Wednesday, May 07, 2014


Mediaite right-wing apparatchik Noah Rothman says that, yes, it's a good thing that the mass kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram is getting media attention:
This focus on Boko Haram from both the media and the government is an unqualified good. The press arguably increased the pressure on global governments to do something about this backwards group of terrorists.
But Rothman regards the newfound attention to Boko Haram as ... well, suspicious:
But Boko Haram is not a new phenomenon. It was not long ago that some -- including this author -- were asking why this group's atrocities were not generating any attention in the press.

On February 25, between 40 and 59 children were killed by the fundamentalist militant group. Early that morning, Boko Haram terrorists attacked a boarding school and shot many of children, aged 11 to 18, while they slept. Some of the students were gunned down as they attempted to flee. Others had their throats slit. In some buildings, Boko Haram militants locked the doors and set the building alight. The occupants were burned alive.
Rothman isright -- we should have paid more attention then. And why was that incident different, according to Rothman?
All of the victims were boys. Reports indicated that the young girls the militants encountered were spared.
That got hardly any attention in the Western media -- whereas, according to Rothman, the current kidnapping was an instant media phenomenon:
Since the Nigerian Islamic radical group Boko Haram kidnapped over 100 schoolgirls in mid-April, the media and the American government have been up in arms over this outrage....

Beginning the night of the kidnappings on April 16 and continuing ever since, the press has devoted relentless focus to the crisis in Nigeria....

Prior to Boko Haram's shift in tactics, from wholesale slaughter of young men to the kidnapping of young women, the group traveled from village to village where they killed children and razed buildings with near impunity.

... Apparently, the press simply needed the right reason to cover this terrorist group and their brutal tactics. But an even more disturbing question needs to be asked now: why did the press spring to action when young women were kidnapped, but were virtually unmoved when it was young boys who were being slaughtered and burned alive?

On Twitter this afternoon, I accused Rothman of trying to turn this story into part of the right's culture war -- specifically turning this into an example of media male-bashing. Rothman was, um, dismissive.

But if that's not Rothman's point, what the hell is his point?

Rothman is wrong, of course, when he says that the current story got saturation coverage in the Western press "beginning the night of the kidnappings." As has been widely noted, the mid-April kidnappings didn't become a major Western story until the beginning of May, when the social-media campaign that had migrated from Africa to the West finally broke through.

Yes, this story got Western media attention when stories of previous atrocities didn't. But there are a lot of reasons for that. This is a story that seems to have the possibility of hope -- the kidnapped girls could be rescued, whereas the murdered boys are, regrettably, lost. It's not as if Westerners have been unable to respond to the suffering of African boys: a memoir by former Sierra Leone child soldier Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone, was a huge bestseller a few years ago, and What Is the What, Dave Eggers's acount of the story of Sudanese "lost boy" Valentino Achak Deng, was also a bestseller. Those were stories of survival.

Beyond that, well, some things just go viral, and it's not clear why. No one worked social media after the earlier Boko Haram atrocities, just as no one drew the West's attention to Joseph Kony until the viral campaign that happened in 2012 -- and now most of the West has forgotten about Kony again.

That's just how these things work in a social media age. It's not an issue of gender. It's just happenstance when the online levers get worked in a way that gets a story noticed.


Paul said...


love and read your stuff religiously (probably unhealthily), but I'm not getting this one. Maybe I've just been working too long, but doesn't he kind of have a point?

The media most definitely has its triggers, and sex and (usually white) girls is one of them.

Maybe I'm just not understanding where you perceive he's coming from.

Steve M. said...

The media ignored this story for weeks. There wasn't an instant reaction of "Oooh, girls in peril -- run with it!" It was only after it was all over Facebook and Twitter that it got attention.

Is it the gender of the victims? In part, maybe -- but it's also the possibility for a saved-from-peril ending. If they'd all been killed, I don't think the story would have broken through even after a big social media campaign.

Victor said...

Back in the day, if the atrocities were committed on blacks by white Imperialist powers, it was ignored by the media around then.

Now, if the atrocities are committed on blacks by other blacks, it is ignored by the media around now - until they atrocities get so bad, that they have to get mentioned.

Did everyone sleep through what happened in Rwanda in '94?

peabody nobis said...

Don't let Rothman's jab bother you, Steve. He's one of the dimmer bulbs at Mediaite.
In fact, HE probably doesn't know what his point is. Truth be told, that kind of news from the other side of the world doesn't generate clicks and page views. I imagine most Americans think that we have enough of our own problems to worry about Nigeria's problems.