Ottawa shootings: CNN fear-mongering insulted Canadians
CNN and other global media outlets resorted to needless sensationalism, propagandist fear-mongering and self-serving interpretations of terrorism.
As you would expect, Wednesday’s incomprehensible shootings here in Ottawa captured the world’s attention. However, the media’s coverage of the attacks revealed the best of Canadian broadcast journalism and the worst of global media coverage of Canada.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) offered the world media a lesson in rational and responsible public broadcasting in the midst of a crisis that tries a nation’s soul. By contrast, CNN and other global media outlets resorted to sensationalism, fear-mongering, and self-serving, pre-conceived interpretations of terrorism.
On Wednesday morning, a gunman later identified as Canadian citizen Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian Forces member, as he guarded the National War Memorial. The shooter then dashed to the nearby Parliament Hill, where he was shot dead by Kevin Vickers, the House of Commons’ Sergeant-at-Arms, just as he entered the Centre Block, which house the Commons and Senate chambers.
The police and security agencies immediately put Ottawa under a lockdown. For CNN, the shootings turned Ottawa into a “Terrified capital” besieged by “multiple shooters.”
The CBC’s take on the tragedy was decidedly different. Quintessentially Canadian. The public broadcaster informed viewers: “Soldier dies after Parliament Hill attack, gunman also shot dead.” A blog post published on mediabistro.com captured the rest of the CBC’s coverage and its contrast with that of CNN and other foreign media outlets:
Led by veteran anchor Peter Mansbridge, the rolling coverage was smart, careful, and absolutely un-American. As Andy Carvin noted, Mansbridge set a respectful, careful tone, calling out interview subjects who had unconfirmed or contradictory information…
Mansbridge rarely appeared on camera, even as he took pains to ensure information was correct before reporting anything–particularly the news a soldier shot at Ottawa’s War Memorial had died of his injuries.
The blogger added that the CBC coverage was devoid of what Americans have come to expect from U.S. cable news networks: reporters who “dip even a toe into the waters of self-promotion,” prime time newscasts that usually “begin with urgent music,” unmissable “reminders that this is BREAKING NEWS of great importance,” and “the frenetic, breathless delivery we’ve come to expect from American news anchors in times of breaking news.”
Mother Jones added to the praise with a piece headlined “Canada’s Coverage of the Ottawa Shootings Put American Cable News to Shame.”
The publication added:
Anchored by the unflappable Peter Mansbridge, news of the shootings in Ottawa unfolded live on the CBC much like they do here in the United States: lots of sketchy details, conflicting reports, unreliable witnesses, and a thick fog of confusion. All of that was familiar. What was less familiar was how Mansbridge and his team managed that confusion, conveying a concise and fact-based version of fast-moving events to viewers across Canada and the world.
To be clear, inaccuracies are unavoidable in breaking news stories. Still, the media is expected to report responsibly and avoid unnecessarily heightening public fear and anxiety.
— CBC Ottawa (@CBCOttawa) October 22, 2014
And when the media reports rationally, the result is much less public panic. And this:
The CBC’s reporting captured something fundamental about Canadians – our calm and rational nature. We’re not Americans. We understood from the very moment the news of the Ottawa shooting hit the TV screens and social media outlets that the attack was not Canada’s 9-11.
CNN was not the only foreign media outlet to ignore the facts of the Ottawa shootings and simply project its original country’s established view on terrorism.
“Terror Grips Ottawa”
“Terror Grips Ottawa,” The New York Post declared in a piece that also strangely labeled the Globe and Mail the “Toronto Globe and Mail.” The Times (UK) informed the world: “Soldier shot dead as terror attack Canadian capital.” “Act of War,” another foreign publication declared. From the Wall Street Journal: “Terror Hits Canadian Capital.” Yet another foreign publication decided: “Terror sweeps Ottawa after soldier killed in gun battle.” And yet another saw a “shooter in kill spree”. For The Independent (UK) this whole thing was a “Battle for Ottawa”. Bloomberg said Ottawa was “reeling,” adding that Harper wasn’t on Parliament Hill when the attack took place. He was around, hiding in a cupboard while the Conservative caucus cowered in terror.
“Soldier is Shot Dead in Parliament”
NBC News had a fairly decent report. But Brian Williams’ Nightly News report had this strange caption: “Ottawa Locked Down After a Soldier is Shot Dead in Parliament“.
The solder was shot dead at the National War Memorial. It’s the gunman who was “shot dead in Parliament”.
Canadians weren’t panicking
As the madness continued, around 3pm, I took a walk down to the border of the “Ottawa Safety Perimeter” zone the Ottawa Police had introduced soon after the shootings. I visited the historic ByWard Market as far as Rideau Centre – the downtown Ottawa’s main mall and scene of a third shooting, which turned out to be a false alarm. There were armed security personnel all over the place. Businesses had been closed. But Canadians? They weren’t panicking. I don’t think many even heeded the police’s call to stay indoors and away from windows.
“Canadian Terrorist Network”
The foreign media’s terror-mongering started days earlier. Last week, Martin Couture-Rouleau, another Canadian citizen, ran down two soldiers with his car in Quebec, killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. He was later shot dead by police.
The Telegraph (UK) is convinced that Rouleau-Couture was an “Islamist extremist” and that Canada has a “Jihad problem.” Reporting on the Ottawa shooting, the esteemed publication reported “chaos in Canada” and speculated that the gunman was “targeting the prime minister”.
“How Big Is the Canadian Terrorists’ Network?” the Daily Beast asked in a piece that linked the two shootings and pointed out that “Canadian officials were quick to finger ISIS.” There is no known “Canadian terrorists’ network”. Both Zehaf-Bibeau and Rouleau-Couture acted alone. No known terrorist or Juhadist group has so far claimed responsibility for their heinous crimes.
Harper Conservatives’ fear-mongering
To be fair, the Canadian media engaged in fear-mongering long before foreign media outlets jumped onto the bandwagon and spiced things up. The government used the Quebec shooting to direct attention away from the festering criticism of its decision to send Canadian fighter jets to Iraq to join the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State or ISIS terrorist group. In fact, the Canadian media coverage of the Quebec attack conveniently fitted into the Conservative government’s burgeoning militarism and war on domestic “radicals” supposedly inspired by foreign terrorist groups.
The all-powerful Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was the first to report the Quebec attack, labeling it a terrorist act even before intelligence and police agencies had offered their first assessment. After that, the media simply regurgitated the government’s terrorism theme.
According to the Globe and Mail, Couture-Rouleau had been under investigations and “was known to counter-terrorist and law-enforcement officials.” There were “clear indications” the suspect “had become radicalized” in the last year or so. To connect the Quebec attack to the unfolding Iraq mission, the Globe reported that the attack took place “a few kilometres from the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, the military academy operated by the Department of National Defence.”
A Global News headline said the attack was “linked to terrorist ideology”. Global quoted a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) spokesperson as saying the attack was “the violent expression of an extremist ideology promoted by terrorist groups with global followings.”
The Harper government now seems determined to exploit the attacks to advance its legislative and tough-own-crime agenda. The Conservatives will soon introduce a “counter-terrorism” bill that will make substantial changes to the “outdated” Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, first enacted in 1984. The bill proposes to “give CSIS tools to investigate, track and prosecute potential terrorists.”
“We are taking a clear stand against those who are committing atrocities against innocent civilians,” said Steven Blaney, the federal minister of public safety. “We are also discussing how this action works in tandem with our efforts here in Canada under the Counterterrorism Strategy to address terrorist threats and to prevent Canadians from travelling to the Middle East, joining ISIL and other terrorist groups,”
I wonder whether CNN and other global media outlets would report the truth when the Harper government starts stripping away our civil liberties in the name of fighting Ottawa-style domestic terror attacks. Justice Minister Peter MacKay has already signaled then Conservatives’ intention to exploit the attacks and “act swiftly and go beyond the terms” of the current intelligence bill.
In the meantime, foreign media outlets could learn a lesson or two from Peter Mansbridge and the CBC’s coverage of the Ottawa shootings.