The perils of being regarded as a ‘liberal’ institution

The Twitter firestorm over the way the New York Times covered Trump’s speech after the El Paso shootings was a thing to behold. (In its Tuesday first edition, the Times had a page One banner headline, “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism” — which was changed to “Assailing Hate, But Not Guns” for the remainder of the print run.)

The furore also spurred Jack Shafer, the Politico columnist, into action. “The fury uncaged by the five-word Times headline”, he wrote,

had less to do with the language used and more to do with the political validation that liberals and lefties have come to demand from the news media they consume. It’s not good enough for some liberals that the Times has kept a tight vigil on Trump since he announced his candidacy four years ago, exposing him as a tax cheat, tracking his lies, aggressively covering the Mueller investigation and the Stormy Daniels case, cataloging everybody he’s insulted on Twitter, fending off his “enemy of the people” charges, recording his abuse of emergency powers, and documenting his contempt for the rule of law. They want every column-inch of copy in the Times to reinforce and amplify their resistance values, right down to the headlines. Anything perceived as even a minor deviation from that “mission,” they seem to think, requires the mass cancelation of subscriptions and calls for the executive editor’s resignation.

The defect with this resistance view of the Times is that the paper completely rejects it. “Our role is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump,” Baquet said at the SXSW conference in March 2017. “Our role is to cover him aggressively.” Times reporter David Sanger reiterated Baquet at another conference later that year. “The biggest single mistake we could do in navigating our coverage of the Trump administration would be to let ourselves become the resistance to the government in place,” Sanger said. In expecting the Times to be something it has vowed it will never, ever be, members of the resistance have positioned themselves for perpetual disenchantment.

Yep. And quite right too.

Journalism and mass shootings

Somber reflections from the journalist who was Editor of the Rocky Mountain News when the Columbine shootings happened, and who covered that story exhaustively.

I’m out of daily journalism now. But whenever there’s a mass shooting I have no desire to read the stories or watch the footage. There’s a ritual to the coverage, and it feels like it always follows the same arc and ends the same way. Journalists tell the story of what it was like to survive the slaughter. Then they offer tender accounts of the victims’ lives, detail where and how the weapons were purchased, publish profiles of the killer or killers, and write accounts of the struggles of the wounded. And then most of us move on, until the next shooting. Even the killing of 20 elementary-school children in Newtown, Connecticut, changed nothing.

This ritual can make journalism seem futile. I am forced to ask why journalists are doing this work in this way, and whether in the end it’s worth it.

Journalists feel the need to bear witness. But to the same horror, again and again? I can’t say anymore that I believe we learn from terrible things. I can say that I’ve seen the limits of journalism—and of hope. And I’m struggling with what to do about it.

I feel much the same. These atrocities have become, somehow, ‘normalised’.

What can British journalists learn from US hacks’ experience of covering Trump?

Nice, useful advice by Emily Bell:

In the end, perhaps the biggest lesson the British media can learn from the US experience of Trump is that their work matters to people beyond their readership or audience, and to that end it needs to become more rigorous and more serious. On both sides of the Atlantic there is a circular firing squad of the commentariat who wonder, on a daily basis, how did this happen? The boring truth is that we need to pay attention to the substance and not the glockenspiel. When the circus has left town, we will need a reliable record to remind us of what happened, and how, and why.

Skewed reporting of white vs Islamic ‘terrorism’

Interesting study of how mainstream media reports and categorises terrorist attacks.

Why does the media refuse to call white murderers terrorists? Why, instead, are these killers humanised and we, the reader, encouraged to feel for or relate to them? These questions have surfaced time and time again during the increasingly prevalent white-supremacist and far-right attacks of recent years. Both in terms of the language used, and the quantity of coverage, media treatment of differing forms of extremism is skewed. A Muslim can be expected to be immediately labelled a terrorist, whilst the media is hesitant to apply this term to white people. Research by the University of Alabama has shown that, between 2006 and 2015, terror attacks committed by Muslim extremists received 357% more US press coverage than those committed by non-Muslims, despite the fact that majority of domestic extremist killings in this period were linked to right-wing radicalism.

On March 15, a white supremacist committed the deadliest act of terrorism in New Zealand’s modern history. A shooter began attacking the Al Noor Mosque before continuing on to the Linwood Islamic Centre. 50 people were killed, and 50 others injured. The first of these attacks was streamed live on Facebook.

The media fallout and coverage of this event has been intense. In the two weeks after the attack there were over 200,000 pieces covering the shooting and its aftermath.

The Daily Mail and the Mirror described the shooter as “angelic” and a “little blond boy” respectively. Both have been criticised for doing so, but how pervasive is this type of language in the media?

The article reports on a statistical analysis of over 200,000 news items published in the two weeks following the Christchurch attack. These articles come from around 80 different languages. It compares these pieces to ones on recent Islamic extremist attacks and other recent far-right attacks. In particular, there is a focus as to what extent these attacks are linked to terrorism with the language used in them.

Key takeaways:

The media continues to use language unevenly when reporting on acts by white supremacists compared with Islamic extremists.

In over 200, 000 articles on 11 different attacks, Islamic extremists were labelled terrorists 78.4% of the time, whereas far-right extremists were only identified as terrorists 23.6% of the time.

Reporting on the Christchurch shooting is the exception that proves the rule for an attack by a white person, in how willing the media was to label the attacker a terrorist.