There has been criticism in some media and social media quarters over the avalanche of U.S. media reporting on the November 13 Paris massacres. Pointed to especially has been the comparatively far lesser coverage of the November 12 Beirut suicide blasts, in which over 40 were killed. The disparity between the two has prompted accusations that Americans simply don’t care nearly as much about mayhem in Beirut as they do about mayhem in Paris:
I’m not going to try to defend a difference in newspaper column inches and cable TV air time between the two horrors. Rather I will attempt briefly to address what is probably the basis for it. A personal experience came to my mind.
As you probably know, my novelist uncle died on October 12. Yes, I loved him: he was my godfather, a writing inspiration, confidante, and a friend. However, I could not get to his October 24 memorial service in Rhode Island (a 5 hour drive from my parents’ Pennsylvania house) because I feared my mother – who was terminally ill – might die at any time, and perhaps even while I was away paying final respects to him.
And she did die only two days later, on October 26. Naturally, my mother’s precipitous decline and death had grabbed most of my personal attention. Given their close passings, I have felt I have barely been able to mourn him properly. Her death largely “crowded” his out in that I simply couldn’t give his the much greater attention it certainly warranted.
What does that have to do with this issue? Quite a lot.
Yes, the Paris massacres have largely dominated American media attention for the last week. Why? I believe “the why” is pretty easy to understand.
France helped the U.S. achieve its independence. Killed fighting alongside French forces in both World Wars, tens of thousands of Americans are buried in France. A few million Americans travel to France each year and many have walked those very Paris streets where the massacres took place. (A 23 year old American college student was killed in the attacks.) Paris is home to a good-sized expat U.S. population. Even if they have never been there, owing to all that they have seen, heard, and read of Paris throughout their lives, many of those same Americans often feel like they “know” the City of Light.
True, the U.S. has also often had a famously love-hate, up and down relationship with France. Yet if there is momentarily “anger” over something, that usually stems from Americans’ belief they have been somehow “let down” – almost as if by family. But discord is always only a fraction of the story. Over the centuries ties of friendship, culture, sentiment, shared sacrifice, and partnership have evolved into something that can perhaps best be described as virtually mystical.
So, for instance, the West Point cadets’ football team running onto the field on the Saturday after the massacres waving the Tricolor was no surprise:
In the same situation, likely only London, or a Canadian city, would have attracted roughly equivalent U.S. media attention. However, if we still insist on a debate about who merits more coverage of “comparative horrors” happening near-simultaneously, that’s fine, but it would be a waste of time. The plain fact is France under assault will always seize the headlines in the U.S.
So when the Beirut blasts were followed almost immediately by the Paris massacres, matters played out much as when a beloved uncle dies and your mother quickly afterwards follows him. Huge numbers of Americans are profoundly attached to France. But that your mother became the focus for the bulk of your attention doesn’t mean you didn’t care about your uncle deeply, too.