A newsworthy one-year anniversary

MachetesOnce again, let me share an angry parable (with a timely tweak). Some of you don’t think it’s appropriate and I know that. But I do. So here goes (with a hat tip to Pat Sajak, of course).

Today is the one-year anniversary of one of the most shocking events in the history of American pop culture. I am referring, of course, to the shocking murder of filmmaker Michael Moore. It took place shortly after the release of his film Submission, which set out to prove that President Bush and his White House are totally controlled by the radical Religious Right.

In broad daylight, on a city street, Moore was attacked and slashed to death by a fundamentalist Christian, who shouted that Moore deserved to die because of his blasphemy and sins against unborn children. As a final symbolic act, the fundamentalist stabbed the fimmaker one last time, using the blade to pin to his chest a copy of a Four Spiritual Laws pamphlet.

Total fiction, of course. But how would this story be covered by the mainstream press? Do you think we would see MSM coverage of this event on its one-year anniversary?

I think we would.

This brings me, of course, to the one-year anniversary of the murder of Dutch filmmaker, political gadfly and liberal icon Theo van Gogh. If you search for his name today at Google News, you will find some coverage of this story — in the foreign press. I read about this story again, of course, in The Wall Street Journal. For some reason, this act of terrorism remains a “conservative media” story on this side of the Atlantic. The essay by Francis Fukuyama (“A Year of Living Dangerously: Remember Theo van Gogh, and shudder for the future”) begins this way:

One year ago today, the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh had his throat ritually slit by Mohamed Bouyeri, a Muslim born in Holland who spoke fluent Dutch. This event has totally transformed Dutch politics, leading to stepped-up police controls that have now virtually shut off new immigration there. Together with the July 7 bombings in London (also perpetrated by second generation Muslims who were British citizens), this event should also change dramatically our view of the nature of the threat from radical Islamism.

This sounds, to me, like a newsworthy topic.

Now that you think about it, so does this story, which I first read about through another commentator on the political right, sort of. That would be Andrew Sullivan. The pope is talking about it, too. That’s two very sharp, and diverse, guys.

Once again we are talking about a shocking crime — the beheading of Christian schoolgirls in Indonesia. Alas, this appears to be a conservative news story, too. If you want information you need to go to foreign news sources or to Christianity Today. An online news story by reporter Deann Alford informs us:

In what one Indonesian human rights activist describes as the latest attack in an ongoing terror campaign against Christians of Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, three teenage girls en route to school through a cocoa plantation were beheaded Saturday morning, apparently by Muslims. …

Two of the girls’ heads were found near a police station five miles from the village of Poso. The head of the third was left in front of Kasiguncu village’s Pentecostal Church of Indonesia (GPdI), eight miles from where the bodies were found in the cocoa plantation.

Read these stories and weep. Or don’t read them. I wish you could pick up your local newspaper and have that choice.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.bluffton.edu/~bergerd Dan Berger

    Here’s my crackpot theory on the deafening silence from the leftward papers (and for that matter, a number of the rightward ones–my local paper, which is Republican/Libertarian, covered neither story).

    Neither story can be spun up as a reaction to colonialist oppression. van Gogh’s murder, maybe… but the only people I know of who yell about how the movie industry practices cultural colonialism are on the right.

    Please, shoot me down. I don’t want to believe anything like this.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    The beheading story appeared of CNN’s website on 30 October in their list of top stories.

  • http://www.urbanangel.net andy chamberlain

    I think one reason this sort of thing doesn’t get more profile (and it’s only one) is that many are scared of the consequences of following the thinkingthrough. What would we do? What would you do? Is Islam incompatible with the West? Should Muslims be deported from America and Europe? Is the West heading for war with Islam? If politicians talked about all this too loudly would some fringe “Christian” group decide to blow up a mosque? What if the violence we have seen in Paris over the last few days were multipled 100 fold? Is that fantasy?

    You don’t have to be a genius to see where this is going, and with tolerance having a successful history as an absorbing strategy for new influences, especially in the US, it’s hard and frightening to say something like “hey, it doesn’t work with Islam, we don’t want this here”.

    Nobody wants to face the frightening places that this thinking takes us to, but will we have to one day?

  • Andy

    On a similar note, has anyone noticed something strange about American coverage of the week-long riots in the Paris suburbs? The wire stories that I’ve read (particularly the Reuters stories the NYT carried) have mentioned that the rioters are “African immigrants” but often failed to note from which part of Africa they came, let alone address the religion question.

    Five years ago, one might be forgiven for choosing to overlook the religious divide between the secular French government and the (radicalized?) Muslim rioters, but given the state of affairs in Europe at the moment, it screams out from between the lines.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Not every chain that rattles is a ghost, folks. Follow me here: We’re talking about a Dutch filmmaker who mostly nobody in America ever heard of before he was killed — in Holland. The US media does a relatively crummy job of covering most events outside the 3-mile limit. Darfur, anybody? Occam’s Razor tells me that religion isn’t needed to explain this one.

  • Michael

    And van Gogh was defending a progressive Netherlands that is anathema to many of those making much hay about his murder now. It’s quite possible that van Gogh would have been concerned about fundamentalist Christians attempting to foist their values on a progressive Netherlands as was about fundamentalist Muslims.

    I think it’s a difficult story to wrap your head around in the U.S., thus the relative silence. While the anti-Islam fervor can be understood by Americans, the rest of the cultural tableau cannot.

  • MT

    Why is it so hard “wrap your head around” this story? It’s really quite simple – a man was murdered because he offended a radical Muslim. What possible “cultural tableau” makes this difficult to fathom. The fact that Van Gogh would be considered a liberal in the US is completely immaterial.

  • Michael

    But this isn’t a “radical Mulsim” reaction story.

    This is also a story about protecting progressive, non-religious values in a society. If the influx of workers were fundamentalist Christians from Alabama or Idaho instead of fundamentalist Muslims from Algeria and Morrocco, it’s possible the Dutch would having the same conversation about assimiilation. The “radical” religious practices of North Africans could possibly be placed in the same boat as the “radical” religious practices of Alabamans and Idahoans. That’s not a wild comparison.

    Yes, it was a “radical Muslim”–whatever that means–who killed van Gogh. But van Gogh’s fight was about assimilating religious fundamentalists and I am not sure he would have drawn a line between Muslims and Baptists.

  • Stephen A.

    Comparing radical religious practices of some extremist, murderous North Africans with the “radical” religious practices of Alabamans and Idahoans is not a wild comparison, it’s a ridiculous one.

    The fact that you call the murderer a (quote) “radical Muslim” (endquote) speaks volumes about what’s wrong with media coverage today, because they don’t *get it* either.

  • Michael

    But van Gogh was not focusing his efforts on “radical Muslims” but on Islam in general and the threats that Islam–and all religion–could have on the Netherlands. The fact that he was killed by an extremist should not be confused with his work, which focused on all Islam. He opposed all organized religion and has been criticized in the past for being anti-Semitic. It’s fair to say that he would have been unhappy with fundamentalist Christians if they moved to Amsterdam too.

  • tmatt


    Was it the New Yorker that did such a fabulous profile of van Gogh? I am well aware that this was one blunt, offensive, wild man. He took shots at just about everyone. I know that. He was a man of the far left in every way possible. Free speech is often offensive.

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