Media Diversionary Tactics in Ferguson and Gaza

ISIS takes note.

mk[To order William Kilpatrick’s new book, Insecurity, click here.]

We hear a lot from the media about Israel’s disproportionate response to attacks from Hamas, but it may be time to focus on the media’s own disproportionate response to certain events.

Take the incident of the missing Malaysian airliner. Big story? Yes. But CNN’s decision to give it round-the-clock coverage for two solid months seems a little excessive, until you remember that there was an even bigger story unfolding around the same time—the Russian takeover of Crimea. The annexation of Crimea, the threat to the rest of Ukraine, and the possible re-ignition of the Cold War was a major historical event. It was also bad news for the Obama administration and its narrative that relations with Russia had been reset, tranquility had been established, and our military could be safely scaled back. It is in that context that CNN’s decision to refocus our attention to the possible whereabouts of the airliner should be understood.

The media’s current focus on the shooting of a black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri seems also designed to divert attention away from the big picture. The story provides an opportunity to shift the spotlight away from a number of other stories that reflect badly on the current administration—the failure of Obama’s Iraq policy, the inability to control the southern border, the IRS scandal, the President’s serial vacations, and the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. One might justifiably conclude that much of the media attention to Ferguson is fueled by ulterior motives.

By focusing on Ferguson, the media (with CNN once again playing a lead role) managed to blow it up into a much bigger story than it might otherwise have been. All that business about the IRS and the Mexican border suddenly faded from sight. And even though the coverage focused on the death of a young black American, it still managed to draw attention away from the major risk to young black Americans, in favor of a narrative which suggests that white racism is the root cause of black troubles. According to the established formula, America has never overcome the heritage of its “troubled racist past,” blacks are still the victims of unjust discrimination, and black youth live in constant fear of white police.

While that narrative was still valid in the fifties and sixties, it is now well past its expiration date. In Chicago this past weekend, seven people were killed and twenty-nine others wounded due to gun violence. All of the victims were black—most of them young. This is about par for a weekend in Chicago. And similar incidences of black-on-black violence occur every week in Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, and New York—not to mention St. Louis, which is right next door to Ferguson. Many of the most violent cities have black mayors, black city councilmen, and black police chiefs. That’s a bit inconvenient for the press because it doesn’t fit into the white racism narrative, but the media stick to their story nonetheless. Yet the causes of black violence have been extensively studied by sociologists and criminologists, and they have been telling us for decades that the root cause is the breakdown of the black family due to high rates of illegitimacy.

If the mainstream media people were as concerned as they profess to be about the lives of young blacks, we would see numerous TV specials about the black family crisis, and instead of sending platoons of reporters and cameramen to Ferguson, CNN would dispatch them to cover the daily mayhem in Chicago. But that would require revising and updating the narrative that has served the media so well, and that, apparently, is just too much trouble.

Not only is the narrative about white racism dishonest, it’s destructive. It encourages grievances, keeps racial tensions alive, and perpetuates violent behavior. In short, the media’s favored formula is a self-fulfilling prophecy that only serves to guarantee a more polarized society.

On the other hand, the media’s distortion of the Ferguson affair does serve one useful purpose. It alerts us to the possibility that other stories are being handled in the same unbalanced way. The biggest story in the world today is the resurgence of Islam. And by-and-large, that story is being managed in the same dishonest fashion.

Which brings us back to the point where we started—the media’s lopsided attention to Israel’s supposedly disproportionate response to Hamas. The similarities to the media’s handling of the Ferguson situation are hard to miss. Some of the same reporters who were embedded in Gaza are now embedded in Ferguson. The media’s concern over innocent civilians in Gaza has now shifted to an innocent teenager in Missouri. And just as the blame for the troubles in Gaza is assigned to the disproportionate Israeli response, the problems in Ferguson and elsewhere are blamed on disproportionate encounters between well-armed cops and unarmed youth. The narrative is also the same. According to the media’s one-size-fits-all explanation, both rockets fired from Gaza and projectiles hurled at Ferguson store windows are caused by poverty and institutional oppression.

Moreover, in both cases, the media is being played like a violin—in Missouri by professional race-baiters and grievance-mongers, in Gaza by Palestinian propagandists who seem more media-savvy than the media itself, and who are adept at staging fake atrocity photo-ops which they know will be obligingly transmitted to TV screens across the world. Just as riots in Missouri feed on media attention, so does violence in Palestine.

But why, exactly, is Palestine given so much attention?

The other, and most irresponsible, aspect of the media’s disproportionate coverage is that in both cases, the stories are used to keep the public’s eye off the larger picture. The larger story that is being kept off-stage in Ferguson is the breakdown of the black family. The larger story in the Israeli-Hamas conflict is that the root cause of the troubles is Islam itself. You might prefer to say that the trouble lies in a violent and anti-Semitic interpretation of Islam, but that interpretation is now widespread. As I wrote recently:

Muslims are attacking non-Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Ivory Coast, Mali, Libya, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, the Philippines, and Thailand. There are no Jews to speak of in these places. So you can’t blame the violence on them. Given the propensity of Muslims to attack their neighbors, what are the chances that in the one place on earth where a Jewish government and an Islamist government are in conflict, it’s the Jews who are largely at fault?

The media coverage of jihadist activities in most of the above-mentioned places is minimal. So also is the coverage of Muslim attacks on Jews in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, England, and Australia. Nor will you hear much about the rocks, bottles, bricks, and Molotov cocktails thrown during the numerous Muslim riots in the EU and UK.

Likewise, just as the media avoids telling the story of black-on-black violence, it rarely focuses on the fact that the vast majority of Muslim deaths worldwide are caused by other Muslims. To do so would undermine the established narrative that Islam is a religion of peace and justice.

Thus, the obsessive concentration on Israel and Hamas. And thus, when the media does attend to hard-to-ignore cases of Islamic jihad, they are forced to pretend that each occurrence is an unusual departure from true Islam. For example, reporters treat the atrocities committed by ISIS—the beheadings, the sex slavery, the forced conversions, the payment of the jizya—as though they were exotic new phenomena, when, in fact, they were all integral elements of Islamic expansion for more than twelve hundred years.

When you step back from the Israel-Hamas conflict to get a broader view, you notice that groups like Hamas, ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, and Al-Shabaab not only have much in common with each other, they share in a common heritage and a common devotion to Islam. The media, however, is trapped in a narrative that says otherwise. Hence, the need to put the onus on Israel. The thought that the violence emanating from Gaza is part of a worldwide movement to re-establish a seventh-century theocracy is a thought they dare not entertain.

Americans, including many black Americans, are catching on to the game the media is playing with race relations in America. Let’s hope that they will soon catch on to the very similar game being played in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports that “ISIS militants and their supporters are using social media to encourage protesters in Ferguson to embrace radical Islam and fight against the U.S. government.” Ironically, the jihadist social media campaign to win over black Americans relies on the very same narrative pushed by the mainstream media. According to a Washington Post article, “One argument they’ve been making for years is that racism and discrimination are rampant in some parts of the West, and they’re hoping the Ferguson riots could help recruit black Americans.” According to one fan of the Islamic State interviewed for the piece, “In Islam there is no racism, and we think black people will wake up and follow the example of Malcolm X…” Some social media users put the matter more bluntly. One typical message reads: “Blacks in #Ferguson, there’s an alternative to this indignity: pick yourselves up with Islam, like #IS in #Iraq.”

Now that the media’s dishonest narrative has been picked up by ISIS and friends, it’s high time for them to reconsider the dangerous game they have been playing.

William Kilpatrick is the author of Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation.