The off-limits topic: Western media bias

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A Nigerian soldier stands guard during Eid al-Fitr prayers in Maiduguri, Nigeria. (Sunday Alamba, File | AP)

A Nigerian soldier stands guard during Eid al-Fitr prayers in Maiduguri, Nigeria. (Sunday Alamba, File | AP)

By now you have more than likely heard of the Charlie Hebdo attack, but have you heard about the Baga and Doron Baga massacres in Nigeria? Nearly 2,000 individuals are feared dead at the hands of Boko Haram, a terrorist Islamist movement based in Nigeria. This is a prime example of Western media bias. If the United States or one of its important allies is not directly affected, the event does not warrant media coverage in the Western press.

Americans tend to have a small view of the world, perhaps limited by borders, our own value system and beliefs and, quite frankly, sometimes by our inability to locate other parts of the world on a map.  The United States is arguably the most powerful country in the world. So why bother learning about issues, events and tragedies that occur elsewhere in the world that do not matter to the United States?

In her 2008 TED Talk titled “The News about the News,” Alisa Miller revealed a startling fact to viewers: the U.S. accounted for 79 percent of total news coverage in February of 2007. 79 percent. That leaves only 21 percent of news coverage for the rest of the world. Years later, this fact seems to remain true.

When questioned about the possibility of bias in the news, freshman DePaul University student Jennifer Lawhead said, “The media likes to sensationalize issues, and then completely ignore a whole other set of issues.” She is right, of course. When asked if she knew about the Baga and Doron Baga massacres, she answered     simply, “no.”

Lawhead knows the media is biased, but simply knowing does not make her immune to the effects of this bias. We are all victims. How are we supposed to know about the 2,000 feared dead in northern Nigeria if the media giants do not think it is worthy of reporting on as extensively as the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack?

Boko Haram fighters have shot or burned to death about 90 civilians and wounded 500 in ongoing fighting in a Cameroonian border town near Nigeria. (Boko Haram, File | AP)

Boko Haram fighters have shot or burned to death about 90 civilians and wounded 500 in ongoing fighting in a Cameroonian border town near Nigeria. (Boko Haram, File | AP)

CNN reported that, starting Jan. 3 “Boko Haram militants opened fired on northern Nigerian villages, leaving bodies scattered everywhere and as many as 2,000 people feared dead.” Amnesty International said in a statement that, “The attack on Baga and surrounding towns looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act.” That was earlier this month. According to BBC, on Jan. 25, Boko Haram attacked the “strategically important” city of Maiduguri, where dozens of people have been killed.

However, if you looked at the home page for The New York Times last week after the Boko Haram attack occured, the main story was the snowstorm heading into New York City. On CNN, there were articles with headlines such as “The Miss Universe winner is…,” “Asteroid flying close; best viewing is tonight,” and “Lance: I’d probably dope again.” In the scheme of things, does a massive snowstorm, Miss Universe and an asteroid trump the loss of so many Nigerian lives?

Western media bias sends the message that our American and Western lives count — we are important. On the other hand, the loss of Nigerian lives is expected. It has been deemed a violent part of the world, and because of that designation, it tends to matter less. There was no mention of the attack on Jan. 25, or of the 2,000 feared dead, simply because it does not directly affect the American people, which means no one would read those stories.

We are ignorant because of the media’s bias — so much so that sometimes we are even ignorant of the fact that we are biased. The media is full of stories that generate buzz, but stories that impact people outside our “American” mindset are often absent. They are adjudged less newsworthy because they affect people deemed less worthy of our attention.

We have allowed ourselves to become inoculated to bad things happening in certain parts of the world, such as Nigeria, but not to popular tourist destinations, such as Paris.  When something happens in the Western world, it is a tragedy. But when it occurs in the non-Western world, it is simply a fact of life.