The politics of Press lexicon: Chapel Hill Shooting

On 10 February 2015, husband and wife 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat and 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and the wife’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were allegedly shot dead by 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks in the neighbourhood of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

While the impetus behind the shooting is still being debated, news networks around the world have come under fire for their framing of the incident. Specifically, major news networks are being accused of bias and bigotry for their relatively low key media coverage, or omitting press coverage on the incident altogether.

On Instagram and Twitter, cartoons on this selective press reporting have been circulating as critical commentary.

Vernacular commentary on the media silence has also been trending on the following hashtags on Twitter and Instagram:

#ChapelHillShooting
#MuslimLivesMatter
#3Muslim
#BlackLivesMatter
#ChapelHill

Coding Press Lexicon

While there is some news coverage on the incident, media hype and fervor has not been as extensive as during the recent #CharlieHedbo/#JeSuisAhmed frenzy. In response, I manually collated and coded the descriptives used on the culprit and victims of the shootings from the top ten articles appearing chronologically on a Google search for ‘Chapel Hill Shootings’. The following data and screen grabs were taken on 12 February 2015, at approximately 1000hrs, GMT+1.

Many of these articles also embeded quotes ad verbatim and screen grabs from various social media platforms. These were excluded in this small exercise, and only the reporter’s main text was coded.

It should be noted that given the lag time since early coverage of the shooting emerged (the incident reportedly took place just past 5pm on 10 February 2015) some of these top ten articles are rehashes of early reportage, follow-up articles, or tributes to the victims. Another limitation is that I only coded for text, and did not take into account demographical significations of the culprit and victims as represented through photographic or video footage.

Descriptive table

Here’s some quick coding of this small sample:

Culprit

4 of the 10 articles attributed assigned blame to the culprit with the descriptives “perpetrator”, “killer”, “gunman”, and “militant atheist” – Al Jazeera, Washington Post, The Telegraph, International Business Times.

4 of the 10 articles attributed alleged blame to the culprit with the descriptives “suspected shooter”, “alleged killer”, “suspect”, and “primary suspect” – Washington Post, The Telegraph, Daily Tarheel, Huffington Post.

Washington Post and The Telegraph overlapped their use of both assigned and alleged blame.

The Independent and News Observer remained neutral with their descriptives “man” and “Chapel Hill man”, while WRAL.com only referred to the culprit by his name.

Victims

6 of the 10 articles made references to the victims’ ages with the descriptives “young” and “student” – The Independent, Washington Post, International Business Times, Mashable, Huffington Post, News Observer.

8 of the 10 articles made references to the victims’ religion with the descriptive, “Muslim” – The Independent, Al Jazeera, Washington Post, The Telegraph, International Business Times, Mashable, Huffington Post, News Observer.

3 of the 10 articles made references to the victims’ citizenship with the descriptive, “American” – Al Jazeera, The Telegraph, International Business Times.

International Business Times was the most comprehensive with the use of “American Muslim students”, whereas WRAL.com and Daily Tarheel focused on the descriptive, “victim”.

Body text vs. Headlines

The brief analysis above looked at both the news articles’ headlines and main body text. Isolating just the headlines, however, reveals a different percentage of demographical mentions of either party.

5 of the 10 headlines made references to the victims’ ages with the descriptives “young” and “student” – The Independent, The Telegraph, International Business Times, Mashable, Huffington Post.

5 of the 10 headlines made references to the victims’ religion with the descriptive, “Muslim” – The Independent, Washington Post, The Telegraph, International Business Times, Mashable.

2 of the 10 headlines made references to the victims’ citizenship with the descriptive, “American” – The Telegraph, International Business Times.

4 of the 10 headlines made no references to the victims’ demographic – Daily Tarheel, WRAL.com, Al Jazeera, News Observer.

None of the headlines made references to the culprit’s demographic.

Screen grabs of the headlines and links to the articles are archived below.

The Independent

01 The independent - young muslims

WRAL.com

02 wral - victims

Al Jazeera

03 al jazeera - muslim americans

Washington Post

04 washington post - young muslims

The Telegraph

05 telegraph - american muslims

International Business Times

06 international business times - american muslims

Daily Tarheel

07 daily tarheel - people

Mashable

08 mashable- muslim students

Huffington Post

09 huffington post - young victims

News Observer

10 news obeserver - muslim students

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