Southern Media

You could almost hear the deflation in Atlanta as the CNN news editors lost interest in the terrorist attack in Norway.   The initial report must have seemed so promising.  Here was a great news story.  A brutal bombing in the capital of a Western European government that was almost certainly committed, or so CNN’s ‘terrorist expert’ concluded, by radical Islamists.  No doubt still enraged about some political cartoon in a Danish newspaper.  For many network executives and for much of the audience, the Nordic countries are almost indistinguishable anyway.

Norwegian troops on patrol after Oslo bombing. (Photo by H.K Nilsen/Creative Commons)

Certainly the timing of the atrocity was perfect.  The Casey Anthony story had been sucked dry and there were no new ‘irresponsible-white-mother’ or ‘celebrity-African-American-male’ in trouble with the law stories on the horizon.  CNN likes these two story types so much that if the network somehow survives to the end of the decade its coverage will probably consist of little else.

Only continuous verbal hammering was keeping the debt limit story from spilling out of its Obama versus Boehner frame to include the Boehner versus Cantor subplot, or worse, descending into the macroeconomic dispute in all its boring complexity.

Although there was no doubt much rejoicing in Atlanta about the News of the World phone hacking scandal, it threatens to become a story about an outraged public and its elected representatives punishing media elites for vile behavior.  Obviously not a scenario any part of Big Media wants its American audience to dwell upon.

The horrific heat wave blasting the middle part of America is attractively cheap and easy to report but it too contains some potentially dangerous material.  CNN obeys the taboo against linking weather events with climate change.  Reporting that the states most afflicted by the heat wave are represented in Congress by vociferous Republican climate deniers is strictly verboten.

National Guardsman's reflection in a cafe window broken by the Oslo blast. (Photo by Bjoertvedt/Creative Commons)

Unfortunately for CNN the Norwegian atrocity story did not fit its big news story rubric.  CNN’s own terrorism expert was wrong.  Rather than a cell of bearded immigrant Muslims, a single clean cut Norwegian rightist was under arrest.  Echoes of the Oklahoma City bombing story.  Rather than another example of international terrorism to justify the three or four or more wars that the United States is waging in the Middle East, it was a case of ‘domestic terrorism.’1

Making matters worse, the accused perpetrator wasn’t even a threatening neo-Nazi skinhead.  Instead, Anders Breivik was revealed to be an Islamophobic Christian fundamentalist, an ideological conservative opposed to multiculturalism.  That is a fair description of several leading Republican presidential candidates.

Making matters worse, most of the 90-plus victims were young people attending a summer camp run by the Norwegian Labour Party.  In other words they were teenage social democrats.  Like Palestinians protesting the Israeli Occupation or Americans in prison for marijuana possession, European socialists are not a group that typically receives sympathetic treatment.  When they aren’t being dismissed they are ignored.

Making what is left of the Norwegian tragedy ideologically palatable to advertisers and the victims emotionally appealing to an audience indoctrinated to equate anything socialist with Joseph Stalin and the GULAG will no doubt cause CNN and other major American news sources to downplay or omit reference to the purpose of the summer camp.

What would convince CNN to treat rightist terrorism as a major news story?  The days when the network could make almost any news story a major news story are long past.  Today’s CNN will treat the tragedy as a big story only if a critical mass of its American competitors decide to do so.

1 In one Reuters story the atrocity was downgraded to a ‘killing spree.’  What is the distinction?  Whites go on killing sprees.  Non-whites perpetrate murderous rampages.   See Johan and Victoria Klesty.  “Norway Killer Attacked Multiculturalism, Islam Online.”  Reuters.   July 23, 2011.

(Photo by Frida Tørring/Creative Commons)
John Hickman

John Hickman

John Hickman is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he teaches courses on war crimes, comparative politics, and research methods. He holds both a PH.D. in political science from the University of Iowa and a J.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Hickman is the author of the 2013 Florida University Press book Selling Guantanamo.