Recent world tragedies places greater focus on media bias
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Mary D’Ambrosio stood on her roof in Brooklyn Heights and watched the World Trade Center fall. In the wake of the attack, reports of political killings in Colombia emerged, receiving far less media coverage and attention from readers.
A similar scenario played out in the days leading up to the Paris attacks, when two suicide bombings killed 43 and injured 200 others in Beirut on Nov. 12-- the worst attack the country has experienced since summer 2013.
Many on social media expressed the opinion that coverage of the tragic event in Beirut was overshadowed by the Paris attacks that occured one day later. On Nov. 13, Paris fell victim to near simultaneous terrorist attacks in six locations. The attacks, which were the worst in Europe in over a decade, left 130 dead and at least 300 wounded, according to The New York Times.
Stories of the Beirut attack were displayed prominently by a number of notable publications, including The New York Times and CNN. A day later, these stories were largely supplanted by coverage of the tragedy in Paris, according to vox.com
D’Ambrosio, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, believes that the media may not be completely prepared to report on international news in the age of globalization.
“When we write in an American … or western news organization we write for our readers. We’re thinking of Americans ... of Western Europeans,” D’Ambrosio said. “It’s a kind of challenge for (the media) to be and seem relevant in other parts of the world and take those points of view into account.”
News had been mostly local or national until 13 years ago, D’Ambrosio said. Americans, especially those living in rural areas, are not often exposed to global media events.
The mainstream media may be frustrated because they cannot control what news gains traction or is in high demand. The media does not have complete control over how people regard areas of the world. The media are the servers, but they do not control the reaction, she said.
The problem may be rooted in reader interest.
“With all this stuff happening at the same time, what do you want to pay attention to? The answer is something that you identify with,” said Roy Licklider, professor in the Department of Political Science. “From the media’s point of view, printing foreign news is bad business.”
Michael Rossi, adjunct instructor in the Department of Political Science, believes that reader biases hold a degree of control over what is considered newsworthy.
“(There is) a subconscious understanding among news readers that an attack in a Middle Eastern location is … nothing surprising because it's ‘over there’,” Rossi said in an email. “France is a European country that has been regarded by Americans as geographically removed from the areas of conflict, and yet still vulnerable to violence.”
Americans are more likely to visit Paris than they are Beirut, they identify more closely with the western nation. The implication of this in the media is that Americans do not care about Africa or the Middle East, D’Ambrosio said.
Concerns over the coverage were originally spawned on social media, specifically Facebook, by members of the American public. Facebook’s offering a French flag filter to show solidarity acted as a catalyst, Rossi said.
“The first 12 to 24 hours (after the Paris attacks) saw such an outpouring on Facebook,” Rossi said. “The following morning, my newsfeed was full of people correctly posting how neither Facebook nor the media gave as much attention to the Beirut attacks the week before as they did to the Parisian (attacks).”
Through social media, people were able to raise enough awareness about Beirut to force cable news networks like CNN and MSNBC to scale back coverage of the Paris attacks somewhat, or at least relativize it with coverage of Beirut, Rossi said.
“I actually have to commend parts of social media for challenging corporate media for the inconsistency in coverage and, more importantly, in sympathy,” Rossi said. “We … wouldn't be talking if social media didn't … remind us that Beirut matters too."
Despite its apparent success, this system of accountability through social pressure was not without flaws.
There was near lack of coverage of the Russian airline that crashed in Egypt, which killed 224 passengers, he said.
“It almost seemed that in the fracas of remembering to be sensitive to Muslim feelings of victimhood over Beirut, there still was a large disinterest in feeling of victimhood felt by Russians," Rossi said.
The rise of social media has had significant effects on the media industry, D'Ambrosio said.
“Editors are very concerned about being prominent in social media, about their reporters using social media," she said. "It’s almost as if it’s at least as important, if not more important than the actual reporting you're doing for the story.”
D’Ambrosio hopes that social media will help foster globalization and heighten American interest in global affairs.
“Issues like climate change, mass migration of refugees, political extremism and issues of social welfare just aren't ‘interesting’ enough to an audience insulated from the outside world,” Rossi said. “U.S. media today is a lot like a Facebook newsfeed. Some stories get noticed, while others are scrolled (or) swiped over.”