Media Coverage of Beirut and Paris: Is There Media Bias?

Many of the most popular social media headlines in the past weeks have involved the city of Beirut in Lebanon, where a brutal terrorist attack killed 37 people and wounded 181 on November 12, 2015. Most of these headlines, however, do not detail the attack or the aftermath, but rather the lack of media coverage of the Middle Eastern city in lieu of similar attacks in Paris, the supposed City of Light and Love.

The attacks were equally shocking to locals, who, in both places, were accustomed to relatively peaceful daily lives. Contrary to the popular belief, despite its geographical proximity to Syria, Lebanon has been at peace for years. The attack on November 12 was the first of its kind since the end of their tumultuous civil war twenty-five years ago. To residents who experienced the war first hand, this attack was the return of violence that they had always feared would come. Unfortunately, many media outlets which barely covered the attack are being defended on the fallacy that the attack in Paris was far more startling because of the city’s label as continuously peaceful. And, of course, many argue that the attack on Paris was more shocking because the city is such a great symbol of the Western world.

The stereotype that Middle Eastern cities are tumultuous caused many to ignore the attacks in Beirut and assume that the city did not experience anything unusual during the attacks. That stereotype led many media outlets to ignore the attacks in Beirut in favor of similar events in Paris. The stereotype is not, however, true. As stated, Lebanon has been at peace for years, and for the media to toss that information away in favor of a stereotype was a disservice to what the country must now recover from. Paris took precedence in the headlines and Beirut was an afterthought. While Paris is the better-known of the two cities, that does not mean it deserved the better coverage.

Paris is the “City of Lights,” the “City of Love.” It houses many architectural marvels, well-known tourist attractions, and historically significant spots. From the Eiffel Tower to the Champs-Élysées, from the Cathedral of Notre Dame to Napoleon’s Tomb (Les Invalides), from Montmartre and the Church of Sacré-Cœur to the Moulin Rouge, Paris is a treasure trove of places to visit. There is no doubt that Paris is a grand and storied city, and perhaps more importantly, a capital of the “civilized” and “modern” Western world. But it’s disingenuous to say that Paris holds more importance than Beirut simply because it’s more famous or romanticized.

Beirut is Lebanon’s capital, and has a history even older than Paris’s, stretching back to the Paleolithic Age. While few of the sites in Beirut are as well-known as those of Paris, the city contains countless museums, including the National Museum of Beirut and the Sursock Museum; beautiful architecture, featuring various mosques such as the Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque; and natural wonders, like the Jeita Grotto. Luckily, no national monuments were damaged, but Beirut suffered terribly from fatalities due to the attack.

Both the attacks on Paris and Beirut were horrific. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the events in each city is unequal. Obviously, Paris took precedence in the news, despite the attacks in Beirut having happened a day earlier than those in Paris. While the reasoning that Paris is a much better known city and more relevant to the interests of the masses is not entirely faulty, news sites should have taken responsibility for covering both attacks. Just because Beirut isn’t a great capital doesn’t make it any less important than Paris, or the loss of life there any less terrible. And the reasoning that Paris is peaceful while Beirut is not is a stereotype of Middle Eastern cities and blatantly untrue. The media should have reflected the horror of the attacks in both cities with equal measure. Instead, because of unreasonable reasoning, Paris remained the main topic of conversation, and Beirut was left with no headlines and articles published days after the fact.