More news than you can shake a stick at
26 March 2017 20:41 (South Africa)
Opinionista Donald Paul

Why Boston garnered all the news: another perspective

  • Donald Paul
    donald paul bw
    Donald Paul

    Donald Paul is a freelance writer and editor. He has no children but still thinks those that do should have the benefit of being able to leave them a good, clean and safe world to live in. He lives in Cape Town but still only thinks of the mountain in the lower case (9pt courier font, for those who like details). He has a bakkie, a bicycle, two cats and books—some with pictures. His last steady job was editor of The Big Issue South Africa for three years.

That a combination of great visuals, our knowledge of Boston and America, the international media’s bias towards American stories, the sense of our security having been violated and fear of the consequences all contributed to making the Boston bombing the top news story globally, is not in dispute. But that analysis overlooks a simple reason for the bombings featuring so strongly in the news: where journalists are free to practice their trade, then it is not surprising that it makes the front pages.

Simon Allison asked, “Why has Boston struck such a strong emotional chord?” He was referring to the bombs detonated at the finish line of that city’s marathon and the subsequent media coverage “on both national and international media, which carried reports of the bombings on loop with constant updates, as well as social media where friends, colleagues and acquaintances expressed their sadness or outrage.”

He goes on to juxtapose equally horrific events: “On Sunday, for example, 20 people were killed in Mogadishu in a coordinated attack… And on Monday – the same day as the Boston attack, and almost the same time – at least 42 people died in a series of car bombs and blasts in Iraq.” (The figures in Iraq were actually around 33 with 200 wounded – see references below – but that’s quibbling.)

We all know the story: two bombs planted at the finish line killed three people. According to recent medical reports, 282 competitors and bystanders were injured and 48 remain hospitalised, two in a critical condition: a seven-year-old girl, and a man in his 60s. It is also believed that 14 patients had one or more limbs amputated.

Many commentators, journalists, Tweeters and Facebook-users and anyone with access to online newsfeeds made disparaging remarks about the seemingly excessive media frenzy that surrounded this tragedy. Most of them use similar arguments to those made above by Allison: why all the fuss about three dead marathon runners when dozens are dying every day in Iraq, Somalia, etc.?

Allison’s reasoning why can’t be faulted: there are great visuals; we know Boston, and America; international media inevitably favours American stories; our sense of security is violated; and fear of the consequences. Yet it overlooks one very simple reason: no journalists, netizens, citizen journalists, photographers, bloggers or Tweeters were killed while reporting the explosion. And that’s because if you were a journalist covering this event on the ground in Boston, you were not likely to be killed for doing your job.

No one thought to stone or beat to death any of the journalists covering the Boston Marathon bombing. Allison even quotes a Time Magazine interview with “Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki, who was there in Boston when the bombs went off, [who] relayed how a police officer approached and said to him: ‘Do me a favour. Do not exploit the situation’.”

Last year, 89 journalists, six media assistants and 48 netizens and civilian journalists were killed while reporting. Four of these deaths occurred in Iraq, 10 in Pakistan and 18 in Somalia. In 2013, nine netizens and civilian journalists and 17 journalists have been killed – five in Pakistan and two in Somalia.

Not all of these journalists were killed by people who did not have the manners to preface their displeasure at their presence with the phrase, “Do me a favour…”. Many were killed by the people whose stories these journalists were trying to tell.

And you may disagree or not with what spin was going to be put on those stories, but the fact remains that young men such as Dan Eldon, who did more than many to bring home to the world the horror of the Somalia civil war, was stoned to death trying to ensure that, what Allison terms “international media”, did bring to our attention the bombing – by US forces – of a group of Somali tribal leaders. That is what Marie Colvin was doing in Homs, Syria, when she was killed by rocket fire: trying to tell us a story of what is happening in our world. And yes, Homs is our world as much as is Boston. Or Mogadishu.

It doesn’t take much to work out why, when a bomb is detonated in the US, it gets so much publicity. Where journalists are free to practice their trade, then it is not surprising that it makes the front pages.

Allison says, “A quick analysis of the front pages of the world’s top news sites bears this out: CNN, BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, and Al-Jazeera all lead with multiple stories about the Boston bombings, along with videos and galleries. The Iraq bombings, if mentioned, are contained in one story halfway down the page. As a reader, this seems to be a clear indication of which story is more significant.”

Not really. It is not at all about significance. At heart it is about media freedom. It is about a clear indication that where media freedom is practiced without the threat of death then stories of people’s lives will be revealed. Ad nauseum.

What was significant, perhaps, is that the news was so wrong. And Michael Moynihan has dealt with that fairly decisively in the Daily Beast. DM

Read more:

● On car bombs in Baghdad at Reuters

● And across the nation at the BBC

● And in Mogadishu at Arab News

  • Donald Paul
    donald paul bw
    Donald Paul

    Donald Paul is a freelance writer and editor. He has no children but still thinks those that do should have the benefit of being able to leave them a good, clean and safe world to live in. He lives in Cape Town but still only thinks of the mountain in the lower case (9pt courier font, for those who like details). He has a bakkie, a bicycle, two cats and books—some with pictures. His last steady job was editor of The Big Issue South Africa for three years.

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