Yes, an Easter terror attack is symbolic: Some reports danced around facts on the ground

In the wake of the Brussels attacks, there were quite a few mainstream media reports noting that police were bracing for more terrorist attacks during the upcoming weekend.

Right, as if -- looking at the calendar -- this was just another weekend.

Why would police specifically need to worry about attacks on Easter, the most important holy day in the Christian faith? Of course, millions of Eastern Christians -- especially in the Middle East -- will face these fears again in the days leading up to Pascha (Easter) on the ancient Julian calendar, which is May 1 this year.

As it turned out, the other shoe dropped in Pakistan, not in Europe. Once again, some journalists -- especially in the early hours of coverage -- were not sure what to do with the very specific and very symbolic religious elements of this horror story. This morning's New York Times story still captures the tone-deaf approach of the early hours.

Check out this headline: "Blast at a Crowded Park in Lahore, Pakistan, Kills Dozens."

That seems to be missing a few crucial details, right? And here's the lede on that report:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A suicide bomber set off a powerful blast close to a children’s swing set in a public park on Sunday evening in the eastern city of Lahore, killing at least 69 people and wounding around 300, rescue workers and officials said.

The E-word finally showed up in the next paragraph:

The blast occurred in a parking lot at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, one of the largest parks in Lahore, said Haider Ashraf, a senior police official in the city. The bomb was detonated within several feet of the swings in a park crowded with families on Easter.

And the C-word appeared with an on-the-record quote from radicals claiming credit for the attack:

Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the blast. Its spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said in a statement that Christians were the target.

Some of the confusion seemed to be linked to tensions between statements by Pakistani officials and the rather obvious facts on the ground (it was Easter and some sources noted that this park was very popular with families in the nation's tiny Christian minority). You can see that a few paragraphs later:

Even though Pakistani officials rebutted the claim that Christians were the target, a large number of Christian families were in the park because of the Easter holiday, the local news media reported. The 67-acre park has walking paths, as well as rides for children.

Now contrast this New York Times approach with that at The Los Angeles Times, a newspaper with far fewer resources when it comes to global news coverage. That headline: "Taliban says it targeted Christians in a park on Easter Sunday, killing 70."

"Taliban says." Check. Christians. Check. Easter. Check.

I understand that journalists need to be cautious about attributing motives for these kinds of attacks, especially when government officials are offering on-the-record statements that seem to contradict what people are saying at the scene.

After all, how much credibility does a Taliban faction have? Thus:

A bomb ripped through a public park packed with families celebrating Easter in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday evening, killing at least 70 people and wounding more than 300 others, most of them women and children, officials said. ...
A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, which it said was aimed at Christians celebrating the Easter holiday. Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, has a small Christian minority. Officials said they had not confirmed if Christians were the target.

This morning's Associated Press "Big Story" report also found a way to include the crucial details and, it should be noted, used a highly specific reference from the Taliban.

In particular, note that this blunt lede -- rather that debating claims of motive -- focused on a fact that could be confirmed with at-the-scene reporting:

ISLAMABAD (AP) -- A bombing on Easter Sunday killed 65 people in a park in the eastern city of Lahore that was crowded with Christians, including many children.
A breakaway Pakistani faction of the militant Taliban group claimed responsibility. Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, told the Associated Press that a suicide bomber with the faction deliberately targeted the Christian community.
The explosion took place near the children's rides in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park local police chief Haider Ashraf said. He said the explosion appeared to have been a suicide bombing, but investigations were ongoing.

Contrast the clarity of that AP lede with this most recent offering from The Washington Post.

Try reading this one out loud. I dare you.

ISLAMABAD -- The death toll in a devastating suicide attack on picnicking families in the city of Lahore rose to 72, with another 230 injured, local media reports said Monday, as Pakistani authorities vowed to hunt down the Islamist militant bombers who claimed they specifically targeted Christians on Easter Sunday.

I saw some of the earlier Post reports -- no longer online -- that were as muted as the New York Times story cited above, in terms of handling the religious details. If anything, the Post report has so much updated information at the top that it appears to have lost sight of the human drama at the scene.

Several paragraphs down, there is another Taliban quote that raises some crucial questions.

A splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the attack, which a spokesman said deliberately targeted Christians in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park.
“It was our people who attacked the Christians in Lahore, celebrating Easter,” the spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said. “It’s our message to the government that we will carry out such attacks again until sharia [Islamic law] is imposed in the country.”

Wait, doesn't Pakistan already have a form of sharia law in place? What does it mean -- especially to Christians and members of other religious minorities -- to say that an even stricter form of sharia needs to be imposed?

Stay tuned. Lahore has, relatively speaking, been a peaceful zone in the midst of Pakistan's sea of pain and confusion. This attack -- especially since it focused on women and children -- should receive quite a bit of attention in major newsrooms, in terms of follow-up reporting. Will it?

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