There is more to the horrific Barcelona terror attack than Donald Trump’s garbled response, but you wouldn’t know that if you are watching CNN
To get a good sense of just how debased and insular the American news media has become, one need only flick over to CNN and watch their coverage of the horrific Islamist terror attack which took place only hours ago in Barcelona.
What you will find is not detailed coverage of the Barcelona attack and how it transpired, or even the mindless banalities and speculation that has become the hallmark of cable news, but rather a bunch of talking heads agreeing with each other that Donald Trump’s response to the terror attack was all wrong.
This is the age where men, women and children being mown down in the middle of a European city street by a van-driving Islamist is secondary news to whatever inanities various celebrities have to say about the event on Twitter, or the word choice of an American president whom we already know to be rash, unstable and in loose command of the facts (at the best of times).
What really got CNN riled up on this occasion is this tweet by Donald Trump, promulgating an unfounded rumour about the supposed action taken by US Army General John Pershing in response to a Muslim-planned terrorist attack in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century:
The urban legend goes that General Pershing rounded up the culprits and suspects, and had them shot with bullets previously dipped in pigs’ blood. In Trump’s own graphic telling, Pershing shot 49 of the culprits and spared the 50th one so that he could go back and warn others in the movement about America’s swaggering zero-tolerance policy for terrorist shenanigans.
To be clear, there is zero proof that this apocryphal story actually took place, and that the President of the United States would make speeches presenting the tale as fact both during the election campaign and again in the immediate aftermath of an Islamist terror attack on an American ally is bad, wrong and depressing in equal measure.
But for most of the past hour on CNN, the chyron across the bottom of the screen hasn’t reported details of the terror attack, but rather Trump’s entirely typical and unsurprising blustering response to it. That’s not to say that Trump’s actions are unworthy of coverage – and we should certainly never allow ourselves to stop reporting on the president’s misdeeds and objecting to them just because they occur so regularly. But good television news is supposed to educate and inform, not simply encourage people to think myopically about global issues exclusively through the narrow lens of their own country’s political process.
Yet rather than presenting Trump’s dodgy urban myth about General Pershing as one tangential element of the story, CNN did what CNN does best – assemble a multitude of talking heads in boxes, all crammed onto the screen at the same time, to denounce Trump and slot an inconvenient story about terrorist murder in Barcelona into their preferred narrative about Trump’s unfitness for office.
Again – the point is entirely valid, and in an ideal world the President of the United States would neither spread unfounded rumours nor seek to get the more distasteful portions of his base excited by telling them yarns about shooting Muslim terrorists with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. That would be nice. But this is not the main takeaway from the Barcelona terror attack, and yet both Jake Tapper and now Anderson Cooper seem to be leading with it, to the detriment of telling the more important story about the seemingly unstoppable wave of vehicular Islamist terrorism in Europe and the inability (or unwillingness) of political leaders to take any meaningful action to prevent such massacres.
Meanwhile, television news in Britain – itself hardly a fitting successor to the likes of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite – is at least reporting the facts and broadcasting footage and eyewitness statements as they emerge. Decent analysis remains beyond them (or at least beyond their willingness to pay a knowledgeable panel of experts and commentators to schlep into the studio) but at least they aren’t using the tragedy as a means of bashing Prime Minister Theresa May. Yet.
If American political discourse is to improve, restraint has to happen both ways. Just as conservatives need to come to terms with the fact that the Alt-Right is an issue in our own back yard which we must disown and work to discredit, so those on the Left – including much of the mainstream media – need to bring some balance back to their coverage and accept that important as the office of President of the United States is, Donald Trump’s reactions are not always the most important part of a breaking news story.
This de-escalation should not be so hard to achieve among adults, but sadly there are too many adult children on both sides who would rather have the last word and advance their political agenda at all costs, even if it debases the office of the presidency, diminishes trust in the media and rips the country apart at the seams, all at the same time.
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