What about Beirut, what about Mali, and what about all the other dreadful terrorist attacks taking place at this very moment across the globe and which, on the whole, receive less attention than did those in Paris?
Where am I going with this?
It’s simple and there’s even a word for it: “whataboutery,” which in this age of social media has given rise to an online community of jabbering simpletons.
Finding its origins from the troubles in Northern Ireland, the core element of whataboutery has not changed at all. If you had asked a representative of one side in Ireland’s troubles in the 1960s regarding atrocities committed by their foot soldiers, their response would be to fulminate on the depravities and actions of equal or greater severity carried out by the other side.
Whataboutery is ideally suited to social media and the immediate commentary that it inspires. Those aforementioned simpletons who are guilty of employing it are always unassailably correct, however poorly informed, ill-considered and self-serving their opinions may be.
By complaining that the heinous bombing in Beirut on Nov. 12 received less coverage than the horrors in Paris on Nov. 13, those people prone to knee jerk whataboutery have succeeded in planting their flag on the moral high ground.
There are two sides to this behaviour.
The first is that it is a tactic of people for one reason or another to absolve murderers of responsibility for their actions. This was particularly the case on Sept. 12, 2001.
And the second is the territory of sanctimonious bores in suggesting that events in Paris elicit more sympathy from the masses than things — such as the bombing in Beirut — which are at least as dreadful.
Now, a Lebanese citizen can feel slighted as the suicide bombing in Burj al-Barajneh did receive less air time. But, I’ll stick my neck out and say, this lack of reporting is not due to some sinister agenda. It’s merely down to the realities of news gathering in today’s scramble for headlines.
Aside from the obvious, why did Paris receive so much attention?
Think about it and the clue is in the word “news.” Paris is a city and destination familiar to the world. Paris is easier to reach and easier to report from and Paris and France, dare I say it, do not have the same legacy of histories of violence and terror as Lebanon does.
You could say that the massacres in Paris represented a novelty, for want of a better word, and as awful as it sounds, a novelty makes news.
The truth is that we cannot afford to be proportionately anguished by everything dreadful that happens in the world, and as news gatherers and journalists, we are constantly trying to push as much of the atrocities which do occur out there up the news agenda so that we can inform and be informed.
Burj al-Barajneh was covered as were the Jerusalem stabbings, as are the crackdowns in Xinjiang. If they weren’t, how could those smug and superior whatabouters obtain their information?
So, I stand before you as a freelance journalist who routinely feels as if he is battling indifference with regards to editors and what I believe to be newsworthy, and say outright that there are those publications that do make an effort to report the stories which come from beyond the main regions.
However, reporting these stories is a thankless and indeed an expensive task. If you need more in-depth news of this nature, subscribe to these struggling publications and make them matter.
As journalists on the whole and depending on our fields of expertise, we are passionate about pushing items up the news agenda, such as human rights abuses, and atrocities and so on. But what makes one story more important than another, and what is the right amount of coverage?
I couldn’t get a look in to write a short piece about the 30th anniversary of the Armero tragedy here in Colombia. Not even 300 words.
It’s not that readers, listeners and viewers are not interested. By our very nature we are inquisitive beings. Unfortunately though, we live in an era where an interview with a Kardashian will receive thousands of shares and tweets, and a story about illegal mining, its causes and consequences in the department of Arauca may be shared as many as 40 times.
People not only love celebrity and scandal but their interest fades at news reports which are often believed to be repetitive. I hate to say it, but news of a suicide bombing in the Middle East falls into the latter category.
We are currently enjoying the most plugged in and informed period of our history, so if you want to hear, read and see news from beyond the main regions, then take the moment to share and promote the articles and reports which are of interest to you and write to the owners of the news outlets and the editors as well and let them know.
Show them that you are interested in the news.