draw the most blood. Since the explosives were detonated, reporters have spent days repeating the same few facts they have confirmed, and filled in the rest of the remaining hours of news time simply indulging in incessant speculation. But suddenly at approximately 1:16 P.M. eastern time, CNN appeared to have a major lead in the case. In the video below, an odd scene plays out as CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer seems to tug at at a correspondent he calls “Julia”, and instructs her “not to go away”, for correspondent John King has returned and brings news that will certainly prove to be a “game-changer”. (It was odd scene because Blitzer instructed her to stay yet didn’t really ask her for any input.) King informs his audience that he has just spoken to two reputable sources of information, one “law enforcement source” and another who’d been officially “briefed”, and they’d informed him that by using “improved enhancement technology” on surveillance videos obtained from local department stores, they’d been able to “identify one suspect… placing [a] bomb in trashcan.” What follows is an excerpt from John King describing the so-called suspect, who he claims has been taken into police custody, using a description he touts as being “very sensitive” on his part.
KING: I want to be very careful about this, because people get very sensitive when you say these things. I was told by one of these sources who’s a law enforcement official, uh… that this was a dark-skinned male. The official used some other words. I’m not gonna repeat them until we get more information because of the sensitivities. There will be some who will take offense even at saying that. I understand that. I’m just saying what was relayed to me by a reputable law enforcement source who’d been briefed on the investigation that, I should say the suspect was a dark-skinned male, and… and… that’s information that comes from the police.
BLITZER: You can’t say whether the person spoke with a foreign accent or an American accent?
JULIA: No. No. That would be premature.
KING: Right. Right. And that again, this source did use further language to characterize… and I’m just a reporter who’s been through a lot of these that knows that sometimes the information you get does not in the end turn out to be what happens in the end. I’m making a personal judgement… Forgive me, but I think it’s the right judgement not to try and inflame tensions. The law enforcement source was very clear that they’ve enhanced this video, they have a close-up of this individual… dropping a package, making a placement they believe to be the explosive device. They say it’s a dark-skinned male. I’m gonna stop right there and not go further because it’s obviously very sensitive.
JULIA: And until we see the picture we won’t know for certain what that description means although you clearly know more.
This is just sad. He doesn’t want to “inflame any tensions” so he decides to leave it at “dark-skinned male”, and not only that, but repeats it again and again for a total of three times? What this description added up to was basically a way of saying, “He isn’t white, and I’ll leave it at that.” The fact that he feels that that is “being sensitive” shows just out of touch he as a journalist is, and what’s more is the story turned out to be completely untrue. John King and the rest of the CNN news crew were forced to backtrack on what they referred to as a “misunderstanding.” King now cited the same law enforcement officer he cited earlier as now declaring, “Anyone who says an arrest [has been made] is ahead of themselves.” We have no reason to necessarily doubt that John King wasn’t simply reporting what he’d been told, but that is not the issue that is at hand here. As a reporter, it’s his job to be extremely cautious before sharing vital information until a much clearer picture has been gathered. Rumors and hearsay should not be relied on, especially if one isn’t able to identify their source. But what was completely out of line was that the only description he offered was that the man in question was a “dark-skinned male.” He wasn’t able to offer speculation on what his hair color, eye color, height, width, or anything else was that could prove useful in painting a description, but he made it a priority for everyone to know that the man had a dark-color skin-tone! This has been a worst-case example of yellow journalism, and in this particular case it’s not too unreasonable to demand that John King lose his job. Maybe that is a little harsh, and he certainly isn’t the only irresponsible journalist on TV by far, but isn’t it only fair that CNN be asked to live up to it’s own standards? In the past 4 years they’ve fired: Octavia Nasr, a CNN International correspondent who’d been with the company for 20 years, for tweeting a few words of condolence upon learning of the death of Hezbollah member Mohammed Sayyed Fadlallah; Susan Roesgen, for confronting a ‘tea party’ protester carrying a sign comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler; and Rick Sanchez, for referring in a radio interview to comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as “bigots” right before he went off on a mindless, bigoted rant about the undeserved success of the Jewish minority. That isn’t to say I endorse these reporters being fired nor am I saying they shouldn’t have been fired, but John King’s repeated attempt to drive home the message to be on the look-out for the “dark-skinned male” is certainly of equal grounds for firing. Whether the intent was to conjure up stereotypical images or not, by King’s own admission some will unfortunately take it as a license or as justification for scapegoating various ethnic minority groups, singling them out as targets for hatred.
CNN, however, is far from being alone in behaving like a pack of vultures awaiting a dead body to feast on. The New York Post today ran an image of two unidentified men under the headline: “BAG MEN: Feds seek these two pictured..”
The image on the cover, however, didn’t even identify which of the many people pictured the headline was even referring to! And never to be outdone when it comes to spreading racial fear and paranoia, Fox News Channel lent their two cents to the national dialogue immediately the day after the bombings occurred, by of course blaming Saudi Arabians for the attack. One of many attendees at the Boston Marathon races on April 15 was a young man in his early 20’s currently residing in Boston while he earns his degree from Boston University. He, along with several friends, are students who’d traveled from their home country of Saudi Arabia, but in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon the young man was injured and hospitalized. In a probable case of racial profiling, police went and searched his apartment but couldn’t find anything of value. According to their own reports, he was not a suspect in the case and was, in fact, a witness. No matter, Fox producer Jonathon Watell and local WDHD reporter Byron Barnett were immediately on the scene to question one of the man’s unsuspecting roommates, 22-year old Mohammed Bada. What transpired was more of an interrogation than an interview, and the immense amount of pressure these overzealous reporters placed on this poor young man is apparent in his expressions. Keep in mind when viewing the video below that English is not Mohammed Bada’s first language:
BARNETT: Mohammed, just tell me. What was it like when the police came to your apartment?
MOHAMMED: Until now, I don’t know.
BARNETT: Can I ask you how you feel about the police coming to your apartment?
MOHAMMED: Yes, so scary.
BARNETT: Do you know what they took out of your apartment?
REPORTER #2: Did your friend have anything to do with these bombings?
MOHAMMED: I don’t know what just happened.
BARNETT: Do you know anything at all about these bombings? Do you or your friends have anything to do with them?
MOHAMMED: (shakes head)
BARNETT: Police came to your apartment. Can you help me out?
MOHAMMED: I just came to get a little money, change my clothes and go to school. That’s it.
BARNETT: But now did any of your friends have anything to do with the Boston Marathon?
MOHAMMED: I don’t know. I don’t know. This is my friend, my friend, my good friend. Any connection to this bomb? I don’t know?!”
BARNETT: Don’t you know ’em well?
MOHAMMED: No, they good people.
REPORTER #3: What did they do in the apartment… and to your belongings?
MOHAMMED: We live together, yea.
REPORTER #3: Did you go in the apartment after…
MOHAMMED: What are you talking about?
REPORTER #3: Did they go through your files?
BARNETT: What did they do in your apartment? What did they do to your friends?
MOHAMMED: I don’t know. I was outside.
BARNETT: You were outside the apartment while the police were inside?
REPORTER #3: What is the condition of the apartment now. Did they move things around? Did they remove things? What does your apartment look like inside after the police came in there?
MOHAMMED: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
REPORTER #3: You don’t know what your apartment looks like?
MOHAMMED: I don’t remember. No.
BARNETT: Where is your friend now?
MOHAMMED: Someone said maybe in the hospital? He was hit by the bomb.
BARNETT: One of your roommates was hit by the bomb?
BARNETT: He was at the Marathon?
MOHAMMED: (nods head)
BARNETT: He’s in the hospital? Do you know what hospital?
MOHAMMED: (shakes head)
BARNETT: Did you talk to him?
BARNETT: Then how do you know he was hit by the bomb?
MOHAMMED: The police says that to me.
BARNETT: Who said that to you?
MOHAMMED: The police.
BARNETT: The police said that about your friend? Your roommate was at the Marathon and was hit by the bomb?
MOHAMMED: (nods head) Um-hmm. Yea.
BARNETT: And he’s in the hospital?
REPORTER #3: What’s his name?
MOHAMMED: Uhhh… whose?
BARNETT & REPORTER #3:Your friend!
MOHAMMED: I can’t give any information.
REPORTER #3: When’s the last time you saw your friend, Mohammed? When was the last time he was in the apartment with you?
MOHAMMED: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
BARNETT: Do you think your friend had anything to do with the bombing at the marathon?
MOHAMMED: I don’t understand.
BARNETT: The bomb at the marathon, do you think your friend did it?!
MOHAMMED: No, I don’t think so.
MOHAMMED: Because no, I haven’t hear about that.
BARNETT: What can you tell us about your friend? What is he…
MOHAMMED: (places his hands on his head, visibly frustrated) Please, let me go to school dude.
As the hours passed and the demand for answers grew louder and stronger, feelings of intense animosity were building up and searched for the first-available scapegoat. On April 18th, Medford, Massachusetts was where the inevitable storm made its first strike. As a Palestinian woman innocently traveled alongside the sidewalk with her friend, she was closely followed by a white man in his mid-30’s. The man, approaching her quickly, yelled out to her, “Fuck you Muslims! You are terrorists! I hate you! You are involved in the Boston explosions! Fuck you!”, right before he punched her.
We’ve seen this kind of hate and intolerance before:
It would be foolish to place all of the blame directly at the feet of the media. Historically, the media has perpetuated stereotypes and fanned prejudices that already existed prior to their reporting. However, when television and print media allow their coverage to be skewed by such biased prejudicial views of the world, they become complicit if not instrumental in acts of violence that are almost certain to come about. It’s unlikely that reporters like John King, Wolf Blitzer, Byron Barnett, and just about every “reporter” at Fox/News Corps are ever going to get that much-needed pink slip, however – the slip that Nasr, Roesgen, and Sanchez received. After all, they are “just doing their jobs”, aren’t they?
*Should John King be fired from CNN for spreading stereotypes and further muddying the national public discourse? Sound off and let us know how you really feel in the comment section below: