While Obama Coos Over Mosques Next to Churches, Networks Gloss Over Baghdad Catholic Massacre

On Wednesday, the networks described President Obama's speech in Indonesia as a proclamation on Indonesia's religious tolerance. ABC's Jake Tapper breezed over it on Good Morning America: “Before his speech, the President visited the largest mosque in this, the biggest majority-Muslim country in the world.” He quoted Obama: “Those are the spires of the cathedral the Catholic Church over there. See, right next door.”

But as Laura Ingraham pointed out that morning on her radio show, no one actually pressed the president on whether Muslim countries really tolerate Christians – or whether they can end up persecuted, even executed for not being Muslim. Terry Mattingly at Get Religion noted Indonesian examples. But the networks seriously downplayed a heinous murder of priests and Catholic believers in Baghdad on Halloween. And so, it was left out of the entire media's narrative as they celebrated Obama's outreach. In the November 2 Washington Post, the survivors told the tale in a report by Ernesto Londono:

The worshipers heard the first shots and explosions about 20 minutes after the beginning of Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Salvation Church. Heads turned, the sermon stopped abruptly and the Rev. Wassem Sabeeh quietly began ushering parishioners into a fortified room in the rear of the church.

"We realized these explosions were close," said Bassam Sami, 21, one of the survivors of the attack on a Baghdad church carried out by heavily armed suicide bombers that left at least 58 people dead. "Father Wassem started pushing people inside the room."

Once they penetrated the church building, the silent assailants began executing people. "They were well trained," Sami said. "They didn't say anything. It was like someone had cut out their tongues." ….Witnesses and authorities provided the following account of the attack:

The gunmen drove up to the church by way of a quiet street where, according to residents, authorities in recent days had removed cement barriers to open the way to traffic. The assailants, dressed in khaki pants and armed with AK-47 assault rifles, grenades and suicide vests, parked a gray Dodge sport-utility vehicle near the rear of the church.

When they began tossing bags across a seven-foot wall that rings the church, guards at a nearby branch of the Baghdad stock exchange became alarmed. A gunfight broke out, leaving two exchange guards dead. The attackers detonated explosives that were in the vehicle, making nearby windows crack.

A second blast thundered near the rear door of the church, ramming it open. Some officials said a grenade caused the explosion, while others suggested the trigger was a suicide vest.

Sabeeh, the priest, was among the first people executed after the assailants got inside. Another priest, Thaer Abdullah, was also killed.

Throngs of Iraqi authorities gathered outside the church as U.S. military helicopters hovered overhead.

Inside the church, about 60 parishioners were huddled in the safe room, praying and crying, when one of the assailants tossed a grenade inside, Sami said. "There was unbelievable fear among the people," he said. "I cannot describe what we've been through."

Shortly after 9 p.m., after realizing that hostages had been executed, a team of U.S.-trained Iraqi commandos stormed into the church from all sides. At least five suicide bombers detonated explosives, killing seven of the troops.

U.S. officials said the Iraqis realized the operation was risky but deemed it necessary in light of the loss of life that took place during the early phase of the siege. "They responded out of necessity," a U.S. official briefed on the operation said Monday. "There was a real possibility that they would have killed all the hostages inside."

Members of the Assyrian church stood outside Monday morning and wept as they stared at the building's blood-streaked walls. Most of the church's windows were shattered, as were plaques from graves in the church's outer patio.

"We have nothing left here," Juloud Peshtu said as she stood outside. "We are the minority. We cannot defend ourselves. We cannot stay in this country anymore."

This Halloween nightmare was barely (and badly) covered by the networks. Notice how they gloss over the killing-the-infidels overtones and focus their blame on U.S.-trained Iraqi forces. ABC's Dan Harris had the first brief (and their only) anchor brief on the night of Halloween:

DAN HARRIS: And one note from overseas tonight, in Baghdad, Iraqi police stormed a Catholic church where gunmen were holding nearly 100 people hostage. Dozens of the worshippers were killed. The attackers, who may be linked to al Qaeda, initially hit the Iraqi Stock Exchange, which is right across the street, but they were repelled and then took cover in the church, which is one of Baghdad's biggest and most important.

Does that represent what the survivors described to The Washington Post? “Iraqi police stormed a Catholic church where [no religion named] gunmen” were holding hostages? They "took cover" there -- as if they didn't come there to execute priests? CBS also offered a single anchor brief, on Monday night. Notice again who's on the hot seat:

KATIE COURIC: Iraq's government today defended its decision to storm a crowded Christian church after it was seized by Islamic militants. Iraqi officials say security forces were only sent in when the militants began killing hostages. By the time it was all over, at least 58 people were dead and 67 wounded. Most of them church members.

NBC offered two anchor briefs on Monday's Today. They also placed the blame for deaths on the Iraqi security forces:

ANN CURRY: Also in the news this morning, the soaring death toll from Sunday's hostage siege at a Catholic church in Baghdad. Iraqi officials now say at least 47 worshippers and police officers were killed when security forces stormed the church where gunmen linked to al-Qaeda held an entire congregation. More than 60 people were wounded. The attackers were demanding freedom for colleagues imprisoned in Iraq and Egypt.

Notice the media shorthhand. They don't say "Muslim gunmen." They say "gunmen linked to al-Qaeda." And:

CURRY: This morning, Pope Benedict condemned Sunday's deadly attack on a Catholic church in Iraq as, quote, "ferocious and absurd violence." The pope said two priests were among at least 47 people killed when security forces stormed the church where gunmen linked to al-Qaeda held an entire congregation hostage. About 60 people were wounded. The attackers were demanding freedom for colleagues in prison in Iraq and in Egypt.

Again, consider the Washington Post story, that the militants executed the priest first. But NBC viewers could believe that the Pope implied that Iraqi security forces shot priests in their "ferocious" violence. These reckless little network stories were never fleshed out by their own reporters. On Monday's Special Report with Bret Baier on Fox News Channel, David Piper offered a full report. He also suggested the militants attacked the stock exchange first,  instead of suggesting stock-exchange guards were interrupting their church attack:

BAIER: Christians around the world are today mourning the slaughter of some of their own in Iraq. Reporter David Piper reports on a horrific attack and subsequent rescue effort at a church in Baghdad.

DAVID PIPER: The operation by Iraqi security forces was captured on video by the U.S. military helicopters overhead. The hostage drama had begun when militants tied to Al Qaeda in Iraq first attacked the Iraqi stock exchange where they killed two guards. Then they stormed the nearby Our Lady of Deliverance Church during evening mass in the crowded district not far from the green zone. One eyewitness said the government who are wearing suicide bomb vests first shot at a priest to the church, one of the main Catholic places of worship in Baghdad. It's believed they took about 120 hostages.

Iraqi officials said the armed gang threatened to kill their hostages unless Al Qaeda prisoners were released in Iraq and Egypt. Iraqi forces backed up by the U.S. military poured into security area, but it was four hours before they eventually stormed the building. There was at least one explosion as the security forces entered the church. Survivors described the scene of carnage inside as Iraqi and U.S. troops fought with the militants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We heard shots and then they stormed the church. They held us as the hall and they didn't let anybody flee. So many people were killed inside the church and outside.

PIPER: Despite the high casualty figures, the Iraqi authorities say they had no choice but to try and free the hostages.

ABDUL-QADR AL-OBEIDI, IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): It was impossible to wait. The terrorists were planning to kill a large number of our brothers, the Christians who are at mass.

PIPER: Iraq's small Christian community has though questioned the professionalism of the Iraqi security forces because of the high death toll. (on camera): Many Iraqi Christians have left the country already because of attacks on them and their churches. Now the survivors of this latest attack are wondering if that community has any future in Iraq. In Baghdad, David Piper, Fox News.

In their defensive crouch -- trying to prevent anti-Muslim bigotry from backward Americans -- the media elite demonstrate less outrage for  terrorists who slaughter priests inside churches than they do for nonviolent protesters of a mosque at Ground Zero. One is a massive story for weeks. The other's worth about 50 words.

Is this worse than naked pyramids at Abu Ghraib? Not to the networks. It's obviously much less outrageous.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis