ABC, NBC Reluctant to Name Nigerian Kidnappers as Muslim

Well, ABC and NBC are acting to type, ever reluctant to call evil by its name when doing so is politically incorrect (and possibly dangerous).

Consider both networks’ reporting on the story of the school girls kidnapped last month in Nigeria, and a second, smaller group kidnapped last week. To date, NBC identified the kidnappers of hundreds of Christian girls as Islamist less than 33 percent of the time (12 mentions in 37 reports). ABC’s record is particularly shameful – just 22 percent (eight of 36 total reports) of stories mentioned that Boko Haram, the terrorist gang that abducted the girls, are radical Muslims.

Neither number would be particularly startling, except that the third broadcast network, CBS, has done yeoman’s work on the story, running 51 reports on the subject (including excellent reporting from the ground by correspondent Debora Patta) and correctly identifying Boko Haram as Islamist in 70 percent of its reports.

On ABC and NBC Boko Haram was likely to be called “militants,” a “terror group,” or “violent extremist group” or even just“rebels,” with no hint of their religion or the sectarian nature of the kidnapping.

It’s not as though Boko Haram’s salafist fundamentalism is incidental to the story. It’s official Arabic name means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad.” (“Boko Haram” is Hausa language for “Western education is forbidden.”) The group’s aim is to make Nigeriaan Islamist state under Sharia law and, reportedly, they forced their captives to convert to Islam.

It’s not surprising, however. The same media that’s still waiting for the post-911 anti-Muslim violence often contorts itself to avoid naming violent Islamic fundamentalism – and especially Muslim violence against Christians in the Middle East. The wonder is that CBS is doing such an excellent job.

On “ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer” on May 5, Sawyer said “Nearly 300 young schoolgirls kidnapped by a man with ties to al Qaeda in Nigeria,” and correspondent Martha Raddatz elaborated. The kidnapping, she said, was “the work of BokoHaram, which means ‘Western education is a sin.’ Loosely affiliated with al Qaeda, they’re responsible for dozens of massacres, including the slaughter of about 50 teenage schoolboys earlier this year.”

Al Qaeda is synonymous with Islamist terror, but simply mentioning a “loose affiliation” doesn’t excuse ABC from telling viewers what the group believes and why.

During a May 9 report from the Nigerian capitol, ABC correspondent Hamish MacDonald concluded a report in which he didn’t mention the Islamist aims of the kidnappers or the Christian identity of their victims by saying, “At the mosque today, Friday prayers were for peace. Everyone you meet here remains hopeful the girls will come home safely. But almost a month since the abduction, praying is about all they can do.” No doubt Nigerian Christians are praying even harder.

On May 15, MacDonald told ABC viewers only that Boko Haram is the “violent extremist group behind the kidnapping.”

Though it was better, NBC shared ABC’s reluctance to identify the group’s ideology. In a “Today” report on May 7, NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell said, “BokoHaramis dedicated to stopping Western education, especially for girls.” Why they’re against Western education, and what they are for instead, she didn’t say.

On May 10, correspondent Kristen Welker managed to bring up the question of why Hillary Clinton’s State Department hadn’t designated Boko Harem a terrorist group without mentioning why, exactly, they should have been. “In 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton resisted calls from the CIAand FBI to designate BokoHaram, the group behind the Nigerian kidnappings, as a terrorist organization,” Welker explained, “which could have directed resources toward combating their operations.”

Welker showed a clip of NBC News National Security Analyst Michael Leiter saying, “The U.S. was a bit slow to designate BokoHaramas a terrorist organization. But for those of us in the counterterrorism business, we have seen very troubling signs of radicalization in Nigeriafor several years.” Welker didn’t elaborate on either the signs or the brand of radicalization.

There is plenty of precedence for ABC and NBC’s obfuscation about radical Islam. The networks repeatedly termed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood “peaceful” and “moderate,” and initially refused to utter a word about Islam when two jihadists hacked a British soldier to death on a London street and shouted “Allahu akbar” for witnesses video cameras.

It’s hard to know whether the networks are more afraid of offending Islamists, or reminding American citizens of the threat Islamism poses. Either way, it’s cowardice.

Matthew Philbin
Matthew Philbin
Matt Philbin is Managing Editor of MRC Culture