Home > media > Glenn Greenwald on Western media coverage of Oslo, ‘terrorism’ is not when the perp is White

Glenn Greenwald on Western media coverage of Oslo, ‘terrorism’ is not when the perp is White

[Update: Please see Wukailong remarks in the comments section. He is correct, and my fault for lumping Norwegian media into this supposed ‘Western’ media madness on this particular issue. To their credit, they are reporting the Oslo shooting and bombing as ‘terrorist’ acts.]

In looking at the New York Times coverage of the Oslo bombing and shooting, Glenn Greenwald sees ongoing pattern of attributing terrorism only to Muslims and not acts committed by the White. As I have written here about a year ago – “Harvard University study catches major U.S. media pants down – systematic reporting of U.S. waterboarding as not torture,” this sort of behavior is nothing new. Some may argue there is no conspiracy by the Western media for this sort of thing. Probably not. I often like to ask back – do racists need to conspire to commit racism? I don’t think so. Their public display emboldens each other for sure. Greenwald’s analysis below:

The original version of the NYT article was even worse in this regard.  As several people noted, here is what the article originally said (papers that carry NYT articles still have the original version):

Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking al-Qaida’s signature brutality and multiple attacks.

“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from al-Qaida,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington.

Thus: if it turns out that the perpetrators weren’t Muslim (but rather “someone with more political motivations” — whatever that means: it presumably rests on the inane notion that Islamic radicals are motivated by religion, not political grievances), then it means that Terrorism, by definition, would be “ruled out” (one might think that the more politically-motivated an act of violence is, the more deserving it is of the Terrorism label, but this just proves that the defining feature of the word Terrorism is Muslim violence).  The final version of the NYTarticle inserted the word “Islamic” before “terrorism” (“even if the authorities ultimately ruled out Islamic terrorism as the cause”), but — as demonstrated above — still preserved the necessary inference that only Muslims can be Terrorists.  Meanwhile, in the world of reality, of 294 Terrorist attacks attempted or executed on European soil in 2009 as counted by the EU, a grand total of one — 1 out of 294 — was perpetrated by “Islamists.”

  1. pug_ster
    July 25th, 2011 at 17:21 | #1

    Western Propaganda in action. They need to create this fear towards these ‘islamofacists’ so they can justify war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya while creating this growing sentiment toward Muslims and any other foreigners. In some sick way the Oslo Terrorist is right about one thing, there will be more hatred toward Muslims and other foreigners in Western nations in the next few years.

  2. Wukailong
    July 25th, 2011 at 19:31 | #2

    This is a case where you need to look at local media. Norwegian and Swedish outlets unanimously referred to this as terrorism. Two examples:

    Norway’s TV2 and Verdens Gang, major TV and media outlets:


    Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter, also a major newspaper:


    “Terrorangrep” and “terrorattack” mean “terrorist attack” in Norwegian and Swedish, respectively.

    From local reports, I’ve been struck with how well they’ve handled the question of guilt; while there were some who assumed it was muslim terrorism, no major outlet reported that as a fact. I did see something about a British outlet first reporting it as muslim terrorism, and FOX, seemingly reluctantly, agreed that the killer had nothing to do with muslim groups (he was even virulently anti-muslim). But apart from that, I haven’t seen anything claiming this wasn’t terrorism.

    I followed this closely when it happened and the Norwegian authorities didn’t claim there was no terrorism involved. How could they, given the nature of the assaults (bombing government buildings, for starters?). They only denied the connection to islamic groups. If NYT wrote that, then it’s their own interpretation of what the Norwegian police said, and the blame has to rest with them.

  3. July 25th, 2011 at 20:43 | #3

    Thanks and my fault. I have updated the post to reflect your findings.

  4. Wukailong
    July 25th, 2011 at 21:35 | #4

    No problem. It would be interesting to see if there’s a difference in the way this is covered in US/British media and local outlets. My guess is it changes with distance, so that newspapers like NYT might have an angle more in line with domestic assumptions.

    Btw, one thing that’s really scary with the whole thing is that there’s no way of really guarding against people like these; I’m not sure how many people remember it but there was a bombing in China back in 2000 where one guy blew up a residential building in Shijiazhuang and killed 180 people. There was a national alarm and his picture was seen everywhere. Finally they found him hiding in Guangxi, if I remember correctly. He didn’t even have any agenda, he just wanted to get even with an acquaintance of his. In the Norwegian case the killer had copied material and information both from the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh. In this age, when information is so freely available, anyone with bad intentions can create major incidents like this.

  5. July 25th, 2011 at 23:28 | #5

    1. Mention of terrorism only once, but in the same way as in the NYT which Greenwald wrote against:
    July 22, 2011

    At the very end of the article, it said:

    “Hearing a blast “like thunder” from about a mile away, British resident Ben McPherson immediately assumed it was a terrorist attack.”

    What do you think? The way it is written, I think the reporter tries to imply this is NOT a ‘terrorist’ attack. You might read it differently, but let me know.

    2. No use of terrorism here:
    July 24, 2011

    3. No mention of terrorism here:
    July 25, 2011

    I thought it was interesting the report said this:

    The prime minister of Norway has said “you will not destroy democracy”.

    4. Terrorism used here:
    July 25, 2011

    The report said this:

    The judge said Mr Breivik had argued that he was acting to save Norway and Europe from “Marxist and Muslim colonisation”.

    What do you think? Is the BBC trying to pin ‘terrorist’ on Breivik? Not really. But if Breivik is Muslim, I bet terrorism would be plastered all over in every article.

    Another thing I thought interesting – refer to the quotes above.

    Does anti-Muslim equal pro ‘democracy’? That is what #3 and #4 trying to say, isn’t it?

  6. July 26th, 2011 at 06:07 | #6

    Public panic after a major disaster. the public reach for instinctive fear (of Islam).

    Not surprising. If it was the old days, they might have blamed the local Gypsies and chased them out of town.

  7. Pete North
    July 26th, 2011 at 07:04 | #7

    True Raven, much like what most Han in China now think of Uyghurs. Not that they had a high opinion of them before the riot.

  8. July 26th, 2011 at 07:09 | #8

    “True Raven, much like what most Han in China now think of Uyghurs. Not that they had a high opinion of them before the riot.”

    Illogical comparison. Han Chinese didn’t try to run the Uyghurs out of towns. France is still trying to run Gypsies out of towns.

  9. July 26th, 2011 at 08:52 | #9

    Pete North :True Raven, much like what most Han in China now think of Uyghurs. Not that they had a high opinion of them before the riot.

    A racist is someone who generalize a whole nation of 1.3 billion people. You just did that.

  10. July 26th, 2011 at 11:24 | #10

    @Pete North, Ray, Raventhorn2000,

    I’d like to offer to distinguish between social racism and political racism. Social racism relates to racist attitudes held by individuals toward others in a society. It has always existed and probably always will. It is a characteristic of community – like say religion – sometimes based on ignorance and sometimes deeply ingrained with the local tradition, culture, folklore.

    Political racism relates to official institutions and ideological promulgated by the state (the sovereign). It is promulgated – for example the notion of a “white man’s burden” – to suppress, dominate, enslave, conquer. I touched on some of these notions in the post Are Chinese racist or simply politically incorrect? some time ago.

    Anyways I think it is important to distinguish these two forms of racism because when we talk about racism generally, it is this second notion that should be the main focus. Yes general racist attitudes in a society matter – but in some ways, unless we are into thought control, there is not much we can do about it. What is important is government policy and the scope of legal protection against discrimination in light of racist attitudes.

    People will always discriminate based on one factor or another – often to the harm of innocent others. The state cannot change basic human nature. It can however make sure fissures in societies are not stoked to the point of creating havoc. It can also work to heal some of those fissures to ensure a truly peaceful and harmonious society.

    In my opinion, the official CCP policy has always been ethnically sensitive (perhaps too sensitive). The reunification of the Chinese state under Communist rule was based on equality of all ethnic groups. Of course you can find common people in China today – who being uneducated, untraveled, unsophisticated – who may exhibit racist attitudes toward those they are unfamiliar with. As China develops, that is one of the things that should be developed away. But to mix social racism and political racism, I don’t think that’s helpful. The Chinese press and gov’t – despite all their warts – have been very very sensitive, never stroking racial tensions, in any racial conflicts.

  11. July 26th, 2011 at 12:52 | #11


    I know what you are getting at but the smugness of Pete North’s generalization of 1 billion people is serious racism by any book.

    Imagine I say statement like this “True Pete, much like what most English in US now think of Comache. Not that they had a high opinion of them before the resistance.”

  12. July 26th, 2011 at 13:13 | #12

    I would want to clarify this again. There are racist people in any ethnic group. However, the present central govn’t in China is one of the most ethnically fair. Remember the student leader Wuer Kaixi? Marshal He Long has minority blood. General Su Yi is a minority, this doesn’t stop him from being the overall director during the Huai Hai campaign.

    Simply compare PRC’s minority policy from 1950 until the present day, China has nothing to be ashamed of even compared with country like US, Canada, Australia, Norway (check their history in the 1950s-60s, they are not even tolerant of Finnish or Swedish speaking people in their country) Japan etc. Switzerland even outlawed the building of minaret of Muslim! Please bear in mind that from Qin to Ming, Xingjiang was simply known as western region in China.

    However, present Chinese ethnic policy is nothing new. It is pretty much a continuation of all Han dominated govn’t since the Han dynasty. if China has a Han chauvanistic govn’t the minorities language, culture, religion would already been wiped out already after so many generation of genocide.

    There is one key difference in China between that of US, Canada etc. In China the Han majority (if you know what that is) outnumbered the minority easily over 100 to 1 since the time of Christ. The genocide of native American was started when the European was still outnumbered. It was to continue until European became the majority. My point is if there is an official or unofficial assimilation policy there wouldn’t remain over fifty minority groups in China.

    For example, Japan’s earlier settlers were the Ainu, after the Altaic Asian moved there, they gradually exterminated and assimilated them. Unlike the Chinese who are used to pluarity in cultures, Japan can’t even tolerate an Okinawa/Ryukku that speak a different language or practice a slightly different culture, so it is no surprise they even abolished the special status of Ainu.

  13. July 26th, 2011 at 14:29 | #13

    I agree with Ray.

    The historical slow pace of Chinese culture’s expansion was one of multi-directional assimilation process from many many ethnic and cultural groups, and was far more tolerant of distinct cultures and indeed the Han people often times embraced local cultures.

    Infusion of Han Chinese into Southern China was very indicative of that historical pattern. Han Chinese in Southern China adopted local customs that were very different from Northern Chinese cultural habits, (remember the original Han Chinese culture began between the Yellow River and the Long River).

    This historical pattern goes way back, for example during Zhou dynasty, when the Qin “Dukedom” was granted a Zhou royal charter to quell the Western Barbarian territories. The Qin people adopted many customs of the Western barbarians, intermarried with the Barbarian tribal people, and became adept at the art of fighting on horse back by learning from the tribes.

  14. July 26th, 2011 at 18:14 | #14

    Yes, the Qin started out as tending horses for the Zhou court. I initialy want to write a comment but end up writing a whole article.

  15. Rhan
    July 26th, 2011 at 19:28 | #15

    Allen, you are one of the most logical and rational on topic of race and racism. Hope you would write more on this subject.

  16. Lime
    July 27th, 2011 at 00:47 | #16

    The BBC has published its editorial guidelines on using the word “terrorist.” It is their policy to avoid using the word if possible in their own voice; “we don’t change the word “terrorist” when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves”.

    Here’s a recent article about the killing of Osama Bin Laden. You’ll notice that they only use “terror” with the names of positions and organisations (“counter-terrorism adviser”, “counterterrorist centre”), and in quotes.

    So if a Muslim group or individual was responsible for the Oslo terror attacks, maybe the word “terrorist” would not be plastered over every article. Perhaps lumping the BBC in with this “western media madness” is a mistake as well?

  17. July 27th, 2011 at 01:00 | #17

    Lime, interesting, well, then exhibit #1 I found above is already a violation of BBC’s own policy.

    But I should admit, I have not research into the whole Western media in terms of what Greenwald has shown about the NYT.

    And to be fair, you and Wukailong are probably right. The European views about terrorism is quite different than from the American one. I am likely overzealous on this one.

  18. xian
    July 31st, 2011 at 03:00 | #18

    Well I’ve read plenty of western sources defining Breivik as a terrorist, so I can’t really agree there. However, if you were following the very beginning of the incident, there were just as many outlets that implied/semi-jumped to the conclusion of Islamic terrorism before the perp’s identity was revealed. That, I feel is blatantly unjust.

  19. July 31st, 2011 at 09:37 | #19

    “The BBC has published its editorial guidelines on using the word “terrorist.” It is their policy to avoid using the word if possible in their own voice; “we don’t change the word “terrorist” when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves”.”

    Translation: We will pass on the BS from other people, whether they choose to label someone as “terrorist”.

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