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Paris over Beirut: Exploring America’s case of selective grief

by Austin Cross and Alex Cohen | Take Two®

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A sign sends a message of love from the Untied States to France at a makeshift memorial outside the French Consulate in Los Angeles, California on November 14, 2015, one day after the Paris terrorist attacks. Stirring renditions of "La Marseillaise" rang out from Dublin to New York as global landmarks were bathed in the French colors and thousands marched in solidarity with Paris after attacks that left at least 129 dead. DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

Just a day before terrorists set off a wave of deadly attacks across Paris, another city was reeling from a double suicide attack that killed 40: Beirut, Lebanon.

The group calling itself Islamic State would later claim responsibility for both attacks.

While the gruesome killings in Paris have been met with a global outpouring of sympathy, many took to social media over the weekend to criticize what they call a global prejudice. Some asked whether Arab lives matter less. Others accused the media of having a cultural bias.

Does America suffer from a case of selective grief?

Neil Malamuth is a professor of psychology at UCLA. He says the attack is a lesson in cultural identity. 

“The extent to which we can identify with a people there determines our reactions emotionally and our concern to a large degree,” Malamuth says. “When we look at Lebanon, to many of us it seems much more of a foreign country with a far less clear picture of what’s going on than when we look at Paris.”

Malamuth says that, because of the frequent reports of violence that come out of the Middle East, Americans tend to “tune it out.”

“We’re not as aware of the individuals and don't have a sense of the complexities of who’s there, and, therefore, it doesn’t really register with us as much as it does with Paris,” Malamuth says.

The UCLA psychology professor adds that media consumers may also be more concerned because of the prevailing belief that “when something happens in Paris, it could equally happen in many cities in the United States.”

Mike Ananny teaches journalism at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. He says it’s rare for two similar events to happen in such different parts of the world at once. Last week’s attacks simply highlight the coverage chasm that would have been there regardless. 

“I think one of the things that media often look for in storytelling and reporting is novelty. That’s one of the features of breaking news,” Annany says. “Is this likely to happen or is this not likely to happen, and is it new?”

Annany says a terror attack in Paris fits that criteria pretty easily.

Press the blue play button above to hear more about how the media covers tragedy. 

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