While watching various news channels last night as details of the horrors in Nice, France, emerged, I heard a commentator make an interesting statement. I think this was on CNN, but I am not sure, because -- as is often the case on live television -- I have not been able to find a reference online to confirm this.
So let's just talk about the world of TV commentary, in general. I heard the same formula several times on different channels.
While talking about the impact of the truck attack on Europe and the future, someone offered this equation: First there was Brexit and now this. It's hard to know where things are headed.
I don't think this was a statement of moral equivalency. I think the point was that Brexit was an attack on Europe and now there is other new attack, etc., etc.
No one ever stated the question the other way around: Might Brexit have been, in part, a reaction to the rising surge of terror in an increasingly tense and divided Europe? Continue with that logic and you end up with another question: Is the post-9/11 United States -- which often follows Europe, on a slow delay -- a few terrorist attacks away from a more blunt, dare I say "populist" discussion of terror and political, cultural and, yes, religious issues linked to it?
I am not, by the way, talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about the mainstream press.
Let's look at the top of two newspaper reporters about the truck attack in Nice. Which is from an elite American source and which is from a populist source on the other side of the Atlantic?
First there is this:
At least 84 people, including 10 children, were killed by a suspected ISIS fanatic who ploughed a 25-tonne truck into crowds of people celebrating Bastille Day in southern France.
Crazed gunman Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel zig-zagged through crowds watching the Nice’s annual fireworks “like a bowling ball” for more than a mile before opening fire at men, women and children. Bouhlel mounted the pavement, mowing down groups at 40mph, before reportedly jumping out of the truck and opening fire as he shouted “Allahu Akbar” -- God is greatest.
Compare that with this:
PARIS -- The death toll from the terrorist attack on a Bastille Day fireworks celebration in the southern French city of Nice rose to 84 on Friday morning, as the government raced to establish the attacker’s identity, extended a national state of emergency and absorbed the shock of a third major terrorist attack in 19 months.
“We will not give in to the terrorist threat,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Friday morning after a cabinet meeting led by President François Hollande. “The times have changed, and France is going to have to live with terrorism.”
The Times is, of course, being cautious, with its first reference to possible links to Islamic extremism in the 11th paragraph. You can see that tone in its explainer -- "Truck Attack in Nice, France: What We Know, and What We Don’t" -- that ran with the main story. At the same time, the BBC is running with many of the blunt details -- such as the name of the alleged attacker -- that are emerging in French media.
My question, of course, is whether journalists in Europe have been clubbed over the head with reality, when it comes to dealing with any religious issues in these attacks.
This does not, of course, mean journalists are blaming Muslims and mainstream Islam. It means that they are being much more candid in discussing the details that point toward Muslim radicals, with their twisted version of the faith, being involved in attack, after attack, after attack, after attack, after attack.
Many American journalists appear to have decided that it is enough to say "terrorism" and "terrorists" and readers will automatically know that this is a reference -- wink, wink -- to Muslim radicals. This assumption is a proper way to protect ordinary, innocent Muslims?
Consider the top of this report in The Washington Post. What is missing?
NICE, France -- A truck rammed into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in the French Riviera city of Nice on Thursday night, killing at least 84 people in an apparent terrorist attack in which the driver also opened fire on revelers before being shot dead by police.
The truck struck the crowd after a fireworks display for the French national day on the Promenade des Anglais, a seaside walk in this southern French city. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced early Friday that in addition to the dead, another 18 people were in critical condition.
The victims included a vacationing father and son from Lakeway, Tex. The city’s children’s hospital said it had treated more than 50 minors in the attack, including some that still hung between “life and death,” said communications director Stephanie Simpson.
Over at USA Today, there was this:
French officials investigating the seaside terror attack in NIce that killed 84 people, including two Americans, have seized ID papers that indicate a the driver of the truck that plowed into holidaymakers watching fireworks may be a local Frenchman of Tunisian descent with a criminal record but no known link to extremists.
In media-speak, "Tunisian" means what, precisely, since the U.S. State Department (.pdf here) notes that the population of 99 percent of that land identifies with Sunni Islam?