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If media covered America the way we cover foreign cultures

drunk-southern-dude

You really need to be following the writing of Sarah Kendzior this week as she rips the major media outlets for their utter incompetence in understanding the role of race, ethnicity and nationality in the Boston Marathon bombing. The fact is: we don’t know what motivated these men. There will be a trial – and then we will know more. In the mean time, the American media has been throwing out every possible stereotype (indomitable mountain men!!!) and disjointed factoid from Wikipedia their interns could gather.

Now, Juan Cole isn’t really “the media,” and I normally enjoy his analysis of Middle East affairs quite a bit – but I was perplexed by his trying to use 19th century literature to explain Monday’s actions in absence of thorough knowledge about the motive’s of the alleged bombers.

They were playing the nihilists Arkady and Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons,” explained scholar Juan Cole, citing an 1862 Russian novel to explain the motives of a criminal whose Twitter account was full of American rap lyrics. One does not recall such use of literary devices to ascertain the motives of less exotic perpetrators, but who knows? Perhaps some ambitious analyst is plumbing the works of Faulkner to shed light on that Mississippi Elvis impersonator who tried to send ricin to Obama.

Cole’s connection to philosophical nihilism might be a stretch, but it’s sure a lot better than those hyperventilating that one of the suspects was named after a brutal Mongol warlord!!! As my own son is named after the Norman conqueror who slaughtered Saxons to dominate England, I find this analysis unhelpful.

Why can we not just say, “I don’t know. Nobody knows. This was horrible. Our justice system will tell us the rest?” That would be honest, calm and dignified – but this is the American media we are talking about.

Now, for those of you without backgrounds in intercultural analysis, maybe this doesn’t seem too ridiculous. Let me illustrate how inaccurate such wild speculations would sound if it were about a culture you did understand.

Let us say that a guy got drunk at a bar outside of Mobile, Alabama,  got in a fight with some dudes about University of Alabama versus Ole Miss college football, and ended up shooting them dead in the parking lot.

Terrible, right? Stupid, violent, too many damn guns, shame, right?

Now imagine that some foreigners slapped a crappy pseudo-anthropological analysis on top, full of weird historical references, non-sequitur references to the church, and misguided assumptions about ethnicity.

DATELINE APRIL 21, 2013

foreign culturesIT HAS HAPPENED AGAIN, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:

Yet another massacre has occurred in the historically war-torn region of the Southern United States – and so soon after the religious festival of Easter.

Brian McConkey, 27, a Christian fundamentalist militiaman living in the formerly occupied territory of Alabama, gunned down three men from an opposing tribe in the village square near Montgomery, the capitol, over a discussion that may have involved the rituals of the local football cult. In this region full of heavily-armed local warlords and radical Christian clerics, gun violence is part of the life of many.

Many of the militiamen here are ethnic Scots-Irish tribesmen, a famously indomitable mountain people who have killed civilized men – and each other – for centuries. It appears that the wars that started on the fields of Bannockburn and Stirling have come to America.

As the sun sets over the former Confederate States of America, one wonders – can peace ever come to this land?

Sometimes, people are in a cult of violence tied up with religious fundamentalism and nationalistic terror groups.

Sometimes, they are just savages who come from a place that might have churches and politically-motivated knuckleheads.

Being a real analyst of international affairs, you need to understand how subtle that difference can be.

  • Frank in Boulder

    Stirling, not Sterling.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      As the former bassist of Whisky Before Breakfast, a bagpipe-fueled Scottish funk band, I am hereby embarrassed by my spelling failure.

      • http://www.facebook.com/cheryl.clinansmith Cheryl Clinansmith

        no worries…we get what your tryn to say!! watch out for the “Spelling Police” ….lighten up people!

      • alec

        I’m now scouring the internet for your music.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rillifane Frank Eric Rathbone

    Actually, that analysis of the drunken bar brawl sounded pretty reasonable.

    • cfig

      Except for the faulty assumption that an Ole Miss fan in Mobile would have survived long enough to start an argument.

      • http://twitter.com/modchen dr. angelface

        why would an Ole Miss fan bother visiting Mobile? most of them actually have *some* taste.

  • Bronte

    And “indomitable,” not “indominable.” Very much a ppreciate your alerting folks to Sarah Kendzior’s work.

    • Bronte

      And that’s “appreciate.” : )

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      Man, the Secret Spelling Police are OUT IN FORCE today.

  • David

    Of course, non-Western media do slap crappy narratives onto their coverage of Western nations, but these narratives tend to Reify assumptions that everything can be explained by grand conspiracies and collisions among western powers to implement premeditated plans for dominating every aspect of global politics and the world economy. They fail to acknowledge the ways that hegemony can result from the uncoordinated, spontaneous, and competitive actions of billions of people.

  • http://www.ridingthetiger.org/ William van Nostrand

  • Marcos

    Well, that´s pretty much the analysis we do of that remote place in north america :D

  • liz

    capital, not capitol. and frank caught “stirling.” otherwise hits the nail on the head–will definitely share.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      It’s capitol for the city that heads the government. The word “capital” refers to money.

      I lived in the CAPITOL of Washington DC for eleven years – so I learned the distinction after about six years.

      • Guy

        No, Washington DC is the capital city. A capitol is only a building.

        • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

          Dammit, I just Googled this – you’re right! So it’s Capitol City, but it’s the capital, the place with the capitol. Wha?

          English makes no sense some times.

          • Ben

            English does make sense some times?! ;)

          • Fitchpuckman

            …about that point you were making regarding how outsiders can misconstrue the most minor, yet important, details about another culture/race/language/faith…

  • Lagavulin

    “Perhaps some ambitious analyst is plumbing the works of Faulkner to shed light on that Mississippi Elvis impersonator who tried to send ricin to Obama.”

    Except the charges against him have been dropped. Perhaps this Sarah Kendzior might learn some basic journalism, and not convict people before they are convicted. Jeez. What a load of smug.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=747113665 Robert J Sebold

      he said he didnt even like rice HAHAH

  • Denise Warner

    It had nothing to do with Islamic terrorism. That doesn’t exist.

    • http://www.facebook.com/matjnewton Matthew Newton

      this argument is another version of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

      Islamic terrorism absolutely does exist.

      (Lest you jump to the conclusion that I’m some redneck, this comment is written from a muslim country. I am one of two non muslims in an Arabic school, and there’s three friends of mine – all muslims – sitting within 2 metres of me as I type).

      • Sarita

        There are acts of terror perpetuated by Muslims, but it is misleading to use the term “Islamic terrorism” because it implies that the acts were motivated by some values or doctrine inherent to the faith.

        • Matthew Newton

          They tend to state their motivations often and loudly. It’s difficult to miss.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/A-J-MacDonald-Jr/100000560571959 A J MacDonald Jr

    When the US Government uses violence to solve its problems it teaches others to do the same.

    “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr

    • Ron

      lol when HASNT the US Government NOT used VIOLENCE to get its way….the American people are responsible for over 100 million Indian Murders ….100 MILLION !!!! and you folks think the jews got it bad….everyone see`s now right through your transparent bullshit . Your a WAR MONGERING country and always have been. now KArma is coming for you ….

      • Grey Aiken

        double negative

        • Schlangemann

          lulz.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=747113665 Robert J Sebold

        Karma has been figured into ALL future war mongering done by the USA…

      • BK Moore

        Oh yeah, well, SPELLCHECK is coming for YOU !!! Luddite.

      • http://www.facebook.com/brian.goudie.3 Brian Goudie

        1, the 100 million+ native deaths claim is a number still under serious academic debate.
        2. Including deaths due to epidemics under the heading of violence is dishonest at best.
        3. The majority of deaths of the precolumbian inhabitants of the Ameicas occurs in the 1500’s and 1600’s, well before there is United States of America.
        4. That said the US did do some horrible things during the westward expansion. Feel free to point those out , instead of making up misleading claims.
        History and facts, they mean something. Learn a bit before you speak in a public forum.

      • Misterray

        Yeah, let’s apply 20th century standards to all earlier time periods. How dare those
        Goths, Picts, Angles, Franks, Moors, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Huns, Mongols, Han, Rus, Spanish, Celts, Norse, Aztecs, Incas, Danes, Scots, etc. etc. etc. etc. do all those terrible things 100, 500, 1000, and 3000 years ago!!!

      • AhMyGoodness!?

        Can I also point out …. The America we know today …. was created by – The English, The Irish, The Chinese, Spanish, French, etc etc etcetera??? Are you saying that no other government is war mongering?? Many nations created the America that is … take your part of the responsibility ….

  • Ryan

    Wait, that isn’t a real story about America? Sounds legit to me, from our Canadian news sources!

  • Ron

    Heh, hilarious. A note on Juan Cole: sadly, this isn’t the first time he’s displayed an utter, stereotype-ridden ignorance of Eastern Europe and the former USSR. Back in 2010, he described Israel’s Avidgor Lieberman as “a Central/Eastern European ultra-nationalist in the mold of Slobodan Milosevic and Jorg Haider”, as if such ideologies were somehow specific to that region! Why play the precious media fool by invoking Tolstoy, rather than simply admit that Chechnya and the Caucasus are outside his specialist turf??

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      First, I’d like to let everybody know that Prof. Cole actually shared this link with his readers – so my respect for him is even higher than it was before.

      Cole was absolutely invaluable as a resource in the 2000s, a bulwark against the tsunami of ignorance about the Islamic world and the Middle East in particular. His actual expertise was so refreshing given the complete stupidity of the pundit class at the time.

    • Nick

      Did you mean Turgenev?

  • Ben

    I doubt that this attack was carried out without some
    influence from radical Islam. If not, what
    could have been their motivation to attack?

    Let me think of some other explanations… The brothers were protesting against
    marathons? Or, perhaps the
    brothers didn’t like the part of the sidewalk where they put the bombs, and
    there just happened to be a marathon there…..

    When compared to other “alternative explanations”,
    it is clear that the bombings have some roots in the brothers’ being part of
    the Chechen Diaspora, which has proven radical elements. Violent radical Islam doesn’t define
    Chechen culture, but it is an unfortunate product of Russian imperialism that we
    can’t deny played a role in the attacks.

    • Christopher O’Leary

      Nope, just a couple moderate Muslims showing that you don’t have to be a radical Muslim to launch a terrorist attack.

      • Ben Roberts

        Right on! But, you can go further… You don’t even have to be a Muslim to launch a terrorist attack.

        • Johannes van der Waals

          Brilliant reply – the infamous slippery slope.

          I think, the argument Mr. Garland makes is not about denying the potential for a religious background, it is about not jumping to conclusions so early. Running Dutch (or the BBC, or German) media broadcasts at parallel to the US TV station reports, very much highlights that unfortunately the private media in the US (with a few notable exceptions) takes little care in how they interpret the very selected things know.
          Most north-western EU news are limited to “we don’t know much”, “they were not very conspicuous”, “younger brother was a excellent student”, “investigation on-going”, the snippets from the US reel focussed on the “Muslim terrorist” aspect. I’m certain, in many aspects the US media is far ahead of the old continent, but unbiased investigation doesn’t seem to be one of them.
          Well, at least you still got big bird and PBS…

    • Alan Hope

      Maybe you need to open even just one page of some internet site about Chechen history. It doesn;t much matter which: no site could be more ignorant than what you just posted.

    • Fitchpuckman

      how about they just fucking despise Americans, like so much of the world does, becuase of ass-clowns like you and your blindingly narrow-minded disposition on international public relations and cultures, as evidenced herein? maybe they were going to do this wherever they lived, but they just happened to move here because we live in a place that has built its incredibly short history on being a melting pot of cultures and people? you’re so biased (for whatever reason…that’s a different discussion) that you can’t even step away from your already-slanted opinion enough to see how you’re using confirmation bias to draw conclusions on this situation. “I doubt that this attack was carried out without some
      influence from radical Islam.” Here, your preconceived notions have led you to generalize this situation into a radical Islamic act simply because you personally can’t think of another possible explanation for why they did it. I believe you’re just illustrating the entire point made by @ericgarland in the original article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Basil-Keilani/664591046 Basil Keilani

    As far as the mountain men comment, to some extent the younger one wanted to view his people in that way. He did bring up the toughness of the Chechnyan people. He looked up to the toughness of his brother, but he wasn’t as ideological as his brother. The comment about Tamerlan was definitely stupid. Many Hungarians have the name Attila, and many Turkish have the name Cengiz (Jengiz). It’s some Americans who have limited knowledge trying to find anything negative about a people based on the actions of a few.

  • http://twitter.com/UK_Wolfette Jette Goldie

    Stirling. Sterling is the currency unit, Stirling is the city near Bannockburn.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      I can play “Scotland the Brave” “The Atholl Highlanders” and “High Road to Linton” on the bass. Will you forgive the spelling error?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=634126084 David Schneider

    Not only did that analysis of the drunken brawl sound pretty reasonable, it’s very much the sort of analysis that might be embedded within the family dramas of Victorian literature. Also: names mean things. If Tamerlan didn’t know the meaning of his name growing up in America, you better be sure he was duly informed of its provenance when he went back to Russia. It’s a byword for power and conquest – & if you’d happened upon Marlowe’s “Tamburlaine” Pts I and II you’d note that Marlowe is setting up the drama in the hypocrisies of European leadership versus this vicious, indomitable force carried by rhetoric.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      You’re named after an ancient Hebrew king. Is that supposed to tell me a lot about you?

      • Nick

        You missed the part where the king is a murderer, steals someone’s wife by having him killed and becomes a despot ;)

  • StarsFellOnAlabama

    Mobile isn’t the capital of Alabama; it’s Montgomery. A single Google search is all it would have taken. Two words: ‘capital’ and ‘Alabama’. Done.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      AW SNAP! I knew it didn’t sound right! Please accept an apology from this maple syrup-soaked Vermont Yankee.

      • noniya

        So do you feel that the U.S. South is ‘a culture you understand?’

        • http://www.facebook.com/michaeljohns Michael Johns

          I’ve lived in it most of my life and I still don’t get it. It’s nutty.

    • HeidiNIndi

      Actually, calling Mobile the capital is probably a more accurate comparison…after all, it seems many Americans don’t know the difference between Czech Republic and Chechnya.

      • tom

        A letter to the editor in the San Jose Mercury News this morning referred to the bombing suspects ethnicity as Caucus-Asian.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1837024770 Melanie Thomas

      I noticed that too, but actually, considering how often our own media confuses (and by ‘confuses’, I mean completely screws up) the place names abroad in the stories they are writing about, it actually just ends up making this article seem even more accurate. I expect if the author included a map similar to the world maps we’ve seen on Fox News, for example, Alaska would be hovering to the north-ish of Washington State, Russia and Canada would then need to vaguely exchange places, Rhode Island would be depicted as an actual island, the Midwest would be some sort of malleable blob, and NYC would be placed somewhere near Buffalo…. ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kehvan Kevin Burnett

    A thoroughly banal analysis for one reason and one reason only… the European media already do this.

    • Nick

      Have you been to Europe?

  • James

    Except, we do know their motives. They were Islamic Extremist. Can we acknowledge that those exist, and that there is a part of the world that is more densely populated with them, and that in those places terror attacks are more frequent because of their actions, and not be called racist? Do you really think an IED in the middle east left by someone motivated by religious extremism is the same as extreme violence committed by some in America who happens to be religious? Do you not see the difference in motivation and mindset?

    This is utter asininity.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      Fascinating – you’re part of the FBI team that is interrogating the subject and you’ve already learned everything about the case. Thank you for sharing your perspectives, you must be busy with interviews.

      OH, WAIT: You’re an anonymous internet commenter drawing all of his conclusions from what you’ve seen on television. Right. Call us back when you have facts. That’s what actual law enforcement and intelligence analysts deal in.

      • Christopher O’Leary

        You’re also drawing conclusions, genius. The only difference is that his conclusions of Islamic terrorism are a lot more realist. I think you’re just saying Islam has nothing to do with it because you want attention.

        • Nick

          Well he didn’t actually claim that Islam had nothing to do with it…

          • Oliver Trizarri

            Man, you people believe everything you here. You want answers? Go out and be an investigative journalist. Those are people who search for the truth even through danger. Rather than just listen to what EVERYONE says… And than reveal it to the public. As it is our right as the people to know. Conclusions are weak without actual supportive evidence. Filthy puppets… Always believing what is said just because it comes from “a higher authority”… Don’t you people have minds of your own…?That’s my opinion at least. Which means don’t get mad because my ideas are differed from yours. It’s called being human. Get used to it.

        • http://www.facebook.com/matjnewton Matthew Newton

          His argument is to show a bit more humility and just admit you don’t know, that none of us know, and that we should just calm the fuck down until we do know.

      • James

        I didn’t interview him, I just… Read it in a newspaper. See Wall Street Journal, “Suspects Roused by Jihadist Thoughts.” I quote:

        “The two were acting as jihadists, motivated by Muslim religious anger at the U.S., the surviving brother told interrogators, these officials said.”

        So that’s what the “actual law enforcement and intelligence analysts” are saying motivated them, when you’re saying we don’t know what motivated them. Now if you don’t trust the media, I suggest instead of saying “no one knows what motivated them,” you say the truth, “The papers are reporting that they were jihadists, but WE DON’T KNOW THAT FOR CERTAIN, DO WE?” You’d be just as extreme, but at least you’d be honest.

        And a tip: you know what doesn’t make it seem like you have the intellectual high ground? Sarcasm and puerile snark.

        • PJ

          You read it in a newspaper… Okay. The NY Post is a paper. How much crap have they posted that isn’t true–just on this one topic. You do recall at one point that they cited law enforcement officials, and that was proven false?

          Just because it’s on the internet (and/or in a newspaper) doesn’t mean it’s true, genius.

        • ironymobile

          Did you also read the WSJ article interviewing the head of the Muslim Student Association at UMass-Dartmouth, who said that Dzhokhar was disinterested in being part of that group “because its values did not mesh with his own lifestyle”?  As this college friend of the younger Tsarnaev observes, “He designated himself as a Muslim but he didn’t want to practice Islam.”  There are also numerous articles interviewing the executive director & other members of the Islamic Society of Boston, who said that neither brother was a regular at services or other events at their Cambridge mosque and, further, that Tamerlan (who did attend prayers occasionally in recent years) exhibited no substantive knowledge of the Koran.  I mean, if one has to go on YouTube or the Russian equivalent of Facebook to learn about Islam, how religious can one really be?

          The point is, they can say they were attempting to “defend Islam” or that they were “roused by Jihadist thought,” but how much–and precisely what–that means isn’t self-evident.  These are incredibly superficial labels that the media & politicians like to circulate because it makes parts of their jobs easier.  Per the article you mentioned, these two were “self-indoctrinated.”  That could mean anything, but much of the other evidence coming in shows that they don’t have a very good grasp of Islamic teachings.  Instead, they went searching online for material (i.e., propaganda) that fit their own agenda–which sounds, more than anything, like misplaced anger.  To say that their motivation was “religious” simply doesn’t tell us very much in this case.

          • http://twitter.com/sosofancy Bourne

            ironymobile – you’re bang on the mark here, thank you for your comment.

            My aunt (who is, like me, Muslim and is also a practicing child psychiatrist in the UK) has dealt with a few kids like this. Usually, they’re not religious at all – in fact, they usually know little to nothing about the religious scriptures – but they’re angry. Very angry and somehow feeling excluded from society or not fitting in. And they will find latch onto something that they think gives them some meaning – be it a cult, an obscure/minority interpretation of a major religion, or whatever else serves as the vehicle for their pre-existing issues.

            But to say that religion inspired it is completely wrong – it was inspired by the usual issues that cause angry youths with mental health issues to lash out, they just cloak it in whatever makes them comfortable.

          • http://www.facebook.com/matjnewton Matthew Newton

            Bourne – right on the money

          • http://www.facebook.com/matjnewton Matthew Newton

            99% true but just wanted to pick you up one point

            ” I mean, if one has to go on YouTube or the Russian equivalent of Facebook to learn about Islam, how religious can one really be?”

            I know this was a throwaway line, but in a world where most Muslims don’t take their faith very seriously, it’s very common for religious folk to turn online to find succour. The Deen Show on Youtube is one example and Zafir Naik, an apologist for Islam, is also very popular (and very watchable),

          • Katherine

            Apparently the wife of Tamerlan converted to Islam and wore a hijab for the heck of it…

          • James

            Oh, I agree with you on much here. In no way am I saying that he was a ‘good muslim,’ wherein ‘good’ means practices regularly and knows the teachings and whatnot. But the fact that he didn’t often attend services because they didn’t mesh with his worldview means little, especially if the church was teaching peace and his worldview was war. I don’t care if he was motivated by a misguided or ignorant understanding of the Koran or if by a religion he invented that worships pterodactyls and he was the only practicing member– he’d be motivated by religion.

        • ironymobile

          For anyone who’s interested, this LA Times article has some interesting comments from terrorism experts about such attacks.  For instance, about those who’ve plotted “Jihadist-inspired” violence in the US: “‘Religious belief does not appear to be the key personal factor,’ Jenkins said. Instead, the participants have been motivated by ‘grievance, sense of anger, desire for revenge, feelings of humiliation, desire to demonstrate manhood, participation in an epic struggle, thirst for glory.  Jihadist ideology is a conveyor for individual discontent. Terrorism is a solution to an unsatisfactory life,’ he added.”

          The law-enforcement folks running the investigation aren’t experts in psychology or, for that matter, terrorism. Their job is to solve a crime & provide evidence for prosecutors to use in court to secure a conviction.

          http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/19/nation/la-na-boston-terror-20130420

        • http://www.tonyhusted.com/ Tony Husted

          To me the key here is that within 10 minutes of the Bombs going off, and NO ONE knowing who did it, the media was already throwing out Al Qaeda, Jihadists, Syrians, Saudi’s, Anti-Tax Radicals, and 15 other random theories. We still don’t know why they actually did it, that is fact. The news needs to report the news, and not jump to every worse case scenario grandstanding and overstepping the bounds of journalism while reporting a tragedy.

  • Daniel

    Nice article.
    Honest and positive feedback, talking about stereotypes: America is a continent, not a country.

  • http://albatross.org/ Albatross

    The principle I apply at these times is “If nobody is fired, then they were doing their jobs.” The NY Post reported incorrect information. CNN reported incorrect information. Several other “news” organizations repeated it.

    And if nobody is fired for these errors, it was because they were seen to be doing their job when this happened. Meaning that the job of these organizations is to publish whatever nonsense they want, so long as it sells soap and holds viewers in place.

    That’s not news.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      Damn right.

      • http://www.facebook.com/austin.miller.5203577 Austin Miller

        LOL Eric, you say”Damn right. And all along you’re working for the same propaganda department as they are

  • Ajali Shabazz

    Thank You, Eric for your brave honesty. What white citizenry don’t fully understand, for the most part, but not ALL – is that treachery towards one is eventually an agreement to commit treachery against ALL. We cannot afford to ignore the oppression, mass murder, and resource theft being enacted upon the darker skinned populations because one erroneously believes, ‘What can I do?’

    What can you do? If you do nothing then one day you’ll do plenty for the psychopaths in charge. You will agreeably, without protest DIE for them. And they’re happy to speed up that much anticipated end of your chance to stop their madness…

  • noniya

    I like the piece, but I want to know: Why did you pick the South for this example?

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      Good question: I picked the American south because it is a complex place with a contentious history that is frequently stereotyped by the media. Does it have a history of slavery, civil war and Jim Crow? Yes. Could you point to religion as a factor in many social phenomena? Surely.

      But if you tried to tie all of those things to an event in 2013, you might very, very easily fall into a caricature built on media images and not a thorough knowledge of the people as they are today. My understanding of the South today is that it is a place in transition, a place with deep roots and complexity and real people negotiating the future – just like everywhere else on Earth!

      Judging by all the visitors to this piece (thanks everyone!) it resonated because the notion of tying Scots-Irish heritage and the Civil War to a shooting at a bar would seem patently ridiculous to Americans. We need to recognize that putting Chechens and Iraqis and Colombians and Iranians in those same kinds of categories is just as inaccurate – and sounds equally funny to them.

      The fact is – the Tsarnaev brothers may have been motivated by extreme Islamic rhetoric or even some weird nationalist sentiment for a place they never lived. But we can’t know that immediately because of where their grandparents were born or how Chechen rebels fought the Kremlin back in the 1990s. It’s no more clear at this point than it would be if we found that a murderer was from Alabama. If you’re covering international affairs, you really need to be sophisticated about your understanding of all people – not just your own.

      • noniya

        Thanks for your reply. You can ignore my question in the other post. I thought you hadn’t seen this one.

        I asked because the entire United States has a contentious history, but the South is routinely treated as the Other, a foreign land and foreign people within the nation-state. And lesser, if that’s not clear. I really love your argument and observations. But I believe that the example you created ends up doing the very thing that you criticize. You make fun of Southernness (which, I would argue, acts as an ethnicity) in ways that tread familiar ground.

        I’m not picking a fight, but I am confronting you about this in hopes that maybe we (as Americans) can go one step further with this. I would really enjoy (honestly, not ass-ily) your depiction of a news story about Vermont (your homeland) demonstrating what you critique earlier in the piece.

        • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

          I disagree – I chose the South as an example of a place that would get condescended to by the media, and thus amped up the ridiculousness of the analysis to mock the hypothetical journalist. You see, nobody would get Vermont critiques, so I picked something that would resonate.

          Vermont could have worked, though it would have gone like this:

          >>>>>

          DATELINE HARDWICK, VT

          Here in this quaint land of maple syrup and occasional bestiality, trouble has come once again to this impoverished land where icy hearts meet ice cream.

          Brock Ducharme, 33, of East Calais shot six of his cousins after an argument about which lake was better: Lake Bomoseen or Joe’s Pond. Among the deceased are: Jake Bouffard, Claude Quesnel, Brian Ducharme, Tammy Bouchard, and a moose of unnamed origin.

          Will the sons of Ethan Allen ever be able to live in peace?
          >>>>>>

          I would have laughed my head off, but nobody would have got the references. Anyhow, the South should not be stereotyped more than any other place – that’s my real point.

          • noniya

            For me, the last sentence of your post is where it’s at. If the piece had that point in it (instead of just saying ‘the U.S.’ and letting the South stand in for unruliness), I wouldn’t have questioned you about it. I appreciate the Vermont story. And no, I didn’t get many of those references! And there are some very good reasons why. Which leads back to my original post… Thanks very much for your replies. I really appreciated this conversation. Cheers!

          • http://www.facebook.com/gabrielle.curry Gabrielle Curry

            Not usually one to put my two cents in, but as an editing, writing, and media major at FSU I got to love Brian “ducharme” (shower me in spanish) & of course the Ben & Jerry’s reference.

            As for the conversation outside the prose, college rivalries in the south are a huge deal like ours with the UF Gators. Your choice of the south makes a good setting but really any will do I don’t personally find it offensive.

            I think the biggest problem today is not the media’s false information, but rather the speed at which the public is willing to put things into a box. I find this problem when trying to have intellectual conversations with fellow college students all the time. People like to label thing’s too much. They want me to call myself “Libertarian” or “Pro Choice” rather than having real dialogue they spit off a bunch of terms they read online, if you say you didn’t vote they think you aren’t civicly engaged rather than just over the hype. In actuality you should look for a good decision maker in a politician, that’s what they do, and 99% of the time, those choices have nothing to do with what is going on in the main stream media.

            Rather than debating with your friend’s on our recent reelection of one Mr. Obama, perhaps you should realize just how little power that guy actually has. See the reason you as a party would pick a man like Obama to run, is for a distraction. Look at how many new laws have come into action recently. Obama took the brunt of the criticism “Obamacare” but really he’s not much more than a scapegoat.

            Your biggest fear as an American shouldn’t be the media, these arguments about gun control and phone tapping don’t matter anymore. Your so called “bill of rights” is irrelevant in a globalized society. Walter Ong says that texts are living and they separate the knower from the known. Media today does not create text because they know little and fudge the rest, and they refuse to separate themselves from real news work, they all want to be one in a million, all want to be celebrities. We can’t all be super stars, we can’t all be experts in everything. And you should ignore the fear mongering if you’ve ever read anything like Freakonomics or Naked Economics you know this. All you need to do is pick some values, religious or otherwise, and strive to create happiness in your own life and those around you. As for Boston, beautiful city, wonderful food. Try the whale watching.

  • Martin

    Eric Garland: You have excellent points but your grammar and factual knowledge/mistakes really undermines the credibility of your argument. Write this again.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      Hi anonymous critic dude, thanks for your detailed analysis of my blog post.

      Can you send a link to where we can all purchase your books – that way we can see how it’s done!

      Cheers.

      • NavyBlues05

        ZING!

      • http://www.urban-society.de hassia

        Sna,p Z formation.

  • ugh…

    Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to make this comparison using a hypothetical situation involving a member of Westboro Baptist Church, and not some post-bar brawl involving SEC football fans? And if it were a situation that involved a member of WBC, would you have written an article complaining about media outlets jumping to conclusions?

    • James

      No, because that undermines his entire argument.

    • Jill

      Um, I think the point is that media outlets take a non-significant episode of violence in a foreign country and ascribe meaning to it that it doesn’t have, simply because it comes from a place and a culture that they know nothing about. It’s just ignorant xenophobia.

  • Christopher O’Leary

    The author is trying to make a point which holds no ground. When white Christian Americans attack in America, it has nothing to do with race or religion, so the media is correct to exclude that as the main focus. However, when Muslims attack around the world, on a daily basis, it is 100% of the time because of religion; whether in an attempt to declare Islamic supremacy, spread ‘radical’ Islam, defend Islam (as was the case with the moderate Muslim terrorists of the Boston attack), or simply–and most commonly–to spread terror and violence among the ‘infidels’ and non-believers. You can be as liberal, idealist, and as politically-correct as you want but the facts speak for themselves, so don’t try to sugar-coat the terror attacks going around the world every day by Muslims. If you want to claim race and religion have nothing to do with it, then you will completely miss the point of their attacks altogether.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      Man, it is awesome how you have managed to analyze the motive behind every single act of violence from a religion that has one billion adherents around the world.

      Seriously, how do you find the time? You must work very efficiently. Have you published any books? We’re all very interested in your research.

    • John

      So the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta had nothing to do with religion? Throughout the past decades there has never been a racially motivated bombing? Maybe you should look up Confirmation Bias.

      • Oliver Trizarri

        Just curious… How do we know what religion they’re in? For all we know they can be, oh, I don’t know, Christian or something. I mean common they pretty much hate free thinkers just like extreme Muslims… But I am just really curious to know how we know what religion they’re in… I mean I know Osomá Binlódin was a extreme Muslim. But how do we know all the other terrorists. Not all of them can be Muslims and from what I learned in government History. They were domestic Terrorists, and most of them were Caucasian, oh and what about school shootings? Are not those acts of terror as well? I’m just keeping an open mind about this because most people ~assume~ something and claim it to be a fact without any proof. Which I refuse to believe anything without avoidance. Not even the media. By the way. I wasn’t in anyway being sarcastic. I am actually asking a serious question. Before anyone jumps into conclusions.

    • Ben Roberts

      Look up statistics on terror attacks. Who do you think has comitted the most acts of terror in the US? In Europe? Then look up statistics on the amount of suicide bombings related to political/religious motivation, the so called “new terrorism”. Who commits it and where do they commit it? I think that you’d be surprised by the answers you find: an FBI study found that about 6% of the acts of terrorism in the US from 1987 to 2005 were committed under the banner of Islamic fundamentalism and the Tamil Tigers (pseudo-Marxist nationalist group in Sri Lanka – not religious) are the largest perpetrators of suicide bombings in the world. Please inform yourself about the tenets of Islam (especially surrounding the very complicated notion of Jihad) and the nature of their theology and theosophy. I don’t mean this in a snide way, it’s just that a lot of us are woefully misinformed about Islam as a religion and moral code. These sweeping judgements are concerning as they are like measuring all Catholics by the rhetoric and acts of the IRA.

      • Fitchpuckman

        I wish I could upvote this like a million times

    • Suseview

      “When white Christian Americans attack in America, it has nothing to do with race or religion, so the media is correct to exclude that as the main focus.” Never has anything to do with race or religion? Never? Our country was founded by white Christians wiping out another race, Native Americans. I also seem to recall that group with initials, gosh, what was it? GGG? No, MMM? Oh, yeah, KKK. Most of them ‘good’ southern christians killed a few people based upon their race. Also seem to recall a few bombings of abortion clinics and killing an abortion doctor at his church, in the name of religion. And wasn’t Timothy McVeigh a racist too? You might also want to remember that one country that wanted to exterminate an entire peoples based solely upon propaganda about their religion. Crossing into dangerous territory when you make blanket statements about entire races or religions. You might want to visit Auschwitz for a reminder. Or a reservation.

    • hj

      i am from India,and i really don’t understand this attitude that Americans have ,no i have never been to the US but comments like these,really make me wonder……..look at what your military did in vietnam and now iraq!don’t you feel any guilt,look at how many ppl your military and govt has killed ……y are you ppl like this— just plain dumb or arrogant,is your blood superior to others? are most americans like this ?no i am not saying,what the boston bombers did was right,taking innocent life in WRONG! but look at the actions of your own ppl,how can you call others names…….

    • Ilias 10

      Moderate Muslim terrorists. haha
      Thats a good one…

  • ugh…

    Did my comment about Westboro Baptist Church already get deleted? So you want the media to be more honest and open, but only when you agree with what is said?

    • Nick

      I saw it, glitch perhaps?

  • Matzoni Periwinkle

    As a hack from a historically war-torn region of the world, gotta say I enjoyed your perspective flip. Funny though, that there’s something telling me that leaving a comment here means I ought to correct your misspells and spew forth some drivel about those moderate Punjabi Arab Masonic Jewish Islamic extremists from densely populated Kyrgyzstan who kill people because their religion demands it, unlike white Christians who just kill for the fuck of it, but I wouldn’t want anybody to get the wrong idea. That’s why I have signed my real name… Again, thanks.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      You just won the comments section. *HIGH FIVE ACROSS THE INTERNETS*

    • tayseerr

      No MAJOR RELIGION OUT THERE DEMANDS KILLING!!! Especially Islam. Oh and BTW Jihad is now what you think it means, it has nothing to do with killing people. I don’t like this article at ALL. No deserves any punishment because of their government or religion. The world would be a better place if there were no ignorance, provincialism, closed-mindedness, and pure hatred in the world. LISTEN TO THIS

      :“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
      if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
      is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
      well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
      own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
      because I am involved in mankind.
      And therefore never send to know for whom
      the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

  • taylor mead

    Brilliant.

  • turds34

    Arguably might have broken one of these two:

    Pretend there is only one answer
    Pretend that I know that answer

  • Joseph

    The supposed Elvis impersonator ricin mailer was actually released today with all charges dropped. So maybe the author of this article shouldn’t be the one telling the media not to jump the gun before all the facts are known.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adamnewyork Adam Librot

    Actually the war torn areas in the US are the south side of Chicago, Detroit, East St Louis, Baltimore, Philadelphia (and Camden NJ), and Oakland CA, all some of our most progressive cities. Seems like the author was so disappointed the Boston bombers (whose motives are clear as day) weren’t white Christian legal gun owning Americans, that he had to invent one. Where he got it wrong is that in many parts of the US, guns are a way of life, but gun violence isn’t. Look no further than where I grew up, the state of Vermont, where you can carry a concealed weapon almost anywhere in the state without a permit, whether you’re a resident or not. The state has at most 5 murders a year, not all with guns either.

    • Soulless

      You realize that it was purposefully misconstrued to reflect how badly USA does news?

  • Mr. Southern

    I’m just trying to figure out how they got from Mobile to Montgomery so quickly. ;-)

    *I’m from Montgomery.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      The writer must have been mocked into it by angry Alabamans. ;-)

      ROLL TIDE!

  • Emily Tyler

    Are you seriously comparing one person shooting another to a civilian bombing? There is no parallel between the two. The American media is simply doing everything they can to make sense of this. And the ridiculous examples of explanation you reference are just that, ridiculous, and obviously not mainstream opinions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jessa-Peake-Bay/100001174122356 Jessa Peake-Bay

    defamiliarization is awesome

  • Jumpin Jehosophat

    I enjoyed the piece and wish someone would attempt to do a daily or even weekly report on the U.S. from a similar but more serious perspective.

  • tsol

    Pro tip: the right has been making this critique of the media for decades. Where I come from isn’t called “flyover country” by the coastal elites for nothing. They really believe that the great unwashed mass of Americans are different from them, the cognoscenti.

  • ConnieHinesDorothyProvine

    I would be more inclined to say “Inbred yokels in region dominated by racism try to out-tough eachother”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.falcongates Michael Falcon-Gates

    I want every news story on every news outlet in the world to read like this. Especially the ones about meetings of the water commission and stuff like that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gerard.falla Gerard Falla

    To the gentleman claiming that US white Christians don’t attack over religion: the reason there was a Federal Law preventing anti-choice protesters from getting too close to clients trying to get into reproductive health clinics in the nineties was that there had been beatings of clients, bombings and fire bombings of clinics, and sniper-based murders of healthcare professionals, all based on Christian religious dogma, during the late eighties and early nineties. The reason so many LGBT people get beaten by rampant homophobes in the US at the moment is the inane rabble-rousing of right-wing Christian fundamentalists – you know, the Christian jihadis.

  • DINKY

    Why would a foreigner use the middle Endian date format? Couldn’t take the text seriously after this gross inaccuracy!!

  • anon y mouse

    I think the media could use a bit of background info, inasmuch as Tamerlan Tsarnaev got his inspiration from the works of Sunni radical imam Shaykh Feiz Muhammad:

    “Islamic revivalist Fayiz Azzam [also a Sunni] expressed this renewed call to violence in a speech to a gathering in Atlanta, Georgia in 1990. “Allah’s religion,” he said, “must offer skulls, must offer martyrs. Blood must flow. There must be widows, there must be orphans. Hands and limbs must be cut, and the limbs and blood must be spread everywhere in order that Allah’s religion stand on its feet.”

    “The strategic efficacy of martyrdom in a military operation is explained simply. Some examples are that, first, the fighter who is willing or even eager to die can attack an enemy with greater fervor than the fighter who is concerned with self-preservation and consequently will fight with more restraint. Second, a terrorist prepared to die can plant a bomb or infiltrate an enemy position much more easily, for he or she has no need to prepare a means of escape and, since he or she will die, also has no need to be cautious about hiding tracks and evidence. Third, the logistics of a suicide attack are more straightforward; walking or driving into the area of attack with an explosive is less challenging than finding a means of sneaking an explosive into the area or detonating one at a distance.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/arle.lommel Arle Richard Lommel

    Eric, no need to apologize for any errors in this at all. Even with some mistakes it is still, if anything, going to be *more* accurate than anything we hear about most places around the world, and the errors only highlight your point. If anything you shouldn’t have apologized and just said it was all part of the plan!

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      Ha! You’re right – my initial mistake about Mobile as the capital of Alabama is due to my ignorance about the place – and would dovetail with most shoddy journalists’ actual output

  • tristan jones

    “savages”?

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      People who blow peoples legs off and murder innocents – they are “savages.”

      It’s not about any race, religion, ethnicity or other.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1630511468 Betty Eyer

    Tamerlaine was not a Mongol. He was a Tatar and fought AGAINST the Mongols. I know all those semi-nomadic tribal peoples from countries with “stan” on the end of it look alike to us ‘Muricans, but these are important distinctions to them. It’s easy to see that to the Tsarnaev family, the name is about a man who rebelled against the people of the East on behalf of the people of the Caucasus area. Local boy makes it big.

    So, in short, the media can’t even get an over reaching historical reference correct when the information is out there for anyone who can pull up a map and spend 10 minutes using Wikipedia.

  • http://twitter.com/Andor_2001 Andorra

    “I don’t know. Nobody knows. This was horrible. Our justice system will tell us the rest..” Fat chance!

    Because we’ve been lied by the authorities continuously, we don’t expect that the powers to be are going to ‘fess up this time, either.. They lied about the gunfire exchange at the boat, they lied about not having any indication of the terrorist threat in spite of the fact that Tamerlan had been on the terrorist list for 18 months.. In short, nobody expects to hear the truth… In the absence of truth all lies seem plausible..

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      I think you’re on to the roots of so many cranky conspiracy theories. I’m just not sure what to do about it, other than to do the best job possible as a journalist, analyst, chief of police, or whatever.

  • Middle eastern

    I watch fox news when i am too bored, because it makes me angry!

  • Mjg

    Good article, thanks. It’s not just the U.S. but many countries that see violence as the solution to everything, goes hand in hand with invading and conquering other nations in order to ‘protect our way of life’? – making those nations ‘civilised’ and ‘democratic’. Unfortunately the general populous is just as guilty, you’ve just got to see what sells (and to what degree) as ‘entertainment’. From what we see from outside the U.S. is the country imploding in on itself, not from the general media though, to them it’s ‘business as usual’ but to ordinary citizens it seems like on the one hand you have the seriously unconcious who believe that everything the U.S. does is justified, and on the other hand many who see the illusion (many whom have had the dream pulled out from underneath them by their own government). Either way the U.S. I think is becoming the most hated nation in the world, if not for the wasteful, winner-takes-all media-driven culture, then definitely for their involvement with almost every conflict we hear about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Harlos/782349392 Chris Harlos

    Sometimes, people are in a cult of violence tied up with religious fundamentalism and nationalistic terror groups.

    Sometimes, they are just savages who come from a place that might have churches and politically-motivated knuckleheads.

    Thankfully, Americans are both at once!

  • http://twitter.com/modulemark modulemark

    I’m sitting here in Stirling, Scotland wondering how we got dragged into this?? Great piece btw.

  • Volizden

    I have to say, overall your appraisal of american media is pretty much spot on, HOWEVER. Listening to National Public Radio throughout the news coverage of the event, they constantly asserted that we dont know the reason, we don’t know the cause, or we just dont know. But details will emerge as the investigation continues.

    I LOVE public radio unfortunately they don’t get enough recognition from people in general for their mostly balance news service.

  • rhill41@gmail.com

    This guy has been vindicated. Didn’t do it: “. . . that Mississippi Elvis impersonator who tried to send ricin to Obama.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/COVINAVINCE Vince Bantinelliquartucci

    omg!!!

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      You have an awesome last name.

  • Jenni

    I appreciate this perspective. Thank you.

  • http://www.tonyhusted.com/ Tony Husted

    I think the only hypothesis I didn’t hear from the media outlets in regards to the bombers motivation, and there were a BUNCH, was one from Aaron Schauer who claims everything is the result of Ancient Aliens! The media was absolutely reckless with speculation and hearsay. I thought the media was supposed to report the news: Who, What, When, and Where. Not spend countless hour speculating WHY.

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      Honestly, some of this is now built into the media business model. You’ll find that many publications forgo paying real professionals for expertise, relying on opinionistas who are expected to produce “news and views” on every single subject that comes down the pike. To pay somebody to work a beat for hours a week, calling sources, pounding the pavement – it’s costly, and it doesn’t produce clickbait as fast as required to keep up with the New Dumb Digital Paradigm.

      WHY is cheaper Who, What, When and Where.

  • kbuts151

    1. You neglected to mention Paul Finebaum or the Bear, therefore your fictitious analysis of this Bama-related incident is flawed.
    2. ROLL TIDE

  • Pam

    clever. insightful. But be careful not to expect justice and answers from the courts.

  • Андрей Жаров

    Respect and gratitude from Russia! Thank you! Now i believe that at least one person in GB mass media have brains and is familiar in using them.

  • Bones

    great article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrey.selected Andrey Selected

    bravo from Ukraine))

  • Minnalousha

    You are absolutely right. Their motivations could have been those of radical Islamists, or they could have simply been misunderstood artists from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania whose canvas is nothing less than Mother “Gaia” bloody Earth, their medium the blasted bits of other people. Either case is just as likely as the other. I would never hazard a guess, much less presume to make a judgment call. Most people don’t need higher degrees to be such idiots, but those who attain them really stand apart from the herd — nearer the predators.

  • Anon. Anon.

    Except that the elvis impersonator did NOT send those letters.

  • Mark Bye

    Great article and great commentary! There are the seeds of hope for North America.

  • http://twitter.com/riverotter1968 Mark R. Pachankis

    moronic white guilt blather. The fact is we KNOW what motivated these men: hatred brought about by radical Islam. Guess what, when there’s a hate crime killing in the US such as a black man being dragged to death in TX by racists, it gets coverage, BUT there is a difference between a terrorist attack against a population and a racially motivated hate crime. If the author does not know the difference between a murder and an terrorist act, he’s not much of a journalist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=730667227 Jeff Groton

    ‘Dateline’ is a place, not a time. So you should know journalism before you pontificate. Although I see your point, of course.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=730667227 Jeff Groton

      Oh! Thought you may have been ironic using dateline as a time! Oh!!

  • DS

    OMG!!! So wait you’re saying media alters the truth? BUT WHY?? it’s not like people are more interested in extremist stories.. or that in selling more of these stories, their papers benefit in any monetary way …. oh wait….

    • http://www.ericgarland.co ericgarland

      You know, it was worse than that – the examples I’m bringing up are from people putatively in the field of international affairs. Nobody expects good analysis from a tabloid, but experts are supposed to know better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.s.jannette Christopher S. Jannette

    I want National Geographic narrating my life next time I make a trip to the dirty south.

  • http://twitter.com/RekLeCounte Anthony Rek LeCounte

    The analysis is fascinating, but I could do without the urban liberal politicking about guns. But while we’re on the topic, people Up North otherize the South all the time. Granted, Americans don’t usually make fine distinctions with European ancestry anymore, but people still make quips about the “old Confederacy” or the “unreconstructed South.” I look forward to the day when such chatter is broadly deemed as ridiculous as you make it here sound.

  • http://www.facebook.com/austin.miller.5203577 Austin Miller

    If you are a fan of this sick CIA propagandist who’s trying to demonize the militia and southern people, you are a traitor to this nation. And i’m from Illinois, not the south

  • sunny

    LOL, you think the justice system is any better at “finding the truth” than the media? That is very quaint. It is almost touching in its naivety. The criminal justice system is called the criminal justice system because it is criminal.

  • Liam Jones

    This is brilliant.

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