When major international stories break -- such as the 29-minute video claiming to show the Islamic State executions of Ethiopian Christian laborers -- it's normal for elite organizations to be able to respond relatively quickly with quality work. That is, if the editors have the desire to do so.
Journalists deserve praise when they get the job done. That was the purpose of my quick post noting the early New York Times story by veteran David Kirkpatrick, in particular for his clear presentation of the ISIS language that made it impossible to duck the religious content of this latest blood-soaked media op.
In the end, that led me to a strong analysis quote from John L. Allen, Jr., of Crux about the "silver lining," if there is one, in the rise of ISIS. I repeat the key language here because I think it was brave of him to be blunt about the blind spot that has affected the actions of many American elites -- think journalists and diplomats, primarily -- when it comes to denying the importance of stories about the persecution of Christian minorities around the world.
The point is not that Christians deserve special privileges, or that they’re the only ones at risk. It’s rather that for a long time, the threats they face couldn’t penetrate Western consciousness, where the typical American or European is more accustomed to thinking of Christians as the authors of religious persecution rather than its victims.
Now, most Americans in ordinary zip codes read newspapers and websites that depend on wire-service copy for this kind of report, information that may run a news cycle or even two behind the top global newsrooms (or international papers, in general). Thus, it is crucial to take a look at what moves on the Associated Press.
In this case, AP got the job done. But wait to see the headline that The Baltimore Sun editors went with on a story well inside the newspaper.
Now, the top of the story delivered context as well as the new facts, always a hard thing to do in wire-service work:
Islamic State militants in Libya shot and beheaded groups of captive Ethiopian Christians, a video purportedly from the extremists showed Sunday. The attack widens the circle of nations affected by the group's atrocities while showing its growth beyond a self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.
It also mirrored a film released in February showing militants beheading 21 captured Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach, which immediately drew Egyptian airstrikes on the group's suspected positions in Libya. Whether Ethiopia would -- or could -- respond with similar military force remains unclear. ...
Ethiopia long has drawn the anger of Islamic extremists over its military's attacks on neighboring Somalia, whose population is almost entirely Muslim. While the militant in the video at one point said "Muslim blood that was shed under the hands of your religion is not cheap," it did not specifically mention the Ethiopian government's actions.
Later there were more details, noting that the motives of the killers were openly stated right up front in the video (not that this has kept some journalists from declining to reference such quotes in the past). This is all simple and clear and not sensationalized:
The video starts with what it called a history of Christian-Muslim relations, followed by scenes of militants destroying churches, graves and icons. A masked fighter brandishing a pistol delivers a long statement, saying Christians must convert to Islam or pay a special tax prescribed by the Quran.
It shows one group of captives, identified as Ethiopian Christians, purportedly held by an Islamic State affiliate in eastern Libya known as Barqa Province. It also shows another purportedly held by an affiliate in the southern Libyan calling itself the Fazzan Province. The video then switches between footage of the captives in the south being shot dead and the captives in the east being beheaded on a beach. It was not immediately possible to estimate how many captives were killed or confirm their identities.
In Ethiopia, government spokesman Redwan Hussein said officials were in contact with its embassy in Cairo to verify the video's authenticity. Hussein said he believed those killed likely were Ethiopian migrants hoping to reach Europe. ...
Abba Kaletsidk Mulugeta, an official with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church's Patriarchate Office, told the AP he also believed the victims likely were migrants. "I believe this is just another case of the IS group killing Christians in the name of Islam. Our fellow citizens have just been killed on a faith-based violence that is totally unacceptable. This is outrageous," Mulugeta said. "No religion orders the killing of other people, even people from another religion."
Some might question calling the AP calling the attackers "militants" rather than "Muslims." But note that this story makes no attempt to avoid either of the crucial realities in this story, that (a) we are dealing with extremists from ISIS and (b) that their goal was to single out and kill Christians.
So now, want to guess the headline on The Baltimore Sun story printed inside the A section? Let me stress that the AP copy ran as written, so that is good. But if readers were scanning the pages, this was all they got:
Ethiopian captives slain in video
Wait, you say, maybe there was an informative sub-headline?
Militants shoot, behead groups held in Libya
Right. That covers the crucial details.