Attempted terrorism on French train as seen from both sides of the Atlantic

Unsurprisingly to media scholars, different frames are at the forefront of American and French coverage of the gunman stopped by three Americans on a French train on August 21.  The story makes the homepage of both The Washington Post and France 24, the French English-language news channel, but the two articles highlight different components of the story.

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The headlines focus on the same element of the story–the fact that French authorities had flagged the suspected gunman as a person of interest before he was stopped by three Americans on board a train from Amsterdam to Paris.  And indeed, this is a primary frame of the articles from both sources.  In the body of their article, France 24 emphasizes the suspect’s purported ties to radical Islam, his ties to Syria, and his claims that he planned to use the weapon to rob people on the train, not engage in acts of terrorism.  Similarly, the Washington Post details what intelligence officials claim to know and when and references the ties to Syria and radical Islam.

However, the Post‘s story splits its coverage between two frames–that of the possible terrorist ties and the heroic acts of three Americans who were responsible for subduing the alleged gunman. This second frame highlights two tendencies Graber and Dunaway argue can be found in media coverage of political news generally and foreign affairs specifically–a focus on personalization and dramatization as well as an America-centric perspective on world news.  The story uses evocative language and quotes to capture the danger and adrenaline rush of the Americans’ experience: the Americans “sprang into action” and “Spencer [one of the Americans] just ran anyway, and if anyone would’ve gotten shot it would’ve been Spencer for sure.”  Family members are interviewed, describing one man’s “warrior’s heart,” and the story includes a statement from the White House deputy press secretary about their heroism.  The coverage of the three American men and their actions aboard the train takes up over half of the article.  France 24, in contrast, makes no reference to the American passengers and offers quotes from only three sources: the French Interior Minister, an unnamed Spanish intelligence source, and the lawyer representing the gunman.

The decision to personalize the story and focus on the actions of the three American men brings a terrorist attack in a foreign country–something many Post readers have no experience with–into a context that people can understand.  They can identify with these men and feel proud of their decision to step into a potentially dangerous situation.  As Americans, they might feel a sense of patriotism or national pride.  However, including these details also obscures, to some extent, the facts of the event.  While the only take-away from the France 24 article is that European intelligence might have had this individual on a list of people to watch, and that he is arguing he never intended to perpetrate terrorism, the Post article does not offer the alleged gunman’s perspective at all.  A reader of France 24 could walk away with lingering questions about motives and identity that are completely absent in the Post‘s story.


Attempted terrorism on French train as seen from both sides of the Atlantic

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