There Was a Terror Attack in America This Week, So Why Wasn’t It in the News?
The news has brimmed with details of the terror attacks in France that began when gunmen opened fire in the Paris offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, leaving a dozen people dead. Another terrorist attack took place this week, on American soil, and chances are you haven’t heard much about it.
An improvised explosive device—police jargon for a bomb—was detonated outside the chapter of the NAACP in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Tuesday. No one was hurt, but that’s only because a gas can placed next to the bomb failed to ignite. The blast scorched the building, which reopened Thursday.
While the Colorado attack wasn’t deadly, its vile intent makes the incident a throwback to the 1950s and 1960s, when terrorism against the NAACP and other civil rights activists was common. While many mainstream print outlets covered the attack on the day it happened, without deaths and attackers on the loose, as they were in France, it wasn’t a prominent point of coverage for television outlets.
“If it had not been for Twitter I wouldn’t have known about it,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. After news of the bombing spread across Twitter and Facebook, many began to wonder why the situation hadn’t garnered more than a few cursory mentions on newscasts.
How behind the curve were mainstream broadcast news outlets? A search of the news database Nexis.com by PBS NewsHour found that CNN first reported the story on Wednesday morning, nearly 24 hours after the bombing. ABC’s Good Morning America included the blast in its morning roundup that same day. MSNBC mentioned the explosion twice on Wednesday night. As for Fox News Channel, it failed to mention it at all, according to PBS NewsHour.
Frustrated by the lack of coverage, users shared information and collective outrage on social media, making #NAACPbombing the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter.
Actor Rashida Jones implored her followers to hold the media accountable. “PLEASE everybody, mainly national news outlets, CARE MORE ABOUT THIS,” she tweeted on Tuesday. “It’s barely getting coverage.”
Tonight Show bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson echoed the irritation of many users. “Wait...there was an #NAACPBombing for real? Man...thank god for social media cause i woulda never known otherwise,” he shared on Twitter.
Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement, also weighed in on the lack of coverage. “I am deeply troubled by the bombing in Colorado. It reminds me of another period,” he wrote. “These stories cannot be swept under the rug #NAACPBombing.”
Broadcasters have since picked up the story, but Walid believes the uptick wouldn’t have happened at all without pressure from Twitter.
“Social media has allowed marginalized communities to not only have a voice but find out information that has been traditionally ignored,” said Walid, who contrasted the dearth of coverage of the Colorado incident with the nonstop coverage of the massacre in Paris.
“Not to belittle what took place in Paris at all, because we’re concerned about all human life,” he said. “However, given the history of bombing of black institutions, including the NAACP, and the mass protests about the importance of black lives, it’s disconcerting that virtually no attention has been given to the terrorist attack against the NAACP.”
Traditional news decision making has long been driven by the adage “If it bleeds, it leads,” meaning loss of human life is the most important story to tell on any given day. By that logic, the massacre in Paris deserves more coverage, because 12 people were killed and several more were injured, but Walid believes something else is at play.
“[Nearly] 40 people were killed in a terrorist attack in Yemen the same day as Paris, yet that didn’t get media attention,” Walid said. “The obvious difference was the victims [in Paris] were attacked in Europe, and the chief person targeted by the extremists was Caucasian.”
Walid’s assertion may also help explain why American news outlets have been silent on a recent attack by Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group responsible for kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls last April. According to reports, Boko Haram has leveled at least 10 towns in northeast Nigeria in the past five days, leaving scores dead and 2,000 people unaccounted for.
“This is one of the worst attacks I’ve seen because so many people are unaccounted for and feared dead,” Ahmed Zanna, a senator for Borno state, where the attacks occurred, told NBC News.
Walid said the media is silent because the lives of people of color aren’t seen to be as valuable as the lives of white Americans.
“In the American psyche there’s always been racial hierarchy in terms of importance assigned to certain lives over others. That’s the inescapable and undeniable reality of how our media covers things,” he said.
Walid’s not alone in that thinking.
“In America its not terrorism if black people are the targets and white people are the suspects. Therefore its not newsworthy. #NAACPBombing,” tweeted Zellie Imani on Wednesday.
But the media’s bias isn’t happening in a vacuum. The outpouring of support for the citizens of Paris by the U.S. government also indicates systemic bias, according to Walid.
“President Obama was quick to make a statement about Paris, but he wasn’t speedy to condemn the domestic terrorism attack in Colorado, and he’s black,” he said. “So that just shows you how institutionalized the importance that white life is given over black or brown life in America.”
Agents from the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are looking for a person of interest in the NAACP bombing. Meanwhile, the staff at the organization’s Colorado Springs office are getting back to work. “We are law-abiding citizens,” Henry Allen, the chapter’s president, told The New York Times. “We are not a radical, out-of-control group. We just want everybody to be treated equally.” If only that equal treatment could happen in the media too.