Monday, January 16, 2006

UH 330 Media Review No. 1

Since the beginning of the current war in Iraq, at least 31 journalists have been kidnapped. Most have gone unreported in the American media, likely because many were not Americans. Last week, Jill Carroll was kidnapped while in western Baghdad. Her translator, Allan Enwiyah, was murdered, and her driver, unnamed by virtually every source, was not harmed.

On internet sites such as Fark.com, readers often joke about how mainstream media only cares about young, rich, blonde, pretty women, paying no attention to those who are older, poor or middle-class, and unattractive. Perhaps there is some truth to this, Laci Peterson and Natalee Holloway were the subject of countless hours of programming on various televised news programs, and yet, Jill Carroll received barely a mention. Carroll may be young and attractive, but she is a brunette who wears glasses, and chose to wear a modest headscarf while in Iraq. A week after her kidnapping, there is no mention of her on the front page of either CNN’s or the BBC’s webpages.

Both those sites ran brief articles on Carroll’s abduction last week. While similar, there were some notable differences. CNN felt the need to point out that The Christian Science Monitor is a secular paper, a factoid that went unmentioned by the BBC. Neither news site mentioned the name of Carroll’s driver, but CNN did mention that he wished to remain anonymous. The BBC went into much more detail about the abduction itself. They even went to the point of stating that the area of Baghdad which Carroll and her crew were in was considered very dangerous, particularly for those in media, three journalists had been lost in the area recently. The CNN coverage of the actual abduction implies that it may have been a planned ambush, whereas the BBC site states the abduction was an ambush in no unclear terms.

Both the BBC and CNN carry some biographical information about Carroll, information that was disseminated in a press release by the Monitor. None was offered about Carroll’s driver, the only information given about Enwiyah was that he was 32 years old when he was killed. Where the BBC and CNN left off, the blog Baghdad Burning picked up. The author of Baghdad Burning, self-identified only as R., offers little detail about the abduction or Carroll, these items had already been covered, though not very thoroughly, by the BBC, CNN, and the Monitor. R. instead offers a very different look at the event with a sort of euology for Enwiyah.

By some twist of fate, R. was something of a friend to Enwiyah. Enwiyah was a Christian Iraqi, a tidbit not mentioned at all by the BBC or CNN. Perhaps it is an unimportant bit of information, or perhaps it explains why he was killed and the driver spared. Enwiyah was no random, anonymous citizen. During peacetime, he ran a store called “Alan’s Melody,” a music shop where Iraqis stuck in Baghdad, with only sporadic electricity with which to watch the television or surf the web, were able to get exposure to Western music. If Carroll’s ambushers had done their research and had known of Enwiyah’s identity, they may have known he was not Muslim, perhaps that was some motive for his killing.

R.’s site, while perhaps not as chock full of dry “facts” as the BBC and CNN, provides a much more human perspective on this event. Enwiyah had a wife and small children, his shop was a gathering place. While the kidnapping of Carroll and the killing of Enwiyah are certainly a tragedy, knowing so much about Enwiyah, knowing that he could be like any of our neighbors, makes the tragedy so much more real, makes it hit home so much more. Every article on sites like R.’s and those of others that allows us to see the more human, personal side of those involved, in one way or another, in this war, allows us all to be more deeply affected by it.

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