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Pinto: Media coverage shouldn’t focus on perpetrators of tragic events

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Pinto: Media coverage shouldn’t focus on perpetrators of tragic events

Yoni Pinto, Columnist

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Last week was nothing like the week before for Canadians. Two attacks took place in the span of three days against members of the armed forces in Canada, resulting in the deaths of two Canadian soldiers.

Canada, a country known for its serenity, is not in the spotlight for attacks of this kind in the way the United States often is. That’s why the attacks in Canada last week were very unexpected. News outlets around the world reported the tragic events, bringing Canada into the global spotlight in the most unfortunate way possible.

The events also became the focus of Canadian news coverage for the week. Major Canadian news outlets were full of stories about how the attacks unfolded, particularly the one that occurred in Ottawa, Canada, the nation’s capital. There were stories about how people reacted to the attacks, video messages by politicians and presentations on news shows.

On Oct. 22, the day of the Ottawa shooting that resulted in the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, Canadian media outlets featured breaking news coverage of the entire event. During the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent manhunt in spring 2013, American news outlets had continuous breaking news coverage as well. Media coverage in both cases was what determined the reactions of the Canadian and American people, respectively.

A significant amount of the media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing focused on the Tsarnaev brothers who allegedly committed the attack. They received this attention because they were a public safety concern because the men were armed and at large, and the public needed to know about their actions. That was completely acceptable and understandable.

However, the fact that their names and faces remained on all forms of media following the event made them a “hot topic” in the following weeks, and even months. The panic that was born with the attacks was bred into terrorism. The brothers became a part of American culture for a few weeks, managing to terrorize American people not just by bombing an event that was meant to celebrate human strength and accomplishments, but by also becoming a part of their lives. Every time they were on TV, in a tweet or on a website, they reminded Americans of how they could damage the United States.

Canadian coverage of the Ottawa shooting was almost the opposite. The Canadian Broadcasting Company’s entire breaking news broadcast on Wednesday was calm and level-headed. In a situation that could have easily led to rumors and a lot of speculation, the CBC made sure to report only what was known. Although the CBC was not always the first organization to report everything that day, it was the organization that did not report any false information. It didn’t jump on the opportunity to report “something big,” but rather consciously avoided creating panic by not reporting every plausible detail.

Rex Murphy, a popular figure on Canadian TV, had a two-minute introductory segment on his program, “The National.” During the entire two minutes, Murphy talked about remembering Cirillo and the sergeant-at-arms who took down the attacker. Throughout the segment, Murphy refused to name the killer, referencing him only as a “brute.”

Canadian Press’ Laura Eggertson reported that once the killer shot Cirillo, four brave bystanders rushed to his side, doing everything they could to save him. She described how they stood by him in his last moments, comforting him. Eggertson drew attention to another perspective of the story, showing the courage of Canadian people even in times of danger.

After everything that happened this week, one thing stood out. What were effectively attacks meant to terrorize Canada completely failed in that regard. If anything, Canada emerged more united after the attacks. Canadians everywhere proudly remembered the lives of the fallen soldiers and honored the bravery of ones who responded to the attacks. They didn’t hear about the “brute;” they celebrated Canadian unity instead.

Yoni Pinto is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at ybpinto@u.northwestern.edu. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a letter to the editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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