The coverage of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the sole surviving suspect of the Boston marathon is analyzed in five different news sources: The White House, FoxNews, the GlobalPost, The Hindu and Al Jazeera. It appears that The White House, FoxNews and The Hindu portray Tsarnaev as Muslim terrorist threatening U.S. values. Moreover, these sources heavily rely on U.S. officials’ declarations. On the other hand, the GlobalPost and Al Jazeera present Tsarnaev as a lost adolescent boy trying to voice his anger at the atrocities committed by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. These news sources present a different perspective than that of U.S. officials. It seems U.S. media conglomerates heavily associate Islam with terrorism. Because of the power of such conglomerates, this bias also reaches the rest of the World.
Comparing News Sources
On April 15 2013 two bombs detonated at the finish line of the Boston marathon killing three people and injuring more than two hundred. Two brothers originating from Chechnya in Russia were the prime suspects. Following a manhunt that lasted several hours, the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed and the younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was severely wounded. He was treated at a hospital in Boston for a couple of days and was just moved to a prison facility for convicts that necessitate long-term treatment (FoxNews, 2013).
I chose to analyze the coverage of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s condition and his transfer from the hospital to a prison facility. This paper will first compare and contrast U.S. and foreign media coverage. The role government officials play in framing the news will then be addressed. Finally, the influence of Western media on constructing a specific image of Islam will be tackled.
Comparing U.S. and Foreign Media Coverage
An official White House Press conference conducted on April 22 2013 by White House press secretary Jay Carney, an article from FoxNews, a leading right-wing U.S. news source, published on April 26 2013, and an article from the GlobalPost, an alternative U.S. news source, also published on April 26 2013 represent U.S. media coverage. On the other hand, an article from Al Jazeera, a Qatari news source, published on April 26 2013, and an article from the Indian The Hindu published on April 25 2013 represent foreign media coverage.
The White House, FoxNews and The Hindu portray Dzokhar Tsarnaev as an angry Muslim terrorist representing a threat on the U.S.A while the GlobalPost and Al-Jazeera represent him as a lost young man acting impulsively.
The White House’s press briefing portrays Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a threatening Muslim terrorist and lauds the actions of the police and the FBI in successfully apprehending him. The words “terrorism”, “terrorist attack”, “terror threat” are mentioned more then ten times. In addition, the Bombing suspect is equated to Al Qaeda, with the latter mentioned more than five times. Chechnya is described as being a “hotbed of extremism.” Press Secretary Carney also praises the Boston Police multiple times in their “successful apprehension”, and the FBI in detecting terror threats with words such as the “right way to go” and “the appropriate way to go.”
FoxNews’ article also projects Tsarnaev as a Muslim terrorist threatening U.S. values. A large picture of a bustling Times Square immediately underneath the title with the following quote by New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg: “New York was next on their list of targets. The fact is, New York City remains a prime target for those who hate America and want to kill Americans ” adds to the perceived dangerousness and threat of these two suspects. While no actual evidence of any plans to attack New York was found, Fox News nonetheless decided to prominently post this photograph in an article about the Boston bombing suspects. To a U.S. audience, an attack on New York is reminiscent of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attack on this city. The audience is thus lead to associate this suspect with an extremist Islamic terrorist group. In addition, inside the article, there is a mention of Faisal Shahzad, a “Muslim terrorist” that had plans to target Times Square in 2010. This mention serves to further entrench the association between the Boston bombing suspects and Islamic terrorism (Rhoades, 2004). Again, readers are lead to equate the Tsarnaev brothers with “Muslim terrorists.” In addition, the Boston attacks are described as a “bloody terror spree”, and the Tsarnaev brothers are described as having “hurled bombs at police cars.” The dominant sources used in this article are official government sources, such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and anonymous FBI agents.
The article in The Hindu also draws similarities between the Boston suspects and Al Qaeda. The White House press secretary John Carney is quoted as saying “we continue to face a threat from Al-Qaeda.” Moreover, the term “Al-Qaeda” is mentioned three times. The article is entirely based on the wordings of John Carney, a White House press secretary with almost half the article consisting of direct quotes. The Hindu also portrays the U.S. as helpless victims attempting to understand the origins of such attacks against them. This victim status is emphasized by a large photograph of running shoes tied on metal barrier with a crowd of weeping people behind. The caption states that it is a memorial for the victims of the Boston marathon.
After reading the White House press briefing and FoxNews and The Hindu’s articles, it appears that the U.S. are helpless victims continuously subjected to the threat of Muslim terrorists.
On the other hand, the GlobalPost, an alternative U.S. news source, in an article entitled “Boston bombing suspect moved to prison hospital” do not mention “Al-Qaeda”, “terrorism” or “Islam” once. Instead, a lengthy description of Tsarnaev’s wounds is found: “sustained gunshot wounds to the head, neck, legs and hands”; “ […] unable to talk due to throat injury. He has been responding to questions in writing.” Such descriptions give the suspect a humane perspective and portray him as victim himself. The sources used are the US Marshals Service and CNN.
Finally, Al Jazeera, in an article entitled “Boston suspects planned to bomb NYC” portray the Tsarnaev brothers as “attackers.” Bloomberg is directly quoted as saying “NYC was next on their list of targets.” However, contrary to the FoxNews’ article, the rest of the quote about “people who hate America” is omitted. Moreover, the Al Jazeera article highlights what appears to be the inefficiency of the federal government. The successful hunt and capture of the suspects is described as a “victory” by U.S. officials but according to Al Jazeera, that victory might be seen in a “different light” since the FBI had known about them for several year without acting. Similarly to the GlobalPost article, The Al Jazeera article also portrays the surviving suspect as a victim. In addition to a description of his wounds, he is portrayed as a helpless follower of his older brother’s plan to attack Boston. He is also described as a “teenager”, angry about the killings of Muslims by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. A close-up photograph of his face with his bushy hair, fair skin and wide eyes further supports the framing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a young boy pressured by his older brother. The sources in this article are comprised of the FBI, the CIA, two unnamed “US Officials” and Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York.
Both the GlobalPost and Al Jazeera portray Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a wounded victim subjected to pressure by his older brother. Al Jazeera further highlights the inefficacy of the US federal system and attempts to offer a rational justification behind these attacks. While FoxNews viewed these attacks as a way to express hatred against American values, Al Jazeera saw them as a reaction to the ongoing slaughters in countries occupied by the U.S.
The Role of Government Officials in Framing News
Most U.S. mainstream media sources and an increasing number of foreign media sources tend to rely extensively on official declarations, transforming the media into nothing more than press release outlets for the government and military (Greewald, 2012). This heavy reliance on official claims leads to an increasingly homogeneous press coverage. An exception can be found in Al Jazeera and the alternative news source the GlobalPost.
All the media sources mentioned previously rely primarily on a mix of official sources such the FBI, the White House press secretary or the US Marshals Service. The article that appeared in The Hindu is a striking example of this over reliance on “Officials Say journalism” (Greenwald, 2012). The entirety of the article is based on the declarations of press secretary Jay Carney during a press conference given at the White House on April 26 2013, with almost half the article consisting of direct quotes.
As a result, the White House press briefing, the Fox News article and The Hindu article all contain the same perspective and almost the same wordings. All three sources present the Tsarnaev brothers as Muslim terrorists, directly or indirectly drawing similarities between them and Al Qaeda. The GlobalPost and Al Jazeera are the only news sources that truly offer a different perspective. While both the GlobalPost and Al Jazeera attempt to present Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as young wounded teenager pressured by his older brother into committing these attacks, Al Jazeera is the only news source that actually criticizes U.S. officials. It highlights the fact that Tsarnaev is only a suspect at this point, as “there remain more questions than answers.” It also highlights the inefficiency of the US federal government: “ […] unconnected dots buried in the US government […] that could have prevented the bombings.” Finally, what they White House saw as “remarkable work” done by the FBI in capturing the suspects is nothing more than a mitigated victory for Al Jazeera.
U.S. Media and Islam
U.S. media heavily manufactures Muslims as extremists and demonizes Islam as the biggest enemy of the U.S. and its values: liberal democracy and secularism (Thussu, 1997).
The White House, FoxNews and The Hindu use the words “terrorist” “Muslim terrorists” and “extremists” to describe the Tsarnaev brothers. On the other hand, Al Jazeera and the GlobalPost refer to them as “attackers”, “individuals” or “the Tsarnaev brothers.” According to Thussu (1997), the term “terrorist” is used to dehumanize Arabs.
In addition, in the U.S. there is ignorance of Islam and the contribution of this religion to the development of modern society and science. Instead, there is heavy bias against this religion and the association of Muslims with Arab dogmatism and terrorism is ubiquitous. Islam is thus perceived as a threat to liberal, secular society. For instance, the Oklahoma bombings of April 1995 which took 168 lives is the biggest terrorist attack in the US. At first, U.S. media attributed the attack to Islamic groups without any evidence. However, it turned out the attack was carried out by the US far right.
This distorted image of Islam is not restricted to Western media. With the expansion of Western media conglomerates, Western media control the world’s Internet, television, radio and print journalism. In addition, many newspapers from Southern countries publish articles and editorials from Western newspapers because of syndication arrangements (Thussu, 1997). This could justify why the article in The Hindu features heavy pro-U.S. coverage.
Official U.S. government sources, mainstream U.S. media sources and an Indian newspaper portray the Boston bombing suspect as a Muslim extremist threatening U.S. values. It appears U.S. mainstream news sources and many international newspapers heavily rely on “officials say journalism.” On the other hand, an alternative U.S. news source and an Arab source challenge the declaration of U.S. officials by framing the Boston suspect in terms of a heavily wounded teenager trying to voice his anger against the atrocities committed by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. These U.S. news sources are part of giant media conglomerates that heavily construct Islam as a bastion of terrorism and a threat to Western society. One way to combat these derogatory stereotypes is to cultivate news exchange between the Arab world and other Southern countries in Latin America, Asia or Africa.
Al Jazeera (2013, April 26). Boston suspects “planned to bomb New York.” Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2013/04/20134251815532943.html
FoxNews.com. (2013, April 26). Boston marathon bombing suspect moved to federal medical center. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/04/26/boston-marathon-bombing-suspects-planned-bombs-in-new-york-times-square/
GlobalPost (2013, April 26). Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev moved to prison hospital. Retrieved from http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/130426/boston-bombing-suspect-dzhokhar-tsarnaev-fort-devens-prison
Greenwald. G. (2012). “Officials say” journalism. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2012/06/17/officials_say_journalism/
The Hindu (2013, April 25). No answers yet on Boston bombings: White House. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/no-answers-yet-on-boston-bombings-white-house/article4652952.ece
Rhoades, K. (2004). Propaganda tactics and Fahrenheit 9/11. Retrieved from http://moodle.aub.edu.lb/pluginfile.php/154563/mod_label/intro/Propaganda%20Tactics%20and%20Fahrenheit%20911.pdf
Thussu, D. K. (1997). How media manipulates the truth about terrorism. Economic and Political Weekly.