After the terror in Paris, the media must find perspective

Where’s the logic or sense of context here? There isn’t one. In the first few days after Paris, many commentators – including this one – noted the lack of any overall perspective. Forty-three dead and 239 injured in a Beirut massacre barely troubled the scorer as the French story went on and on. But four weeks after the Bataclan slaughter, it seems necessary to widen the focus. Editors don’t necessarily bring cynicism to their choices. Paris was a tremendous story for a vast audience in “there but for the grace of God” mode: a matter of emotions shared with reporters and editors themselves, not emotions contrived.

But from San Bernardino to Leytonstone, the question that follows is discomfiting. This is the kind of “war” that sells newspapers and burgeons online. (And remember that so many millions of the young now choose all their news online.) There is a threat: of course there is a threat. No one who went to a One World Media meeting to ponder the entrails last week could doubt that. Yet we also need to see it whole: one knife among many, one gun outrage amid a flood of others. If Daesh has security experts of its own, they know that fear and hysteria – over Islam, over refugees, over Syria – are their greatest friends. And they hope to see that every day on a screen or in a paper near you. (Bomb Paris or London for headlines!)

It’s a question of reporting whole, of setting a context. It’s also a pressing question of proportionality.