Orange County

Shooting of Muslim students in Chapel Hill becomes global media story

The shooting of three Muslim students in a quiet Chapel Hill neighborhood Tuesday evening had become global news Wednesday morning, sparked mostly by emotional social media comments that began as word of the slain students’ identities circulated in the Triangle Muslim community. The social media posts continued at a furious pace overnight.

The story, reported by local print and online media Tuesday evening and overnight, was reported by the BBC World Service early Wednesday and was at the top of Google News by 9 a.m.

The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, among other U.S. newspapers, had given the story prominent play on their websites by midday. Stories also appeared on websites of European-based organizations such as The Guardian of London. Major broadcast television networks and CNN soon dispatched correspondents to Chapel Hill. The three leading national television broadcast networks featured the story in the first 10 minutes of their 6:30 p.m. broadcasts. NBC anchor Lester Holt introduced the story as “Outrage in a storied college town.”

On cable television, CNN featured the story on all of its news segments throughout the day, often with the screen crawl “Hate Crime?” By afternoon, Wolf Blitzer, anchor of CNN’s “The Situation Room” reacted skeptically when a correspondent in Chapel Hill reported the Chapel Hill police statement that the shootings were likely sparked by a dispute over parking spaces. There “has to be more to the story,” Blitzer said, questioning whether anyone would shoot someone over a parking space.

Most of the national and international coverage focused on the debate over whether the shootings were motivated by the victims’ faith. And some media commentary homed in on the possible hate crime motivation.

“Three Muslim Americans were murdered Tuesday in a University of North Carolina dorm room (sic),” began a commentary on Al by Mohamad Elmasry, assistant professor in the Department of Communications, University of North Alabama.

“The crime came on the heels of recent anti-Muslim attacks in Europe, carried out in apparent response to the January murders (committed by Muslims) of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris,” Elmasry wrote, continuing:

“Western media outlets will likely frame the most recent perpetrator of what some speculate is an anti-Muslim crime in the same way they frame most anti-Muslim criminals – as crazed, misguided bigots who acted alone. If past coverage is any indication, there will likely be very little suggestion that the killer acted on the basis of an ideology or as part of any larger pattern or system.”